Monday, July 14, 2014

The Legacy of Gygax's Armor

Recently, the Basic Rules of the next edition of Dungeons & Dragons became available for download. While for most, this presents an occasion to ponder the future of the game, for this blog, it inevitably turns our gaze back to the past. To magnify one microscopic detail, we find in the new rules a division of armor into familiar categories, with "studded leather" and varieties of mail including ring, scale, splint, chain and finally plate. These types seem to have been with the game since its inception. So where did they come from? We can gain some initial insight from this article by Gary Gygax in Panzerfaust #43, from April 1971: about a month from when the game Chainmail first became available.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Midgard II (1972), the Other Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campagin

FANTASY NUTS UNITE! [Someone] is producing a multi-player Fantasy game... It will include giants, wizards, Heroes and Rulers as some of the cast of Characters. The rules of the game are but a guide to the use of your own imagination in play. Many unique concepts are outlined.

This blurb appeared in 1972, about a month before the first notice of Arneson's Blackmoor campaign in the Domesday Book; just a rumor spreading through science-fiction and wargaming zines. Of course we all know what game that was about - or do we? As Dungeons & Dragons developed over the next year and a half, another fantasy campaign game that let players adventure as magicians and warriors in an imaginary world developed in parallel. It was one of the Midgard games, which briefly lived in the shadow of their more famous cousin. The particular game that inspired the blurb was "Midgard II," which took place on the map shown above.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Fantastic Bestiary

When we study the monsters that populated the early setting of Dungeons & Dragons, sometimes we're at a loss to identify any particular source for them. The basilisk, for example, might have come to gaming through any number of fantasy authors or encyclopediae of mythology. But other times it's very clear from whence monsters came. Take the case of four lesser-known creatures from the Monster Manual: the Ki-rin, Shedu, Couatl and Su-monster. All debuted in Eldritch Wizardry (1976), and all have a mythological pedigree, but all certainly owe their appearance in Dungeons & Dragons to a particular work: Ernst and Johanna Lehner's A Fantastic Bestiary (1969). An image of the Japanese mythological creature the Ki-rin, probably the most famous of the four monsters, from that book is shown above. A thorough analysis of the Fantastic Bestiary demonstrates that its influence goes back much farther, to the very dawn of role-playing games.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

History of D&D in 12 Treasures

[for best results, watch on YouTube directly]

In honor of the fortieth anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons, and for a change of pace, in this video I review the development of Dungeons & Dragons through twelve rare artifacts from the period leading up to the first publication of the game. They include original documents from Braunstein, an early letter from Gary Gygax on the medieval setting, Dave Arneson's notes for his own early medieval game, fanzines and maps associated with the Castle & Crusade Society, and various pre-publication D&D rules. Readers of my book will see quite a few things from my personal treasure chest that I haven't discussed before. A full breakdown of the contents is after the jump.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Gary Gygax's 1973 D&D Working Draft

Just in time for the fortieth anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons, some spectacular new historical evidence has come to light: a partial copy of a pre-publication working draft of Dungeons & Dragons, typed and hand-edited Gary Gygax. Credit for discovering this goes to Michael Mornard, one of the original D&D playtesters, who unearthed this material in an old storage box a few weeks ago. Gygax photocopied these selections from his working draft back in 1973, and gave them to Mornard for his personal use. In these “Mornard Fragments,” we can see examples (like the one shown above) of pre-D&D text like that preserved by the Dalluhn Manuscript – in fact, decisively similar to Dalluhn, and unarguably created by Gygax. These Fragments have a good deal to teach us about the development of D&D, and handily they also establish that Dalluhn was in fact a polished version of such a working draft, incorporating the authors’ edits of the time for wider distribution, probably for playtesting.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

When Dungeons & Dragons Turns 40

Many sources, including Playing at the World, assign to Dungeons & Dragons an initial release in January 1974. Our best evidence comes from contemporary notices like the one above, a letter written by Gary Gygax late in 1973 that foretells the imminent release of the game. Now, with the fortieth anniversary nearly upon us, a burning question arises: when exactly should we celebrate? While there is no shortage of anecdotal accounts describing when, and to whom, the first copy of the game was sold, there is little concrete evidence to indicate any particular birthday. This author, however, will be lifting a die to toast the anniversary on Sunday, January 26th, 2014, on the basis of the following chronology surrounding the release of Dungeons & Dragons.