In many ways the grand-daddy of Real Time
Strategy, console RPGs, MMORPGs, MUDs,
LARPing, Cosplay and teenage alienation,
Dungeons & Dragons, one of the proverbial
dice games of a generation and the
inspiration for much of the video game
library we each enjoy, was the brainchild of
a gentleman named Gary Gygax, conceived
as a way to keep his beloved war-gaming
from fading away.
"Our initial rule sets were entirely based on what the
figure looked like…If a soldier was carrying a mace but
had no armor, then he fought under a particular rule
set; if the figure had armor and a crossbow, his attack
and defense ratings were totally different." Initially, the
rules were set up in traditional wargaming fashion: 1
plastic soldier representing 20 men. To break up the
monotony a bit, they occasionally played using rules for
1-to-1 combat, where each figure represented one man
in small, squad-level skirmishes.”
In that system, Red Sonja (pictured here), would
have low armor (look at all that skin showing)
but high damage (look at the AXE on her!)
But Gary Gygax had a problem.
As much as he loved castles and
sieges and war games and rolling dice
People were leaving his gaming club.
It was getting a little boring.
"I figured why not add a few fantasy
elements to the game -- instead of a
catapult. Why not have one figure
represent a wizard who could cast a
fireball whose rules, not coincidentally,
were exactly the same as the catapult?"
Doing two die four +3 of damage on hit.
The thing Gygax created?
You read about it for today.
It was a gaming
Chainmail: Rules for
Clocking in at just over 40
pages (44, but there are
ads), Chainmail presented
a sophisticated way to
engage in dice-based
Chainmail hit the scene in 1970, with widespread
availability in 1971. But for as cool as Chainmail
was, it was just rules for combat. It wasn’t until
GenCon in 1971 that Dave Arneson, a friend of Gygax
and avid gamer, ceated a “stealth” one-on-one combat
mission that gamers raved forced them to really play
out the role of the attacker or defender.
Role, you say?
Play, you say?
Gygax and Arneson started to pool resources to
make the game more robust. They called it “The
Fantasy Game,” and they started trying to market
it, even as people commented on the similarities to
The Lord of the Rings and other fantasy novels.
In 1974, Gygax and Arneson started a company
with friends Dan Kaye and Kevin Blume, Tactical
Studies Rules (TSR). They finally found the money
to publish the game Gygax’s wife had renamed
from The Fantasy Game to Dungeons & Dragons.
Dungeons & Dragons led a game superstar’s
life for quite some time. It sold in numbers
unheard of for a strategy game. Almost
everyone involved– including Gygax– has
personal problems as TSR lurched through
reformation and financial problems. But soon
the game was on the shelves of every
bookstore in the country. And then… things
got a little rocky in the PR world.
Dungeons & Dragons was byand-large an outsider’s game.
Now we hear stories of Vin
Diesel playing it on set with
stars like the Rock and Dame
Judy Dench, but in the early
days, most considered D&Ders
“nerds.” Or worse… Satanists.
Then James Dallas Egbert III
went into the tunnels
underneath Michigan State
University on a “quest” as some
The blowback from that and other incidents,
wherein a media convinced that games were
bad for kids took every chance to attack D&D
(imagine if every videogame you know were
just a single game– that’s what D&D was at
that point) would last into the 1990s. Over a
decade was devoted to decrying a game as a
tool of the devil. Yet more and more kids
bought books and dice.
Gary Gygax left TSR in 1985.
He went on the make many other games, though
none ever touched the juggernaut of his beloved
TSR continued to produce Dungeons & Dragons in
its many forms until it ended up in financial ruin in
1996 and sold out to Wizards of the Coast, makers
of Magic the Gathering.
Wizards of the Coast, consequently, sold to
Hasbro, Inc. in 1999.
Hasbro, using the Wizards of the Coast imprint, still
produces Dungeons & Dragons to this day.
There was a Dungeons & Dragons cartoon and set
of toys in 1983-1985.
The show was about kids who got sucked into the
game and had to face bad guys. It was forgettable,
but this one character design was AWESOME.
During TSR’s rise in the 1990s, there was a great
diversification with the Forgotten Realms and
Ravenloft campaign settings appearing (among
others). These became a boon for he company
because of popular novels about characters like
Strahd Van Zarovich (the D&D Dracula) and Drizzt
Do’Urden, a reformed Drow (dark elf) with a huge
series of books by R.A. Salvatore.
Ravenloft was one of the original D&D modules. I
made a PDF of it available to you.
If we have time, I’d like to make
characters, but before we go that
far, I’d like us to look at an NPC
villain created for D&D.
There are four readings linked
from the schedule. Read them,
and come in ready to throw down
in a “What is an RPG?” super-fight