Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Forgotten Variant: The X-Fragments

Gary Gygax explicitly called the Guidon Dungeons & Dragons document the "first draft" of the game in a cover letter. In that draft form, the game circulated to a number of playtesters in the Midwest. Some early adopters quickly engaged with the rules and produced their own versions: various structural properties show us that the Dalluhn Manuscript cribbed directly from the pages of Guidon. But it wasn't alone: the Prize Matrix shown here is from a partial draft similarly based on the original 1973 text, a draft we will here call the X-Fragments (compare this table to other post-Guidon drafts).

Friday, February 2, 2018

D&D in the News (1976): You're either a Fighter, Magic-user, Cleric, or Thief

If anything could draw the attention of the mainstream press of 1976 to an obscure pastime like Dungeons & Dragons, it was the apparent endorsement of an elite university like Princeton. Is this how our brightest minds were squandering their gifts? Readers of the March 22, 1976 issue of the Trenton Evening Times, could find answers in Madeleine Blais's article covering the first PrinceCon: "In Dungeons & Dragons, you're either a fighter, magic-user, cleric, or thief."

Thursday, January 25, 2018

War of the Empires (1969), Gygax's Space Conquest Campaign

Two years before Chainmail was released, and a year before there was a Castle & Crusade Society, Gary Gygax was something of a rocket man. When he took over development of the War of the Empires system in 1969, and with it the administration of its play-by-mail campaign, he helped to usher in one of the earliest games where players would command space empires that deployed scouts to explore solar systems, expanded by colonizing those planets and exploiting their resources to build war ships, and finally used their military might to exterminate rival empires and dominate the sector.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Vintage Ad: Does Your Shop Sell Military Miniatures?

Early in 1976, no one had any idea that Dungeons & Dragons would go on to transform the gaming hobby. It had then sold a little more than 4,000 copies, which made it TSR's bestseller. but TSR wasn't putting all of its eggs in that one basket. This advertisement, which would clamor for attention on one eighth of a page -- all TSR could afford at the time -- in magazines for hobby store owners, relies on the truism that selling rules for miniatures would bring in more sales of miniatures themselves: paper was cheap, but metal was profitable. So this advertisement stresses miniatures rules like Boot Hill, Chainmail, Classic Warfare, and Panzer Warfare over "historic wargames" like Fight in the Skies or even the "fantasy games which have become the latest craze," D&D, Dungeon! and Empire of the Petal Throne.

Friday, January 5, 2018

A Forgotten Variant: Sir Pellinore's Game

Of the gamers who assembled and self-published variant fantasy role-playing rules in the 1970s, few showed the dedication of Michael Brines. Over the course of four years, he came out with three Sir Pellinore's Game editions with increasing levels of sophistication: Sir Pellinore's Book of Rules for a Game of Magic Mideval Adventures (1978), Sir Pellinore's Game (1979), and Sir Pellinore's Favorite Game (1981). These early rules are especially noteworthy because they drew more from the baseline of early Tunnels & Trolls than original Dungeons & Dragons -- we would be hard pressed to find an earlier published variant of a variant.

Friday, December 29, 2017

D&D in the News (1976): The Duke and the Evil Balrog

Early press about D&D rarely has the luxury of wading deep into the play of ongoing campaigns. That is what makes this piece by Philip Hilts in the Washington Post from August 9, 1976 so remarkable. It is a lengthy piece, with a lengthy title: "War Games, Tolkien, and the Fantastic Conflict Between the Duke and the Evil Balrog Masked by his Phantasm." This glimpse into the play of early adopters in Washington D.C. is especially fascinating because it shows D&D played as a wargame, with the players providing opposition to each other, and the dungeon master acting as a neutral arbiter between them.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Gary Gygax on "Tomorrow" with Tom Snyder (1979)

It was early in November 1979: the publication of the Dungeon Masters Guide had recently completed the core Advanced Dungeons & Dragons trilogy, and thanks to the "steam tunnel" incident, D&D was suddenly famous. Gary Gygax was no stranger to game industry press interviews, but now the mainstream media began to shift its focus from the controversy surrounding the game to its success, and to Gygax himself. You know you've made it when you're summoned to the late-night talk show circuit, and Gygax arrived on Tom Snyder's "Tomorrow." It can be hard to explain the game to a general audience, but when Snyder asks Gygax if he could demonstrate it, his response is, "Certainly, instantly, right now." Listen for yourself, and/or follow along with the transcript of this long-lost interview below.

Or listen [on Soundcloud].