User:Grubbiv/RPG History

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Dungeons & Dragons to 1975[edit]

Wargaming Roots[edit]

Dungeons and Dragons developed from ancient and medieval era wargaming conducted with miniatures. In the mid 1960s most wargamers in the U.S. were conducting battles with Napoleonic and other modern era miniatures, in a lengthy tradition going back to Little Wars by H. G. Wells and beyond. Leo Cronin wrote an article in 1966 suggesting that a wargame be conducted based on The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien's trilogy appeared in paperback at about this time and was just beginning its ascent to popularity.

In July 1967 Henry Bodenstedt published a medieval miniatures ruleset called Siege of Bodenburg in Strategy & Tactics magazine. Rather expensive 40mm Elastolin figures by Hauser were available for conducting medieval battles, or one could use the cheaper Airfix Robin Hood figures. At the initial 1968 Gen Con, Gygax used the Elastolin figures to play Siege of Bodenburg with Jerry White of Portland, OR. Later Gygax would play with Jeff Perren, who had a few pages of his own rules. These would be expanded by Gygax and published in a mid-1970 newsletter of the Castle & Crusade Society, a subdivision of the International Federation of Wargamers.

In 1970 a company called NEWA came out with the first fantasy miniatures game, called Middle Earth. The following year, Gygax and Perren would publish with Guidon Games their miniature rules as a stand alone booklet entitled Chainmail. Although the original rules had each figure represent 20 men, the 1971 rules had a supplement describing man-to-man combat. More importantly, the 1971 rules had a fantasy supplement with eight spells (including fireball) and such Tolkienesque non-human creatures as orcs, hobbits, dragons, and dwarves. One rolled a 2d6 to attack, and though most men were killed by a single hit, it took four hits to kill a hero and eight hits to kill a superhero.


The Castle & Crusade Society published a map of the Great Kingdom and assigned medieval titles to its members in the manner of the Society for Creative Anachronism. In 1971 Dave Arneson created a region called Blackmoor on the periphery of the Great Kingdom. And in Blackmoor Arneson conducted what was apparently the first fantasy role playing game. Unlike Chainmail, the Blackmoor campaign had open-ended rules and required the use of a referee to adjudicate the result of the players' actions. In fact, the original Blackmoor campaign had no rules at all, but the players demanded that Arneson develop rules in the interest of consistency, so Arneson started keeping notes of the rationale behind his decisions. These notes were not shared with the players, however, so that an inconvenient rule would not spoil the flow of the game.

Arneson got the idea of the role playing game from David Wesely, who had been conducting Napoleonic era role playing games with other members of the Midwest Military Simulation Association as far back as 1969. The extent to which Arneson drew on Chainmail is controversial. It was a key point in the legal battle between Arneson and TSR, Inc. that would not be resolved until 1981. Part of the problem is that the Blackmoor rules were never published. Arneson gave these rules to Gygax in 1972 and they were never returned. We have the "Notes on Blackmoor" that Arneson published in a 1971 Castle and Crusade Society newsletter, but these are merely a geographical description of the region. The 1975 Blackmoor D&D Supplement has some rules on hit location that were apparently used in the original campaign. The 1977 "First Fantasy Campaign" by Judges Guild is perhaps the best source of information. It tells us that the Blackmoor campaign was conducted with 6 sided dice, and that Arneson introduced the concept of the saving throw. Players were given a saving throw if they were hit as a way to avoid taking damage. Arneson also introduced the term armor class, apparently borrowed from a naval game that he was working on and never published (not his Don't Give Up The Ship!).

All agree that Arneson's Blackmoor introduced the concept of advancement in level with experience. In contrast to the fantasy armies of Chainmail, in Blackmoor players would play a single character. In fact, in the original Blackmoor adventure, the players played themselves travelling back in time in the manner of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. This identification between player and character was what gave RPGs their distinctive feel, and was undoubtedly what attracted so many players. Arneson also introduced the original dungeon adventure, the sewer under Blackmoor Castle. Dungeons would prove to be highly appropriate to fantasy role playing because they prevented the players from wandering off the map.

Dungeons & Dragons[edit]

In 1972, perhaps at Gen Con, Arneson introduced his sewer adventure to the LGTSA crowd. The reception was enthusiatic. Gygax as editor at Guidon Games no doubt wanted rules to be written up. Arneson remarked in a later interview that he didn't have the time for it, so he gave his copy of the rules to Gygax to expand into a publishable version of the game. Gygax rapidly produced a first draft, about a third of the size of the original D&D rulebooks. Known at this time as The Fantasy Game, copies of the manuscript were passed around for playtesting. In early 1973 Gygax completed the final manuscript, what would eventually be known as Dungeons & Dragons after a comment by Gygax's then wife Mary. Gygax offered both Guidon Games and Avalon Hill the opportunity to publish the game, but both companies declined, forcing Gygax to found his own company to get the game published.

Dungeons & Dragons is probably as distinct from Blackmoor as Blackmoor is from Chainmail. Although Arneson was credited as a co-author of Dungeons & Dragons, the game was in fact entirely written by Gygax, and Arneson disapproved of some of Gygax's design choices. Thus Arneson's role in the development of the game was legally nebulous. However, it was eventually resolved in the 1981 legal settlement that Gygax and Arneson are "co-creators" of Dungeons and Dragons.

Gygax considered the 1974 edition of Dungeons and Dragons to be a rush job. The game was clearly undergoing evolution, but most of the core mechanics were now present. Three classes: fighter, magic user, and cleric, are described, with 70 magic user spells, categorized from 1st to 6th level. Character generation started with the six abilities: strength, intelligence, wisdom, constitution, dexterity and charisma, the values of each determined by a 3d6 roll. More important are a character's hit points which were d6 based for all character classes and with minimal adjustment for high/low constitution.

The original Dungeons and Dragons game was sold as a set of three booklets with a total length of 110 pages. These booklets were sold either individually or (more commonly) in a woodgrain box, some 4,000 - 6,000 sets of which were printed from 1974 through mid 1975. In late 1975 the company switched to a white box, in which form it remained in print until around 1980 and on-sale until 1985, despite having been long superseded by later versions of the game.

Polyhedral Dice[edit]

A distinctive trait of D&D is the use of polyhedral dice. A 1970 edition of Wargamer's Newsletter announced the availability of 20 sided (icosohedral) dice, and Tractics (1971) is said to be the first published wargame to make use of them. 20 sided dice make it easier to work with percentages. Each face has an even 5% chance of appearing (assuming the die is fair), in contrast to the unwieldy 16 2/3% per face of a 6 sided die. With two 20 sided dice one can easily generate a random number from 1 to 100. Interestingly, Gygax recalls that he first encountered polyhedral dice when reading a catalog of teaching supplies.[1] Gygax certainly must have been aware of polyhedral dice by 1971, since he edited Tractics. Arneson, incidentally, said that he purchased icosohedral dice from a gaming shop in London some time in the mid 1960s, but apparently never introduced their use into his gaming.

Although D&D calls for all five polyhedral dice, the 1974 edition of the game can still be played primarily with 6-sided dice. Hit dice for monsters and characters are all d6, as is the damage done by attacks. The 2d6 attack matrix is still considered the primary method of attack (one is instructed to purchase Chainmail), though the d20 system that would eventually become standard is listed as an alternate method. One is obliged to use d20 for saving throws, and there is some use of percentages. The other polyhedral dice (d4, d8, d12) are only used for randomly generating the number of monsters appearing and the amount of their treasure.

Because polyhedral dice were scarce in the 1970s, it may have been a good thing D&D made limited use of them. The first product to compete with D&D was Tunnels and Trolls (1975), a game which would use six-sided dice exclusively.


The fantasy campaign that developed in Lake Geneva starting in 1972 became known as Greyhawk, and in 1975 Gygax and Rob Kuntz would author a supplement to D&D of the same name. Because the supplement contained significant modifications to the core rules, it could easily be considered a new edition of the game. The thief class is introduced, and fighter hit dice are increased to d8, whereas magic users and thieves are decreased to d4. Magic user spells now go up to the 9th level, with 120 total spells to choose from. The dice used to determine damage from an attack becomes variable, depending on monster or (for characters) weapon type. The 58 kinds of monsters appearing in the original D&D rules are supplemented with 42 new monsters, including such classics as the beholder.

Greyhawk gives what is probably the classic version of the D&D rules. Though this is obscured somewhat by the presentation, the rules are in fact exceedingly simple and allow combat to conducted in a rapid and efficient manner. The rules are not by any means complete, and the referee will frequently be called upon to make spot decisions regarding things like encounter distance, range of effect of spells, or the results of trying to attack a monster such as a stirge that is attached to a friendly character.

Common sense dictates that if you are attacking a person in platemail, you are better off using a mace than a dagger. Greyhawk tries to make the rules reflect this by giving attack modifiers depending upon armor class and weapon type. Looking up these modifiers is a significant burden, however, so it is doubtful these modifiers were ever popular. Moreover, a monster with an armor class of 2 does not necessarily possess plate-like armor, so the modifiers don't make as much sense in the typical case where characters are fighting monsters.

Early Competition[edit]

Tunnels & Trolls[edit]

Ken St. Andre and Flying Buffalo brought out Tunnels and Trolls in 1975. Consisting of a single cheaply produced booklet, the game sold for less than the $10 that TSR, Inc. asked for a D&D boxed set, and the game only required the use of six-sided dice. The combat mechanics were exceedingly simple. The characters would roll a bunch of six-sided dice (the number depending upon their choice of weapons), and add modifiers based upon attributes like strength to get a total damage number. The monsters would do the same, and who ever had the higher number would inflict the difference between the two numbers in damage on the other party. This damage amount would be distributed equally to all members of the party. Armor would absorb some of this damage. Oddly, the ability of the monsters to inflict damage would decrease as they suffered damage, but the same was not true for characters. As a result, the outcome of a battle would be up in the air for a while, but would typically swing decisively in favor of the party as soon as they scored some hits.

Other aspects of T&T were often borrowed directly from D&D. T&T lacked a gallery of monsters comparable to D&D, and monsters were in fact little more than a number representing their ability to attack and absorb damage. Spells were whimsically named and often contained anachronistic references.

T&T's biggest innovation was the introduction of solo adventures, the first of which was Buffalo Castle (1976). With a solo adventure, a player could play by himself without recourse to a referee. At each point in the dungeon he would be given the choice of a few alternatives, and based upon his choice he would be instructed to jump to a different page and follow the instructions. The technique was the same as would later appear in the Choose Your Own Adventure books published by Bantam. If a monster was encountered, the solo adventure could of course instruct the player to conduct the combat according to the rules of T&T.

Empire of the Petal Throne[edit]

The other game to compete with D&D was released by TSR, Inc. itself. Empire of the Petal Throne (1975) had a game mechanic similar to D&D. TODO: reseach the game mechanic. It came in a color box with a large, foldout color map. It's main feature was the inclusion of a complete and original fantasy setting, the world of Tekumel. Originally selling for $25 (nearly $100 adjusted to 2006 prices), the game was out of the price range of many players. TSR, Inc. released a supplement called War of Wizards (1975) and ran a number of Tekumel related articles in The Dragon, even dedicating an entire issue (December 1976) to the game. However, by 1977 TSR, Inc. ceased support of the game.

The Two New Editions of 1977[edit]

By 1977 D&D was in a disorganized state. It was not easy to learn the game from the original booklets, and these booklets required the player to have a copy of Chainmail. Moreover, important extensions to the game had appeared in the supplements Greyhawk (1975), Blackmoor (1975), and Eldritch Wizardry (1976). Since TSR, Inc. had become acutely aware that D&D was to be its principle source of revenue, a new edition of the game was clearly called for.

The Holmes Edition[edit]

The company decided to release two editions of the game simultaneously. The first was a box set (1977) with cover art by David C. Sutherland III and a 46 page rulebook written by Eric Holmes. The rules are essentially the original rules supplemented by Greyhawk. The 2d6 Chainmail style attack matrix is discontinued, and though monsters have variable damage, player's inflict d6 damage regardless of weapon type. The rulebook includes a sample dungeon and a sample game session to teach people how to play, and it has the distinction of being the shortest presentation of D&D ever published. Although the rulebook has a decent selection of monsters, it only contains low level spells, and hence characters cannot advance beyond the third level without switching to a different edition of the game.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons[edit]

The other edition of the game was called Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, and was slowly released as three hardcover books over a period of several years: the Monster Manual (1977, 112pp), the Players Handbook (1978, 128pp), and the Dungeon Masters Guide (1979, 240pp). Although described as a completely new game, the differences in the core rules were in fact slight. The hit dice used for fighters, clerics, and thieves increased to d10, d8, and d6, respectively. Armor classes started at 10 instead of 9. Demi-humans (elves, dwarves, and halflings) were given some choice as to which class they could be, and they had the opportunity to be multi-classed. For the most part AD&D distinguished itself from original D&D through its excellent artwork, higher production values, and better organization.

With AD&D, Gygax attempted to bring some standardization to the way that Dungeons & Dragons was played. House rules and third-party supplements proliferated during the original D&D era. Third-party supplements presumably cut into TSR's profits, and the variability in play also made it difficult to conduct tournaments at Gen Con. However, AD&D did not bring about uniform play. Although AD&D added a large number of rules, these extra rules were not popular. Few players wanted to worry about the space required to use a weapon, or to use the length of a weapon and its speed factor to determine initiative. Rules describing hand-to-hand combat were inelegant and probably not play-tested. The result was groups picking and choosing from the supplemental AD&D rules. Moreover, ambiguities remained: it was still not clear what could be done with certain spells (e.g. wishes, illusions) or how battles are to conducted with monsters with unusual modes of attack (e.g. green slime, ropers, medusa). If AD&D achieved any regularization of game play, it was through better instruction of how to play and active discouragement of third-party products. But in any case AD&D was an immediate bestseller.

Arneson Lawsuit[edit]

Arneson was not credited for AD&D and he did not receive royalties from it, leading him to initiate a lawsuit in 1979.

Arneson's falling out with TSR was a long time in coming. He had no ownership in TSR (he was only 19 years old when D&D was published in 1974) and hence had little control over a game which he felt he had to a large extent invented. Though he disagreed with choices Gygax made in the 1974 editon of D&D, he must have been pleased with the game's success and the incoming royalties. Since Gygax was the sole author of D&D, the fact that Arneson was receiving royalties at all could be perceived as generous. In 1975 or 1976 Arneson moved down to Lake Geneva and became an employee at TSR. However, other than the Blackmoor supplement which Tim Kask edited together from Arneson's notes, Arneson did not contribute much in the way of new material during his time at TSR. Perhaps because of this, or perhaps because of his disagreement over the direction D&D was taking, he soon left the company.

The 1979 lawsuit was settled out of court in 1981. The details of the settlement were not made public, but it appears that Arneson received a large lump sum to clear his interest in AD&D. He would continue to receive royalties from D&D, which would become available again in a version that allowed characters to advance beyond the 3rd level. Moreover Arneson was to be acknowledged as a co-creator of D&D.


  1. ^ Stupid This article does not appear to be a reliable source.