Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A Forgotten Variant: Catacombs and Caverns


The original Dungeons & Dragons books urged players to make the game their own, to devise their own characters, settings, and even rules. D&D was, as Games magazine mused in 1979, less of a game than a design-a-game kit. Some early adopters invented enough alternative and supplemental material that they declared their campaigns to be independent games--some of which became commercial products, but many more only managed to circulate as self-published curiosities. Catacombs and Caverns (1976) is one of the latter. In the runic script of the world of Tharin, the cover credits the game to "Scott Free", a pen name for Scott Aldridge of Minneapolis. Like the Rules to the Game of Dungeon, Catacombs gives us a window into how Twin Cities early adopters engaged with role-playing games.

Monday, November 27, 2017

D&D in the News (1977): You, Too, Can Be a Wizard


Leslie Kemp, in the summer of 1977, gives us a rare mainstream perspective on the progress of Dungeons & Dragons, this time in the city of Tampa, Florida, for the Tampa Tribune. She reports the existence of four D&D groups known to her at the time, and calls it a game that "is just now gaining popularity." No doubt a notice in a major city newspaper would boost that, especially with the promise that "You, Too, Can Be a Wizard."

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Invention of Randomly Generated Dungeons


The debut issue of the Strategic Review carried the first expansions to Dungeons & Dragons to appear under TSR's imprint, including rules for solo gaming which Gygax credited to himself and George A. Lord. It can be hard to glean deeper insight into how these early systems came together, but the excerpt shown above relates a second-hand summary of Lord's initial correspondence with Gary Gygax about potential approaches to solo D&D. The account was written by Scott Rich, and it appeared in the eleventh issue of his Midgard Ltd. campaign's newsletter Midgard Sword & Shield from October 1974. Notably, Rich appends a parenthetical suggestion that has some striking similarities to the rules that TSR would imminently publish.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Vintage Ad: Slain Any Wicked Dragons Lately?


This D&D advertisement dates from the first half of 1977, a stopping point when TSR would release no new material for the original Dungeons & Dragons game and hadn't yet put anything out to replace it. The body text is familiar from other contemporary advertisements, but the form given shown here let you order a white box, all the supplements, a Swords & Spells, and a subscription to bi-monthly The Dragon magazine. The cover of that magazine's first issue supplied the slayable fellow shown at the top.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A Forgotten Variant: Loera, the Massively Multiplayer Tabletop RPG


The original Dungeons & Dragons rules invited fans to make their own additions and modifications to the system, and many early adopters took TSR up on that offer. While some of the unofficial supplements and variants they produced became classics, others fell into total obscurity. Keith Abbott's Loeran Supplement is one that received notices in many fanzines of the day, but ultimately reached a very small audience. It is of interest, however, as Loera was an early attempt to create a massively-multiplayer tabletop game: as the supplement says, "to create the first effective world-sized campaign."

Monday, October 23, 2017

D&D In the News (1976): Fazzle on the Ryth


There was little mainstream press dedicated to Dungeons & Dragons before the calamitous summer of 1979, and virtually none prior to 1977. This particular article by Mike Duffy is from the Detroit Free Press, from August 17, 1976, and it introduces us to D&D through the legendary Ryth campaign conducted by the Metro Detroit Gamers. It does a good job of explaining how D&D captivated early fans: as one put it, "All you can think about is the game."

Monday, October 16, 2017

Spellcasting before D&D in Midgard


From the summer of 1971, this excerpt shows the initial Wizard system developed for a game called Midgard, as disseminated through the seventh issue of Hartley Patterson's original Midgard fanzine. This issue dates a little after the release of first edition Chainmail, and a little before the additions to the Wizard rules Gygax would write up at the end of the year for the International Wargamer which divided Chainmail Wizards into level-like ranks. It is noteworthy for several historical reasons, not least for ostensibly being the earliest spell-point system.