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— Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Freiherr von Münchhausen

D&D, Past and Present

By way of a forum sig, I found this little gem of a rant by Charlie Martin that sums up the commercial and political history of Dungeons and Dragons, the grand-daddy of all roleplaying games; the gaming phenomenon arguably responsible for all modern, medieval-themed games, from Ultima to Golden Axe to Diablo to World of Warcraft.

As a longtime D&D player and an amateur historian of the gaming hobby, I'm surprised at how little of the infighting I actually knew about, as well as who was responsible for which innovations. Surprising tidbits I picked up:

  • It was Dave Arneson, not Gary Gygax, who came up with the idea of role-playing as we know it: each player is responsible for playing a single character instead of commanding entire platoons in a wargame.
  • The original release of Dungeons and Dragons required both Gygax's older game Chainmail and Avalon Hill's Outdoor Survival rules to supplement it.
  • Tactical Studies Rules, Inc.'s original founders were Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, Don Kaye, and Brian Blume. After the falling-out between Arneson and Gygax, Gygax created TSR, Inc. with Brian and Kevin Blume. Thus, TSR and Tactical Studies Rules are two different companies, albeit with some common owners.
  • The split between "Basic" and "Advanced" D&D in 1977 was primarily an effort to appease Dave Arneson, who had sued for both recognition and royalties. Gyagx continued to churn out material for AD&D while relegating the basic D&D line to other authors.
  • Lorraine Williams, who took over TSR after the Blume family had basically run it into the ground, was a financial consultant who despised gamers. It was under Williams that the second edition was produced.
Martin sagely notes that "every single person who has tried to screw someone over in the name of getting more money out of Dungeons & Dragons has got what was coming to them. It’s quite a nice bit of justice that is rarely found in the real world."

And for those of you who may not keep up with all the latest happenings in the world of role-playing games, you may have missed this one: Fourth Edition D&D was announced at GenCon Indy 2007. According to the latest scuttlebut, the three core books (new cover art here: PHB, DMG, MM) will be released in June, 2008.

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The Red Bull Diary is the personal pulpit and intellectual dumping-ground for its author, an amateur game designer, professional programmer, political centrist and incurable skeptic. The Red Bull Diary is gaming, game design, politics, development, geek culture, and other such nonsense.