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].

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Vintage Ad: Think of TSR

By 1977, the three letters "TSR" had long since lost their original association with Tactical Studies Rules. This let TSR Hobbies play with the acronym as a mnemonic for its three product silos: traditional tactical wargames, science-fiction games like Star Probe and Star Empires, and finally role-playing games, led by Dungeons & Dragons. That was TSR's umbrella, and when the industry thought of the gaming hobby, TSR hoped it would think of its tactical, sci-fi and role-playing games. The company was still small enough at this point for Gary Gygax to micromanage how they presented this message, as his hand corrections to the advertisement here show in a surviving TSR internal document.

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."