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.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Vintage Ad: Why Women Don't Play Wargames


This late-1970s variant on one of the earliest Dungeons & Dragon advertisements repeats some conventional wisdom of the day about female participation in the gaming community. But as the text suggests, D&D had the potential to be "a game which women play and enjoy equally with men." Women did take up D&D in numbers very different from prior self-identified wargames, though their integration into the community faced its share of challenges.

This advertisement could be found in the wild as a full-page in Fantastic Stories magazine, June 1977. TSR then actively targeted not just gamers but fans of fantasy fiction--by some estimates, about a third of whom at the time were women.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Gin and Pygmalion, In and Out of Blackmoor


This short piece "In Search of Pygmalion" from October 1974 has no byline, but it was written by Dave Arneson. It tells of an evil magician named "the GIN of Sailik" who spirits away the immortal Pygmalion. The zine it appears in, the Bel-Ran Rumormonger, was the in-character journal of Scott Rich's "Midgard Limited" game, where players would contribute background on their sections of the campaign world. As the story of the lascivious Gin and the ensorcelled Pygmalion may be familiar to fans of the Blackmoor setting, this piece provides a striking illustration of how Arneson recycled elements across the games that he played, and moreover of how hard it can be to impose firm boundaries around which game events were and were not components of a campaign like Blackmoor.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Dalluhn Manuscript and CONTAX


The Dalluhn Manuscript, a document that preserves early draft text of Dungeons & Dragons, has long defied any attempts at precise identification. In no small part this is because of its unsigned artwork, like this section title page for "Before Setting Out For Fame and Fortune," which has not been convincingly attributed to any of the artists who worked on D&D. Thanks to the discovery of still earlier material like the Mornard Fragments, and now the Guidon D&D first draft, we can show various ways that the text of Dalluhn obviously derived from prior D&D texts. But we haven't had any similar breakthrough with the art... or hey wait, isn't that a familiar face in the upper left hand corner of that letterhead? Who or what is CONTAX?

Friday, July 14, 2017

See the D&D Draft at the Gen Con Museum


In celebration of its fiftieth anniversary, Gen Con will be staging a museum next month in Indianapolis. The museum will pay homage to Gen Con by showing how the gaming hobby has grown over the past half century from its humble origins to dominate the world. And there's no better way to demonstrate that than with a treasure trove of gaming history. Although four-day tickets for Gen Con are now sold out, if you are lucky enough to have a badge, do drop by the museum. You will be able to see some amazing artifacts like this: a first draft of Dungeons & Dragons.

Monday, August 1, 2016

The D&D Syndicated Radio Show Pilot



In the early 1980s, at the height of the Dungeons & Dragons fad, TSR heavily promoted the game in mainstream media. This went far beyond mere advertisements: they developed dramatic renditions of D&D as media properties. The most famous result was the Saturday morning cartoon show, though we know of many other projects that never quite made it into production, such as the undeveloped feature film. We must now add to that category a new entry: a syndicated radio program. Unlike the cartoon show or the movie, the planned radio series depicted the actual play of a D&D session rather than dramatizing a loosely-related story: in that respect, it is a long-lost ancestor of contemporary media sensations like Critical Role or Acquisitions Inc. Today, as a special "audio" edition of Playing at the World, we take a listen to the original pilot for the radio show, and consider its relevance to the game spectatorship culture of today.

Listen on YouTube or on SoundCloud.

[UPDATE: Hear the full version on the Wizards of the Coast Podcast]

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

How Mana Became a Game Mechanic


Together with University of Hawai'i anthropologist Alex Golub, I wrote an essay about the origins of "mana" in tabletop and computer games. Alex previously distilled our work into a popular blog post about this, but people interested in the details of early concepts of spell points and how they came to be attached to the idea of mana will find more information in the academic version. Pioneers here included Greg Costikyan, Steve Perrin, Isaac Bonewits, Richard Garfield and many others.

Our essay "How Mana Left the Pacific and Became a Video Game Mechanic" appears in the newly-published anthology New Mana: Transformations of a Classic Concept in Pacific Languages and Cultures (ANU Press), which you can acquire in print versions or download online here: New Mana.