The evolution of Dungeons and Dragons and the fate of one of its inventors
DnD, or D&D, enthusiasts generally don’t use the full title of this perennial favourite table top role playing game, which celebrated its 40th birthday in 2014.
But did you know that the current version of the game is the fifth since it was first launched in 1974? The original (OD&D) contained just three books, Men & Magic, Monsters & Treasure, and The Underworld & Wilderness.
Men & Magic described the races involved in the game, humans, dwarves, elves, and halflings and it wasn’t until the launch of the advanced version (AD&D) in 1977 that other beings were introduced including gnomes, half-elves, and half-orcs. Similarly the combat rules were simple by the standards of later versions.
Monsters & Treasures describes what the title suggests and monsters include humanoids, demi humans, the undead, and mythological creatures, among them the purple worm, the invisible stalker, and a variety of jellies, puddings, slimes, oozes, and moulds and the various colours of dragons.
The Underworld & Wilderness describes how to create the settings, the dungeons with their complicated levels, in which the adventures will take place.
Between 1975-76 four supplements were added introducing new characters as players both good and evil, more creatures and magic items.
Further AD&D versions were released in 1989 (2nd edition) 2000 (edition 3) 2003 (edition 3.5) and 2008 (edition 4). Edition 5 was released in 2014 to celebrate the 40th birthday.
The most recent versions of the game’s rules are detailed in three core rulebooks: The Player’s Handbook, the Dungeon Master’s Guide and the Monster Manual.
Who invented D&D?
Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson created the game and eventually formed the company TRS Inc to produce and distribute it. It is said that the idea for the game came from the fantasy supplement added to the end of Chainmail, the first commercially available wargame, by Gary Gygaz and Jeff Perren, which was used by Dave Arneson as the basis for the original set of monsters and spells in D&D.
But even before D&D was born it was Gary Gygax’ teenage explorations of tunnels under an abandoned asylum in his Illinois home town along with a passion for war games and characters that was an early stimulus, which when combined with Arneson’s passion for imaginative, never-ending play, along with the concept of a master storytelling referee (The Dungeon Master who sets the scenario and rules for each game) resulted in the creation of D&D.
By 1985 Gary Gygax was President and Chief Executive Officer of TSR, Inc. with a controlling share of the company’s stock and therefore a role as chairman of the board of directors.
But this was not enough to save him, when, at a board meeting on the evening of October 22, 1985, there was a disagreement over who should hold all copyrights, trademarks, and royalties for works authored, Gygax and employees or the company TSR itself.
It was the culmination of months of convoluted manoeuvrings over who should be responsible for different aspects of the company and who had controlling interest TSR, which was facing financial difficulties, and a proposal was put to the board at the meeting that: “…in the best interests of the corporation, E. Gary Gygax be terminated as President and Chief Executive Officer and Chairman and that TSR and Mr. Gygax negotiate and seek to enter into an agreement whereby Mr. Gygax would continue to do creative work and the Company continue to utilize his creative talent.”
Following a further year of legal wrangling, Gygax, who by this time held only a minority of the TSR stock, resigned from all his positions with TSR in October 1986. The whole complex story is told by author Jon Peterson here.