A Preview of The Making of Original Dungeons & Dragons: 1970-1977

With The Making of Original Dungeons & Dragons: 1970-1977, Wizards is going back to the roots of the game, presenting material other histories have not.

It's not surprising that Wizards' releases for 2024 largely center around the 50th anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons. In Vecna: Eve of Ruin, Wizards' goal was the biggest adventure 5E has seen, with one of the game's oldest villains. With The Making of Original Dungeons & Dragons: 1970-1977, Wizards is going back to the roots of the game, presenting material other histories have not.

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“There are a lot of books that tell people how D&D was made, but [what] we wanted to do with this was show it to you instead,” said senior game designer Jason Tondro. “So what this book does is... it includes everything from before D&D existed. Games were being made that influenced D&D, and then the first draft of D&D that Gary Gygax typed out in Lake Geneva, then the first printing of the Brown Box, the first version of D&D that ever hit the world.”

“And all of this, all this stuff,” Tondro continued, “is interspersed with letters and correspondence between Dave [Arneson] and Gary, or all kinds of ephemera and unusual documents from the period. So you get this overall historical view where you can see the materials that were being created that went into Dungeons & Dragons, and you can see the game being evolved and come to creation. And then you can see how it changed and it altered in the years leading up to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.”

“This is what really makes this book different from every other history of D&D book. It's not a history. This is the making of original Dungeons & Dragons. You get to see the game being made in front of your eyes,” said Tondro.

To do that, the book is big – so big that they joked about using it for exercise during the press preview. At 576 pages, it's even bigger than Dungeons & Dragons: Lore & Legends, which is 416 pages.

The book is divided into four sections, each of which has its own color-coded ribbon. Part 1 is about the precursors to D&D. Part 2 focuses on the 1973 draft of D&D. Part 3 is about Original Dungeons & Dragons, looking at the draft version versus the published one, the Brown Box and White Box. Part 4 is “Articles & Additions,” including Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Eldritch Wizardry, and The Dragon, among others.
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Digging Into Historic Documents

Working with Tondro and the D&D team on this massive work is D&D historian Jon Peterson. Wizards reached out to Peterson in 2021, asking if he had any ideas for a look at D&D's history that hadn't been sufficiently addressed.

“Having worked on books like Playing at the World, The Elusive Shift, Game Wizards, and so on, and I have looked through multiple admirations [sic] of kind of how D&D came together,” said Peterson, “and I thought, wouldn't it just be amazing to be able to go back to all the originals? Unfortunately, some of the material that tells the story, it's kind of hard to get these days.”

Not only does the fact that 50 years has passed since D&D was created present a challenge for historians. Availability and condition are also key factors.

A lot of these fanzines were printed in absolutely minuscule numbers,” said Peterson. “They now command prodigious sums at auction, and getting access to some of the even more detailed, kind of in-house development documents is perhaps even more difficult still. And so really, just having the opportunity to put those tools out there in front of people, and to be able to say, D&D has this conceptual history.”

The book has a wealth of documentation from club newsletters and the like that show how OD&D evolved and changed. They're also hard to read at times as materials aged and faded. The team did their best to present those documents as they exist. However, because of the initial poor quality and how time and storage affected them, some clean up was necessary in a few places. Overall though, documents are presented as they were found, even if it makes certain words hard to read here and there.

Another thing of note in some of these early documents is off-color language and language that would not be used today. They didn't change it because it's history. They did, however, placing it in historical context, so the readers can read it for themselves and decide what they think of it. For example, there is a parenthetical comment on one page from around 1973/1974 that's a dig at the women's lib movement (ED: not pictured). It's still there in the reproduction of the page.

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The Precursors to D&D

D&D did not spring fully formed from the mind of Gary Gygax. TMoOD&D starts with significant look at the forces and influences that led to the game we know.

“A real focus of my own work has been showing that D&D didn't happen in a vacuum, right?” said Peterson. There were cultural conditions, there were sociological interactions that were kind of necessary... For me, this book would be twice as long. We'd be talking about [a] 1,200 page version of this. But, you know, we did our best to be able to include what we could that we thought was kind of the most essential to telling the story.”

Before D&D, there was Braunstein. During the press conference, however, Tondro mistakenly referred to it as “Brownstein”, which is corrected where appropriate.

“Braunstein is a fascinating and often forgotten element of the evolution of D&D,” said Tondro. “It's a kind of war game. It was developed by a fellow named David Wesely, who's still running these games, by the way. He was running them at GaryCon just a few months ago. Braunstein was a war game of Napoleonic armies invading this little Austrian town, but what made it unusual is that the players were assigned characters in town, and Dave Arneson, for example, was assigned the role of a student. And they had their own sort of side objectives that they could pursue [and] that they could still win even if Napoleon conquered the town. And this idea, what made it unusual, was that the players could kind of try anything like the players playing the student could try any kind of risk or gamble that they could think of and then the referee had to think up an impromptu kind of 'what happens next' consequence and how does that work, and you know, does your strategy succeed?”

Tondro continued, “This was really unusual and the players in this Twin Cities gaming club. They loved it, and they continue to innovate and iterate on this idea. They ran a Western version of this called 'Brownstone,' in which Dave Arneson played a bandit named 'El Pancho,' and then Arneson decides to create his own, what he called 'medieval Braunstein,' and that's what you're looking at right here is the announcement in his newsletter than his medieval Braunstein is gonna be starting, and this “Braunstein” became “Blackmoor.”

Arneson's zine was called “Corner of the Table” and went out to his local group as well as to people in other cities, including Gygax in Lake Geneva. It shows how much of a hobby this was. It was all done so casually with no thought that this could evolve into something like what the RPG industry and what D&D has been like in the 50 years that followed.

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Chainmail

TMoOD&D includes the second printing of Chainmail, which contains terms still used in the D&D today. Both versions of Chainmail had ideas Gygax encountered elsewhere.

“Gygax was a great recycler and developer of ideas. I wouldn't describe him 'an idea man.'” said Peterson. “He was someone who kind of would pull from all these different sources and put things together. There's a fellow named Jeff Perren who had developed some mass combat medieval rules, and Gary kind of borrowed those.” Peterson

“Yeah, Arneson was the idea man,” agreed Tondro.

“Gary did his work in public. I mean, his greatest talent perhaps was that he was a consensus builder. He was someone who found clubs, got people organized, socialized rule, and he worked best interacting with other people's proposals. That's what really got him fired up, is seeing somebody else has a way of doing this. 'I could turn that into a system that would have like this quality and this quality and it would be really cool, and ultimately even something we might be able to turn into a product and sell 'em.” Peterson explained. “I would say ultimately Arneson was perhaps a bit more ambivalent overall about the prospects of commercializing a hobby,” Peterson added.

And before there was a D&D, Arneson and Gygax collaborated on a game called Don't Give Up the Ship, which was released by Guidon Games. However, Guidon Games didn't pay Arneson anything for it, which made Arneson swear he'd never submit anything else to them again, but Gygax did, and Guidon Games rejected it, setting the stage for them to do it themselves.

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Giving Contributors Their Due

Research for this book brought home for Tondro how much of an impact Arneson had. He knew the name, but not what he did, especially since Tondro began playing after the Chainmail days. Gygax had plans for a third edition of Chainmail but in the meantime had been reading Arneson's zine. Blackmoor brought the concept of hit dice.

Tondro discovered that Arneson is the one who said, there has to be a better way to handle damage in combat and added hit dice. Arneson loved the drama and uncertainty of meeting an ogre and not knowing how much it would take to beat it because it wasn't a static number. The book also documents the work of Leonard Pat, who is a name the average D&D player won't recognize yet contributed to the evolution of the game.

“Leonard Pat had produced a set of rules in 1970 that Gary Gygax effectively cribbed from,” said Peterson. “These are rules that had wizards and anti-heroes and heroes and dragons. It was very Tolkien scoped, which is not as true of Chainmail. You see a lot of elements in Chainmail that go against the way Middle Earth actually was structured, and Gary complained all the time about people telling him that Chainmail was wrong because it wasn't faithful to Tolkien.... The evidence is overwhelming from my perspective that that was an article that was known to the creators of Chainmail, but this was again who Gary was. He would see something like this two-page set of rules that Leonard Pat put in a fanzine late in 1970 and be like, 'oh my god, I can take this and build it out into, you know, this much larger thing and it'll add more monsters, will add more spells, and we'll kind of build this whole thing out of that. All the best things he [Gary] did, he did in reaction to something like that.”

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The Dungeon

Before Dungeons & Dragons the RPG, there was Dungeon the game, and it's less the role-playing game we know today or a module than something Peterson describes as similar to the ancillary board games D&D has put out over the years that approximate play.

“There's no hidden dungeon, right? And there's no collaboration in the parties, and, you know, combat systems in it are fairly rudimentary... You get to a room and Monopoly-style, you're drawing a card, like from the community chest to determine what it is going to happen when you get there. So it's not strictly speaking an adventure like we would understand a module now,” said Peterson.

Dungeon feels to me more like an ancestor of games like Talisman and Hero Quest than it is of adventure modules,” added Tondro.

TMoOD&D ends with the realization that a new edition of D&D will be needed, the edition that will become Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The Making of Original Dungeons & Dragons: 1970-1977 does not have an early release date. It will be available for purchase on June 18 for $99.99.
 

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Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels

ngenius

Adventurer
So I travelled to the UK Games Expo in 2024, and on this 50th Anniversary Year of Dungeons and Dragons, I could not find any officials from Wizards of the Coast with preview copies of the wonderful anniversary books. Paizo was there but also in much smaller capacity. Monte Cook Games was there too, which was nice. But is it the economic downturn, even in this year of celebration, that stopped a WoTC presence?
 

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Parmandur

Book-Friend
So I travelled to the UK Games Expo in 2024, and on this 50th Anniversary Year of Dungeons and Dragons, I could not find any officials from Wizards of the Coast with preview copies of the wonderful anniversary books. Paizo was there but also in much smaller capacity. Monte Cook Games was there too, which was nice. But is it the economic downturn, even in this year of celebration, that stopped a WoTC presence?
WotC has barely had a convention budget for U.S. cons in the past decade: theybare barely ramping up over here.
 


zenopus

Doomed Wizard
If I had more money, this would be on the list for sure! I hope everyone enjoys it.

Keep your eye out for sales. I missed it, but Game Nerdz apparently had an early bird pre-order for $65, which is unfortunately out of stock.

The MSRP for the deluxe version of Art & Arcana (which includes the OD&D tournament version of Tomb of Horrors) was $125, but my pre-order charged price was only $75, and you can get it now for $69.99, and it's been as low as $46:

 


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Guest
Following is the preface to the book, by Jason Tondro (as best as I was able to transcribe from a screenshot):


It's difficult to overstate the impact of Dungeons & Dragons on games and gaming. Modern video games - with their classes, levels, and hit points - are D&D's direct descendants using language, tropes, and mechanics first created by by Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax. Science fiction and fantasy war games likewise descend directly from some of the materials included in this book. The influence of D&D is not limited to gamers. People who have never played D&D brag about leveling up or choose their alignment from a meme depicting a 9-panel grid. D&D is a part of American culture and resonates deeply with audiences from around the globe.
Perhaps more important than D&D's worldwide influence is its role in the lives of the millions of people who play the game. Dungeons and Dragons brings people together. It encourages players to adopt the perspective of someone other than themselves and to operate toward a shared goal.
In a time when humanity has been wrecked by a global pandemic and forced to isolate, when children have been unable to go to school and friends unable to share a meal, D&D reminded us to never split the party. And as we have - in halting steps and at various comfort levels - emerged from COVID, role-playing games have shown us a way to rebuild relationships and alleviate loneliness. The history of D&D is, therefore, worth knowing. Many authors have attempted to chronicle its history and many of these texts provide valuable insight. This book takes a different approach. It presents the documents that made up D&D in its earliest form so that you, the reader, can see the origins of D&D for yourself. It begins with early writings by Gygax and Arneson, including Gygax's Chainmail rules and selections from Arneson's Blackmoor campaign.
The book also includes something never before published: the original draft of Dungeons & Dragons that Gygax crafted on his home typewriter with his and Arneson's annotations and corrections. This draft led to the 1974 publication of the first edition of D&D, which is reprinted here in its entirety. Finally, the three most important supplements to the first edition of the game - Greyhawk, Blackmoor, and Eldritch Wizardry - appear here, as do numerous articles and expansions written by fans, many of which were incorporated into Advanced Dungeons and Dragons in the years after 1977.
With a few noted exceptions, every page reproduced in this book is from a first printing with no attempt to correct the original pages. Street addresses and phone numbers have been redacted. The early rules for D&D are important and incredibly influential. But they're also confusing and even contradictory; that's how we've left them. We don't encourage you to try to play 1974 D&D from these pages ( if you want to try, Wizards of the Coast has edited and republished the original Dungeons & Dragons "white box" in both physical and digital formats. These reprints incorporate errata from later printings of the game.)
This book presents D&D as it was first imagined, warts and all. What sort of warts are we talking about? One example is including creatures from other intellectual properties, such as JRR Tolkien's Middle-Earth, without permission. In later printings of D&D, Balrogs, Hobbits, and Ents were renamed Balors, halflings, and treants to avoid these copyright issues.
Some language in the first iteration of D&D presents a moral quandary. The documents reproduced in this book include many pages of charts and tables alongside lists of monsters, spells, and magic items. But that game content also includes a virtual catalog of insensitive and derogatory language, words that are casually hurtful to anyone with a physical or mental disability, or who happen to be old, fat, not conventionally attractive, indigenous, Black, or a woman.
Some people have charitably ascribed this language to authors working from bad assumptions. In the 1970s, historical wargamers in America were predominantly white, middle class men. It isn't surprising that they would dub a class of soldiers "fighting-man. "
But when, in the pages of Greyhawk, the description of the Queen of Chaotic Dragons includes a dig at "women's lib" the misogyny is revealed as a conscious choice. It's an unfortunate fact that women seldom appear in original D&D, and when they do, they're usually portrayed disrespectfully. Slavery appears in original Dungeons and Dragons not as a human tragedy that devastated generations over centuries, but as a simple commercial transaction. The cultural appropriation of original D&D ranges from the bewildering ( like naming every sixth level cleric a "lama" to the staggering; God's, Demigods, and Heroes ( not reprinted in this book ) includes game statistics for sacred figures revered by more than a billion people around the world. Were players expected to fight Vishnu, one of the principle deities of Hinduism, kill him, and loot his "+3 sword of demon slaying "?
Despite these shortcomings, D&D has always been a game about people choosing to be someone unlike themselves and collaborating with strangers who become friends. It has slowly become more inclusive, and as the player base has become more diverse, the pool of creators who make the game has expanded to include people with a broader range of identity and backgrounds. As these new creators make the game more welcoming, the game is attracting new fans who, in turn, may continue to make the game more inclusive. The future of Dungeons and Dragons, here at its 50th anniversary, is bright. And it all started with the pages that follow.
 

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And, the Foreword by Jon Peterson (again, the best I could transcribe from a screenshot):

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the publication of Dungeons & Dragons ( 1974 ) this omnibus gives the complete text of the final game and its first three supplements with supporting material from before and after the release that sheds light on D&D's development, creation, and reception. Focusing on the years 1974-1977, it provides both a definitive edition of the original incarnation of D&D and indications of how it came to be what it is. Beyond published products, this book reproduces drafts, correspondence, magazine articles, and other related ephemera.
No book published today could hope to give a complete picture of the making of D&D. For reasons of space and copyright, not everything can be included. And for many early parts of this story, there is but fragmentary evidence. The commentary in this book is intended to be an account that will stand regardless of anything that might come to light in the future. When we examine the development of D&D, in the crucial period of 1972-1973, we must inevitably contend with the respective contributions of the game's co-authors, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. Following a bitter public dispute that began in 1977 over credit and royalties, both authors made contradictory public statements about who did what. It has long been my position that the contributions of both creators were indispensable - that the game would not have appeared, let alone survive for a half a century - without the work and ideas of both Gygax and Arneson. But that said, the original designers of D&D were themselves participants in broader communities in wargaming and science fiction fandom. . . (bottom portion obscured in screengrab)

. . .significant typos, and have problems with dating and attribution. They may therefore be difficult to parse, but fanzines and other such ephemera are presented here in their original form with some digital cleanup to remove blemishes and other artifacts. Much of the immediate context of D&D began with the Castles and Crusades society, a medieval wargaming club to which Gygax and Arneson both belonged. In the pages of the club fanzine, Domesday Book, Gygax first published material he later compiled in Chainmail ( 1971 ). As the draft Forward to Dungeons & Dragons related, the society's fictional " Great Kingdom" setting encompassed the territory known as Blackmoor, the site of Arneson's seminal fantasy campaign. While there is no small controversy about the details, it is safe to follow the foreword and say that " from the Chainmail fantasy rules Arneson drew an expanded set of rules for battles and the campaign" for Blackmoor, which Gygax further developed into the first draft of Dungeons and Dragons.
Readers may know that more material of Gygax's is reproduced in this volume than of Arneson's. Gagex was quite a prolific writer and necessarily left a longer paper trail of his activities in the original D&D. The collaboration between the pair of them was not entirely a happy one even before Dungeons & Dragons was published, and assessing which one of them contributed a given idea can be challenging. Certain early documents relating to Blackmoor were published by Judges Guild in the First Fantasy Campaign (1977). Though it also anthologizes material created after the 1974 publication of the original Dungeons and Dragons boxed set with little signposting to date the age of respective passages. Those documents aren't included here. Though, this book summarizes their contents where necessary. It is my privilege to help make this rare early material available to gamers interested in the history of the original system. . . (bottom portion obscured in screengrab)



. . . on the spot to create a coherent play experience. Thus, any attempt to identify a single "original" play style for these rules can only ever be one interpretation. As Chainmail puts it, " these rules may be treated as guidelines around which you form a game that suits you. "
Note that the " rules for fantastic medieval war games campaigns" that make up original D&D were created by and sold to a wargaming community that was almost exclusively white, middle class men. The rules compiled here offer little by way of rules for other players, nor indeed for anyone who wouldn't easily identify with a pulp sword-and- sorcery hero. Especially before 1974, the rules made light of slavery, in addition to including other harmful content. To reiterate the disclaimer Wizards of the Coast includes on legacy D&D content, " These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. The content is presented as it was originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed. "
I'd like to thank a few people who helped me parse and understand this material in various ways, including Bill Meinhardt, Mike Mornard, Dave Megarry, Dave Wesely, Bill Hoyt, Mike Carr, Frank Mentzer, Dan Boggs, and - ever so long ago - Dave Arneson. I'd also like to thank the team at Wizards, including Judy Bauer, Janica Carter, Matt Cole, Kate Irwin, Bob Jordan, and Jason Tondro.
 


overgeeked

B/X Known World
So much history lost, ignored, and glossed over because of the Western fetishization of documents over oral history. Dozens of people who are still alive can speak directly to several gaps in the written material. But they’re all ignored. Such a pointless waste.

The Secrets of Blackmoor documentary interviews a lot of people who were there at the beginning. It’s well worth the watch and re-watch.
 


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