It’s now been 40 years since Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson published a small set of rules, designed to be used in conjunction with wargaming miniatures. It was primitive, crude and assumed that players were already familiar with the mechanics of miniature wargaming. That game would eventually take the world by storm – and I assume you’ve all guessed from the title of this article that the game I’m talking about here is Dungeons and Dragons. And on the eve of its 40th anniversary – and with the impending release of the 5th edition, D&D Next – it seems appropriate to recollect a few of my own experiences with the game.
I started playing Dungeons and Dragons “proper” in 2006. Though I’d played other pen and paper RPGS previously – most notably Vampire: The Masquerade and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay – I was yet to try the original. I had grown up hearing many of the stories surrounding Dungeons and Dragons in the 1980s and early 1990s – it involved the occult, devil worship, etc. Many of you who have played the game will find this laughable, but I suppose that the 1980s it was much harder to fact-check things via the internet and urban myths have a way of finding a life of their own. While many of the claims were grossly exaggerated, TSR didn’t always help their own cause, either, with some of the material that has been published for the game.But once I did start, I very quickly came to see why it had inspired – and dominated – the RPG scene and filtered through to wider pop culture. Though there was a default game world – Greyhawk – you were just as free to ignore this, and use one of the many settings that had been developed. Or even better, construct your own!
I loved it. In fact, it became one of my main forms of entertainment during a period in my life where I was at university, living out of home and struggling to feed myself – one of the few respites from what seemed a harsh existence at the time. For this, I will be eternally grateful to the game, its creators, and to the people who attended those Friday night gaming sessions.The longest campaign I ever ran was still relatively short by some people’s standards – around 6 or so months. The party journeyed across the continent of Rathen, in search of the evil minions of the One-Eyed Black Dragon, an evil deity who had made his home in the dread Skull Mountain. The game would eventually fall apart for all the usual reasons – people couldn’t make it as regularly due to new commitments, interpersonal conflicts, etc. So the epic final conflict that would have (hopefully) seen them slay the dragon never took place, unfortunately. The campaign notes have also been lost, likely due to moving house multiple times in the intervening years, so I can only recall the very broad strokes – but most of the games I have run since take place in Rathen, even if its geography has changed many times. Skull Mountain still appears in the odd game, usually as a one-off dungeon where everyone is expected to die.
Not long after this campaign had fizzled out, in early 2008, Gary Gygax passed away. Arneson would also pass away the next year. Games had been less and less frequent for some time, but in 2009 I hung up my dice bag and filed away my books for a number of years, due to a variety of circumstances – moving house, adjusting to a new job, going to a new church, building new circles of friends, etc. As a result, I’ve never played a game of 4th Edition, though I’m assured by many that I’m best to stick to 3.5, the edition that was doing the rounds when I was in my prime playing days.
But my love for the game remains undiminished. I’ve recently started playing again, across a few different groups of friends, and it remains as engaging as ever. So here’s to the past 40 years of fun it’s provided to people all over the world, and here’s to many more decades of fun to come!
The Starter Set for D & D Next is released on July 15th, with the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide and Monster Manual -- among other supplements -- to be rolled out over the upcoming months. The Basic Rules can also be downloaded directly from the Wizards of the Coast website, here.
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