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The History of Dungeons and Dragons - For and By Nerds!

Updated on January 26, 2015

My D&D book collection

My Advanced D&D books- first edition, of course
My Advanced D&D books- first edition, of course | Source

The story begins

40 years ago, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson completed what amounted to a 3 year collaboration to create a game that was unlike any other: the world's first role-playing game (RPG). The story that led them there is a good one, but the ensuing rivalry between Gygax and Arneson, the subsequent foudning of TSR, and where the fantasy roleplaying world has gone since then are far more fascinating subjects.

If you're like me (and why on earth would you be reading this if you weren't at least a little bit nerdy?), you grew up playing Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. I remember ruefully the day that the 2nd Edition books came out at Waldenbooks in my town. We snatched them up eagerly and took to learning the new rule set, but after a few months we realized there was nothing like the original AD&D books. Why was that? Among many other things, "Of Dice and Men" gives some insight into this: Gygax poured his heart and soul into the Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide, using vivid imagination to cover all potential scenarios he could come up with for game play.

The author (who also reads his own book)

A personal voyage

This book is doubly appropriate and impacting for me because I also own a business, and strongly consider my early D&D roleplay (and, especially, DMing) to have helped me out a great deal with the reality (beyond mere entrepreneurial excitement and euphoria everyone experiences at first). After all, what could be more like running a campaign in real life than running a small business? The ups and downs of the business implications in "Of Dice and Men" was one of the more enjoyable aspects of the book, but the best part was the author's voice throughout. Ewalt tells a story of going to do some LARPing (Live Action Role Playing) for the first time, along with reigniting old campaigns and starting new ones, and meeting Gygax's son. The writing is good and the story is fascinating.

Unlocking your imagination

A small portion of a hand-designed dungeon, just one small slice of a typical campaign we used to run.
A small portion of a hand-designed dungeon, just one small slice of a typical campaign we used to run. | Source

Kids have it good now

Nowadays, there's not only a book on the history of D&D, but also incredibly accessible first edition D&D books at a great price (although you might have to do some hunting). There are even some amazing D&D gag gifts out there! These tomes were incredibly difficult to come across when I was a kid, and as such, we treasured them. Consequently, perhaps, although I haven't run an AD&D campaign for decades, I still have all of my books (and even some of my old hand-written campaigns!).

Dungeons and Dragons fostered creativity in me at a very early age, and it wasn't just artistic - it was that elusive combination of left- and right-brained creative thinking that blends math, art, literature, history, and science together in a necessary knowledge potpourri. I'm so glad I found D&D as a kid. I might not otherwise have become a business owner, and who knows what other turns my life might have taken.

Remember Dragon's Lair?

Do you remember this arcade game? Inspired by Dungeons and Dragons, "Dragon's Lair" used a laserdisc (yes, I remember those really well, too) to cue up scenes based on how you responded. I, like every other kid, really wanted to play this game, but the thing was, this game was just terrible. You had to respond in a certain way, and it absolutely wasn't live action, although it was sort of presented as such. It was more like an extremely glitchy "Choose Your Own Adventure" type game, but in a swords and sorcery setting.

Nevertheless, "Dragon's Lair" only intensified my zeal for AD&D when I started playing it, just three years or so after this game had left the arcades (I figure I was 11 or 12 when I was first introduced to D&D, which puts my story at 1987 or thereabouts; "Dragon's Lair" was introduced in 1983, and surely stayed popular for a couple of years).

How about the D&D cartoon?

Remember the animated D&D cartoon? Yeah, it was kind of terrible, too, but at the same time, it proved seminal in my mind's preparing to play the game itself (it worked, TSR!). This show centered around a group of friends who got on a carnival ride, and magically came through on the other side as characters in a Dungeons and Dragons adventure. I was introduced to a magic user (wizard), fighter, cleric, and Tiamat, whom I ended up naming my Doberman after about two decades later (RIP! She was just awesome).

This series had everything a pre-pubescent boy could want, including (very mild) violence, traps, dungeons, creative problem solving, and especially imagination. This was more than enough to ignite the spark that ultimately led to my first game just a year or two later.

Comic convention I attended, a haven for D&D playing


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