The rise of the first Tabletop RPG

The year is 1970, and the first steps that would lead up to Dungeons and Dragons and the genera it would create are being laid. Gary Gygax, who has spent the last two or three years planning and creating Gencon a convention devoted to wargames meets Don Lowry. The two hit it off, both having worked on wargames in the past few years and end up working together on what they consider to be what wargaming needed: Chainmail.

Chainmail was a wargame through and through, but the first elements of what would become the basis of DnD were forming. In Chainmail, the world was based on turn-based combat all done in various stages, each of which had specific actions that could be done within them. Over the course of the next two years this game would be refined and changed dramatically with the addition of specific rules for magical additions to the Chainmail game.

However, this would not be enough for Gary Gygax, who would spend the next two years creating a new experience. After forming TSR in 1973, the company came out with it's first product in 1974: Dungeons and Dragons. This was kind of the crippled stepchild of Chainmail, being what Gygax thought of as a logical continuation of the genera, controlling a single hero rather than units of characters.

Dungeons and Dragons was the first of its kind, a game that was designed not around the combat of many but around the specific lives of single characters. For the first few years, in fact, it wasn't common for miniatures to be used. But that would change once more when some players decided to bring in old Chainmail rules into the game.

Eventualy this mixture would become the major line of the game, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. Begining in 1977 TSR published two DND games simultaniusly, focusing on groups of players with very different playstyles. Known as "Basic" and "Advanced" at first, but leading into more confusing dichotimies down the line.

The Controversy Sorounding DnD

Pax Unplugged Convention Website

Dungeons and Dragons is no stranger to controversy. While there were a few mentions in the 70s, it was the 80s where the controversy mostly came through. Dungeons and dragons faced a lot of opposition from people for various reasons, from as simple as religious rejections of source material dealing with magic, to as far reaching as claims that it is actively corrupting and driving people to suicide. The most important of these cases were Irving Pulling, James Egbert, and Chris Pritchard. The first two committed suicide, and the last allegedly masterminded the murder of his mother and attempted murder of his stepfather. Each of these were blamed on Dungeons and Dragons.

For a lot of people some of this fear was backed up by the comic 'Dark Dungeons' by famed religious tract writer Jack Chick. Dark Dungeons took a lot of the elements of these stories, especially that of Irving Pulling, and turned it into a dark idea of what DnD really was. The comic was religious in nature and claimed that the corruption was due to calling on demonic powers. This comic was later turned into a movie in 2014, which was officially licensed by Chick's company. However, this movie was a little bit irreverent, and ended up using a very accurate version of the comic for comedic value.

In the late 90s and early 2000s Wizards of the Coast used their newly bought license for DnD to introduce new elements into the game. Some of these elements have been seen as calling back to the days of controversy, for good or ill.

The Pinnicle

While Dungeons and Dragons continues to be an extremely large and profitable property to this day, there was a time when it was the most popular. This was at the end of the 90s and the beginning of the 2000s, not long after Wizards of the Coast bought TSR. With the release of 3rd edition DnD, Wizards regained their popularity for a short period of time. This is still the most popular of the editions among die-hard fans of the game, but it gained a reputation as being complicated.

This was only increased, on both counts, with the advent of what is known as 3.5 edition. This miniature update of the rules, only 3 years after the original release, became the most widely spread version of the game for over a decade. Even as Dungeons and Dragons was revived in 4th edition once more, many players decided to stick with 3rd.

In fact, 3.5 was so popular that another game was spawned among the years of 4th edition. Pathfinder, which now holds the spot as one of the top ten pen and paper games, is based off a trimmed down version of 3.5 edition. This is the legacy that what many have chosen as the pinnacle of Dungeons and Dragons holds.

Temple Anthropology Laboratory and Museum 

Gladfelter Hall- Lower Level, Temple University

1115 Polett Walk, Philadelphia, PA 19122

‚Äč

anthlab@temple.edu

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram