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interests / / [The Guardian] It crawled from below 50 years ago: how the global Dungeons and Dragons empire began in a basement

o [The Guardian] It crawled from below 50 years ago: how the global Dungeons and DKyonshi

[The Guardian] It crawled from below 50 years ago: how the global Dungeons and Dragons empire began in a basement


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From: (Kyonshi)
Subject: [The Guardian] It crawled from below 50 years ago: how the global
Dungeons and Dragons empire began in a basement
Date: Sat, 13 Apr 2024 09:00:05 +0200
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 by: Kyonshi - Sat, 13 Apr 2024 07:00 UTC


It crawled from below 50 years ago: how the global Dungeons & Dragons
empire began in a basement

The fantasy tabletop role-playing game was conceived of by friends at
the heart of Wisconsin’s gaming community, and has evolved to become a
global phenomenon

Keith Stuart
Thu 11 Apr 2024 13.00 CEST

There are 15 of us crammed into a cellar beneath a nondescript house in
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. To the uninformed observer, there’s nothing to
see down here: just two low rooms, bare breeze-block walls, a ceiling
lined with pipes. Yet we’re all looking about the place in hushed awe,
like tourists staring up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The
people I’m with are journalists, bloggers and historians, most of them
specialising in table-top games, and we’re here because this is not an
ordinary basement. It sits beneath 330 Center Street, the one-time home
of Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax. And in February 1973
something happened here that would change the world of gaming, culture
and entertainment for ever.

Across town, at the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, Gary Con XVI is in full
swing. The annual convention organised by Luke Gygax in honour of his
father has been taking place every year since Gary died in 2008. It
started with a few hundred devoted fans, but now several thousand come
to play D&D and many other wargames, board games and role-playing games.
They pack out the building’s many conference rooms and corridors,
hunched in groups around large tables laden with character sheets, dice
and snacks; they dress up as warriors and wizards and attend talks. Many
have clearly been playing for decades.

This year is special – it’s the 50th anniversary of D&D. It was early
1974 that the first edition was launched; a brown wood-grain box
containing three slim rulebooks. One of the big announcements of the
event is that Wizards of the Coast is publishing a range of nostalgic
half-century celebrations, including two new campaigns based on classic
D&D adventures from the 70s and 80s, Vecna: Eve of Ruin and Quests from
the Infinite Staircase. There’s also a 500-page tome entitled The Making
of Original D&D: 1970-1977, which reprints the original manuscript of
D&D, complete with handwritten annotations.

What’s immediately clear is how modest and homespun the project was at
the beginning. “I’ve been gaming my entire life, it’s in my DNA,” says
Luke Gygax, presenting a welcome panel. “I was patient zero for D&D. In
the early days at 330 Center Street, we helped to assemble the games. I
tested a lot of adventures – Against the Giants, Lost Caverns of
Tsojcanth, The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun – and I helped to create
monsters, magic items and spells. It was just a part of playing the game
with my dad.”

The Gygax home was a focal point of the wargaming community in late
1960s Wisconsin. Gary was a founding member of the International
Federation of Wargamers and in 1968 he set up the society’s annual Gen
Con event at the Lake Geneva Horticultural Hall. At this time, people
were playing board-based wargames such as Gettysburg and Stalingrad, or
miniature wargames, which used models of soldiers and vehicles on large
tabletop maps. Both sought to simulate historical battles with dense
rules. At his home, in the cellar, Gygax met up every weekend with his
local group, the Lake Geneva Tactical Studies Association, to play games
and plan their own variations and rules.
The basement in which Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson planned Dungeons &
Dragons. The sand table is a reproduction of one used for miniature

Meanwhile, 300 miles away, University of Minnesota student Dave Arneson
was also deep into the wargaming scene, playing a variety of games with
his own highly experimental group, the Midwest Military Simulation
Association. “They were already messing around with some interesting
variants of a game called Diplomacy,” says Michael Witwer author of the
Gary Gygax biography Empire of the Imagination and several books on the
history of D&D. Diplomacy was a first world war wargame in which players
each commanded the forces of a different country. Uniquely, however, it
wasn’t just about combat; players also had to form alliances and secret
plots. “It is a really interesting game,” says Witwer. “Lots of
interpersonal activity, subterfuge and negotiation.”

Gygax and Arneson met for the first time at Gen Con in 1968. Arneson
brought with him some miniature ship models he’d made and Gary was
impressed. The two hit it off, kept in touch and later made a Napoleonic
naval wargame together named Don’t Give Up the Ship.

But a year later, an even more important meeting took place. “It’s Gen
Con 1969 and we’re down in Gary’s basement – Gary, Dave and me,” says
Bill Hoyt, a member of Dave’s old gaming group who, in his late-80s, is
still running wargames. “We started talking about games, what could we
do with them – and the idea of medieval gaming came up, knights and
castles and all that. Gary said, ‘yes, let’s do that! We’ll collect some
figures, find some rules, and we’ll come back to Gen Con next year and
we’ll play the game together’.”

Gary formed the Castle & Crusade Society in 1970, for gamers interested
in exploring medieval wargaming. Dave Arneson joined in April. The group
had its own fanzine, The Domesday Book, where they swapped ideas –
vitally, they even formed their own imagined medieval realm, the Great
Kingdom. They wrote to each other in character as knights and lords,
informing each other of news from their areas of this fantasy domain.
Already, the story-telling and character-embodiment elements of D&D were
coming into play; the kernel of an idea casually bandied about in Gary’s
basement was taking on a life of its own.

Gygax went on to co-create a medieval wargame named Chainmail, which
created rules for man-to-man fighting with armour and swords, and
brought in some innovative new ideas such as superhero characters who
took a number of hits to defeat. At the same time, Dave Arneson was
messing about with an experimental project named Braunstein by David
Wesely, a Napoleonic wargame inspired by Diplomacy. Instead of
controlling armies, players took on the roles of individual characters
in the fictional German town of the title, all with their own personal

Inspired, Arneson created a campaign variation named Blackmoor, in which
players worked together as individual characters to explore a medieval
town, including its castle and dungeons. It brought in the concept of
hit points, so that characters could take damage without dying, and used
Chainmail’s combat system for fights with non-player characters. Gary
read about this in Dave’s own fanzine, Corner of the Table, and asked
him to come down to Lake Geneva and run a game for him and his group.

That’s how, in February 1973, Dave Arneson and fellow game designer Dave
Megarry came to take the long road trip down from Minneapolis to Lake
Geneva to play Blackmoor in Gary’s basement. “It seems to me, looking at
the remnants of those sessions, that Blackmoor was the first game that
someone from today would look at and recognise as a role-playing game,”
says Witwer. “Gary’s intent was to see this Blackmoor thing that
everyone was talking about and how it worked. They played all weekend,
and Gary lost his mind over it – it was so innovative and different,
he’d never seen anything quite like it.”

Things moved fast after this. Determined to formalise their sketchy
concept into a fantasy game that could be published, Gygax spent several
weeks typing out a 50-page ruleset in his home office. He sent this to
Arneson, who posted back amends. Eventually the document reached 150
pages. They had a game – of sorts. You still needed a copy of Chainmail
to play it, and the many-sided dice were sold separately, but it was
ready. This was Dungeons & Dragons.

The finished product was printed in early 1974. Only a thousand were
made, each selling for $10. The customers were people who were already
deep into wargaming, reached through fanzines and conventions. At the
time, there was little money in it, but Gygax set up a company named
Tactical Studies Research to publish D&D, taking a $1,000 loan from his
friend Don Kaye. TSR was run from Gary and Don’s homes for a year or so
as the sales trickled in, but gradually word got around about this crazy
new game where you pretended to be adventurers in a medieval-themed
kingdom. It found is way onto university campuses; in 1975 the UK
company Games Workshop started distributing it in Europe. By the end of
1975, TSR’s turnover was $60k – by the early 80s it was $20m a year and
growing fast.

“That meeting between Gygax, Arneson and Megarry in 1973 was the
culmination not just of their experiences of gaming, but of decades of
experimentation and game design and wargaming,” says Witwer, who later
takes us on a sightseeing tour around the town. “All kinds of crazy
ideas came to roost in that moment; they started piecing together things
that had never been put together before.”

Click here to read the complete article

interests / / [The Guardian] It crawled from below 50 years ago: how the global Dungeons and Dragons empire began in a basement


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