Friday, February 11, 2011

A brief history of D&D

The progression went like this

  1. Chainmail was a set of rules for wargaming with miniatures.
  2. People wanted to fight the battles they read about in Lord of the Rings, Conan, and other fantasy novels of the time. So the Fantasy Supplement was added.
  3. Dave Arneson was inspired by David Wesley Braunstein game to create his own version. He used the Man to Man and Fantasy Supplement Rules of Chainmail as the foundation of his rules. The scenario he picked was exploring the dungeon underneath Castle Blackmoor and later the surrounding Wilderness.
  4. Gygax and his friends from Lake Geneva found out about this and went to Minnepolis to play a few sessions of Dave's Game.
  5. Gygax started his Castle Greyhawk campaign with it's own dungeon and wilderness and wrote what was to be the Dungeons & Dragons rules.
  6. The Dungeons & Dragons rules were written with knowledge of Chainmail in mind but presented alternatives in order to use it as a Standalone game.
  7. Greyhawk Supplement I expanded and added rules that transformed the game into the D&D most of us recognize today.

The design choices were mainly in making Chainmail rules more interesting for man to man combat. Chainmail's 1 hit = 1 kill was transformed 1 hit = 1d6 damage, 1 level = 1d6 hit points. The Alternative combat system used a chart indexing level vs Armor Class instead of Chainmail's weapon vs Armor matrix or Creature vs Creature matrix. Spells and the Monster list were expanded. An equipment list was added. The focus of the original game was on dungeon crawling, and the exploration of the wilderness. Plus since this was a group of miniature wargamers rules for constructing castles and building baronies was included.

Original D&D wasn't designed as much it grew out of the piecemeal solutions to the rule problems they encountered while roleplaying their way through the campaigns of the time. While this sound haphazard it was wildly popular in both Minnepolis and Lake Geneva. They were refereeing over a dozen players a session and playing multiple times a week. So they got quite a lot of time in with developing the rules.

I created this to answer this question on the RPG Stack Exchange site.


AndreasDavour said...

I'm not sure the steps of influence between Chainmail and D&D are that clear, but I guess it might be a decent overview.

There have been some interesting archaeological investigations being done by knowledgeable people who posts on the OD&D board. I knows the timing of Chainmail being published and Dave getting hold of it have been analyzed in detail.

DHBoggs said...

Decent enough summary Rob but there's a factual error. Gygax didn't travel to Mineapolis. Arneson and Megarry traveled to Lake Geneva. Arneson had already worked with Gygax on transforming Arnesons naval rules into "Don't Give up the Ship" and Megarry wanted to talk to Gygax regarding getting his DUNGEON boardgame published, which used the monsters from Gygax's CHAINMAIL and a couple from Blackmoor. While there Arneson DM'd a Blackmoor game for Gygax. It might be useful to your summary to point out that the Blackmoor game existed for several months before the Fantasy Supplement and CHAINMAIL were published, and thus the genesis of the game owed nothing to CHAINMAIL, although it certainly absorbed vertually everything but the magic system from it as soon as it became available.

Robert Conley said...

@DHBoggs, interesting if Blackmoor started before Chainmail what rules Dave used or based it on?

DHBoggs said...

You've already got it in your history. Black Moor was started as a medieval Braun Stein/ Brown Stone. The had already done Braunsteins in a European 19th century setting, a contemporary "Banana Republic" setting and a 19th century wild west setting (Brownstone). Wesely went to the Army and Arneson took over as referee. Those original games featured players on opposing sides (Much like as seen in the D&D episode of Community that's been much talked about) and the rules were fairly simple and involved a lot of DM Fiat.