Thursday, October 28, 2021

The original release of Dungeons and Dragons was a supplement.

It occurred to me recently that the original release of Dungeons and Dragon is best viewed as a supplement. Not to the Chainmail Miniature wargame but to the unwritten rules, systems, and methods the miniature wargaming community of the early 70s were using.

After reading Playing at the World, Hawk and Moor, and other accounts of early miniature wargaming I had a better understanding of why the 3 LBBs of ODnD were organized the way they were. It makes  sense to me to view it as a supplement to what folks were doing at the time. And why everybody else who got a hold of it was scratching their heads over the missing parts.

What got me thinking about this was thinking about my Majestic Wilderlands Supplement. This was written for Swords and Wizardry. I didn't bother explaining what hit points, armor class, and levels were. My target audience was hobbyists playing Swords and Wizardry and other classic editions. I assumed that they would "get" the stuff I left undefined. I did receive a few criticisms and comments early on about where was rest of the system was. I explained that it was a supplement to another game. Luckily for me it was free to download.

With all the interest generated in the history of our hobby with the Game Wizards, I figure this would a interesting insight when weighing the original release against later editions of Dungeons and Dragons.


  1. Yes, you are pretty much on target, I believe. Old school miniature wargaming at the time depended as much on understood universal rules as it did on specific written rules. The need for specifric, written rules came about as the hobby grew, both in the sense of more players, and in the sense of more rules. Certain "givens" could no longer be counted on, as the ground assumptions from the writings of guys like Featherstone, ect were merged with the extremely complicated board gaming rules from sets like Squad Leader. Eventually you simply could assume, for example, that everyone was using the same definition of "woods" regarding terrain, let alone more esoteric terms like hits or hit points.

    Added to that the massive increase in players, many of whom did not come from the wargaming world at all, with its shared baseline assumptions, and the need for greater clarity in aa more comprehensive rule systems is obvious.

    but those early rules still have a certain charm, especially for those of us who recall playing in that old, clubby war game milieu.

  2. Listening to some of the old timers like Tim Kask talk about OD&D, this rings true to me. They understood it enough to play it though they still had questions.

  3. I did play war games in the sixties but then it wasn't until the early nineties that I got into D&D. So that transition always fascinated me. Possibly war gaming led to fantasy war gaming which invited role playing which is the actual quantum shift between war gaming and D&D. Nobody was thinking about character motivation at Gettysburg but then in D&D it arrives as a full blown central feature because, of course, players are going to think about why their elf did this or their dwarf did that.

  4. @hairylarry you might want to read Jon Peterson's Playing at the World for how the transition occurred. The short version people started roleplaying as the commander of their armies whether it was Napoleonic, Medieval, World War II or later Fantasy. Diplomacy had a big deal to do with this trend.