Friday, July 21, 2017

The Dalluhn Manuscript and CONTAX

The Dalluhn Manuscript, a document that preserves early draft text of Dungeons & Dragons, has long defied any attempts at precise identification. In no small part this is because of its unsigned artwork, like this section title page for "Before Setting Out For Fame and Fortune," which has not been convincingly attributed to any of the artists who worked on D&D. Thanks to the discovery of still earlier material like the Mornard Fragments, and now the Guidon D&D first draft, we can show various ways that the text of Dalluhn obviously derived from prior D&D texts. But we haven't had any similar breakthrough with the art... or hey wait, isn't that a familiar face in the upper left hand corner of that letterhead? Who or what is CONTAX?

Friday, July 14, 2017

See the D&D Draft at the Gen Con Museum

In celebration of its fiftieth anniversary, Gen Con will be staging a museum next month in Indianapolis. The museum will pay homage to Gen Con by showing how the gaming hobby has grown over the past half century from its humble origins to dominate the world. And there's no better way to demonstrate that than with a treasure trove of gaming history. Although four-day tickets for Gen Con are now sold out, if you are lucky enough to have a badge, do drop by the museum. You will be able to see some amazing artifacts like this: a first draft of Dungeons & Dragons.

Monday, August 1, 2016

The D&D Syndicated Radio Show Pilot

In the early 1980s, at the height of the Dungeons & Dragons fad, TSR heavily promoted the game in mainstream media. This went far beyond mere advertisements: they developed dramatic renditions of D&D as media properties. The most famous result was the Saturday morning cartoon show, though we know of many other projects that never quite made it into production, such as the undeveloped feature film. We must now add to that category a new entry: a syndicated radio program. Unlike the cartoon show or the movie, the planned radio series depicted the actual play of a D&D session rather than dramatizing a loosely-related story: in that respect, it is a long-lost ancestor of contemporary media sensations like Critical Role or Acquisitions Inc. Today, as a special "audio" edition of Playing at the World, we take a listen to the original pilot for the radio show, and consider its relevance to the game spectatorship culture of today.

Listen on YouTube or on SoundCloud.

[UPDATE: Hear the full version on the Wizards of the Coast Podcast]

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

How Mana Became a Game Mechanic

Together with University of Hawai'i anthropologist Alex Golub, I wrote an essay about the origins of "mana" in tabletop and computer games. Alex previously distilled our work into a popular blog post about this, but people interested in the details of early concepts of spell points and how they came to be attached to the idea of mana will find more information in the academic version. Pioneers here included Greg Costikyan, Steve Perrin, Isaac Bonewits, Richard Garfield and many others.

Our essay "How Mana Left the Pacific and Became a Video Game Mechanic" appears in the newly-published anthology New Mana: Transformations of a Classic Concept in Pacific Languages and Cultures (ANU Press), which you can acquire in print versions or download online here: New Mana.

Friday, February 5, 2016

A Conversation with Len Patt

Following the revelations published two weeks ago here about a set of 1970 fantasy wargame rules that exerted a clear influence on the Chainmail Fantasy Supplement, one burning question was on everyone's mind: who is Leonard Patt? He can be seen in the picture above in an issue of the Courier from 1970, gaming with fellow members of the New England Wargamers Association. Thanks to the almost frighteningly quick work of Internet detectives (especially Casey Harmon and David L. Johnson), the community ascertained that Len Patt is alive today and living in Seattle. I recently had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his sudden historical prominence.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Video Episode on Original D&D

Back in 2014, I expressed my intention to celebrate the birthday of Dungeons & Dragons on the last Sunday of January: since it happened to be January 26th, that is commonly given as the anniversary. But in 2016, it falls on the final day of the month, and to honor the occasion, today I'm inaugurating a new Playing at the World video series. This first episode is focused on the original Dungeons & Dragons boxed set; I am joined today by my friend and fellow collector Bill Meinhardt, who graciously provides his hospitality, expertise, and amazing collectibles. Even if you're not in the market for the physical boxes, you can still experience the game, as Wizards recently released PDFs of their eighth printing of the original Dungeons & Dragons books - on January 26th, it turns out.

You can see the video on my YouTube channel here: [Playing at the World Episode #1]

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Precursor to the Chainmail Fantasy Supplement

Chainmail (1971) is correctly regarded as the first commercially-available fantasy wargame system. The Fantasy Supplement that Gary Gygax and Jeff Perren tacked on to the end of Chainmail inspired Dave Arneson as he created the Blackmoor setting, and formed the basis for the original set of monsters and spells underlying Dungeons & Dragons. Something has been forgotten, however, in the forty-five years since Chainmail was published. Chainmail itself drew on a two-page set of rules developed for a late 1970 game run by the New England Wargamers Association (NEWA), which were designed by one Leonard Patt. Patt’s system shows us the first fantasy game with heroes, dragons, orcs, ents, and wizards who cast fireballs at enemies, though his contribution today goes entirely unacknowledged. The picture above shows this system in play at a Miniature Figure Collectors of America convention in October 1970 representing the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, a demonstration that won a “Best in Show” award.

[Updated: Now read Jon's conversation with Len Patt about these rules!]