Dungeons & Dragons Turns 40
As close as we can guess, on January 26th, 1974, D&D was released on an unsuspecting world. While no gaming scholar, I believe this would have been the White Box, the edition now known as Original Dungeons & Dragons (OD&D).
The game spread quickly, as photocopied books were passed from hand to hand. In many ways, the very history of the game is one of piracy and file sharing. Soon there were revisions and changes, new editions, and new players. The game changed hands becoming very different things to different people.
And now it’s forty years old. Middle aged.
Quite a few sites did something to honor D&D. Here’s a few tributes and thoughts I’ve stumbled across.
What D&D Means to Me
I was thinking recently about what D&D means to me, what my life might be life if not for gaming. And I think I would be a much more sad and lonely person.
I’ve met all my closest friends due to gaming (save one, whom I met through comics). My friends in junior high, high school, and post-University were all acquired in part due to gaming. While I did not meet my wife through gaming, being lifelong acquaintances, we started dating because we bumped into each other at a club that I started frequenting because of a gamer friend. So I very likely would not have started dating her if not for gaming.
When I think about my life without chucking dice, it’s exceedingly depressing. While I imagine I’d have segued the money and time spent gaming into other hobbies, such as video games or comics, because those activities are solo I’d be far less likely to make friends and form social bonds.
I spent the early years of Jr. High alone with no healthy friendships, and barely made it through that time sane; I cannot imagine enduring that for another four to fifteen years. As dark as it sounds, if not for gaming I probably would have taken my own life somewhere along the line. Or not. Who knows. Perhaps without the distraction, narrative outlet, and the extra free time I might have published the Great Canadian Novel and be living a life of fame and fortune. (But I doubt it.)
So what does D&D mean to me? Friends and socializing, storytelling and imagination, and some of the best times I’ve ever had. It has brought me genuine and lasting happiness.
My History With D&D
Given how I kept bumping into things related to D&D, Dungeons & Dragons and I were almost fated to be. Growing up a child of the ’80s, I loved the cartoon. I even played the Eye of the Beholder series. In the ’90s I spent a lot of time reading comic books, many of which had advertisements for the D&D starter games (never available anywhere near me) and various campaign settings. This included Ravenloft advertisements that I remember fascinating me. I was intrigued by this world where mummies didn’t fear fire and vampires were unfazed by the sun.
Here’s a couple of the ads, scanned from the backs of my comics:
For my 12th birthday (1991) I received the Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy. In the back of the first book were some notes on how the novel had its origins in the game, with Raistlin’s character inspired by the player who brought him to life and scenes in the book (Tas in the Wicker Dragon) coming from playtest sessions. (Which basically meant the first Dragonlance books were fanfic.)
The idea of a game where you could play characters and improv situations such as climbing into a wicker dragon fascinated me. But I had no idea how that would work. I was unable to take the mental leap into the idea of role-playing games and imagination.
During a sleepover a year or so later, a friend improvised a session for me, using number guessing in place of die rolls. It was amazing fun and I finally realized how the game might work. Although, it was purely narrative at this point, with no character sheets or abilities. I continued to devour Dragonlance books and even started reading Dragon magazine (which my school library had a subscription to). I still had no idea how to play or where to get the books until I stumbled across someone reading the books and asked, and he directed me to a local comic/games store. I slowly saved the money to buy the books over the course of many months, slowly getting the three core books over the course of my birthday and Christmas. This would have been 1993.
D&D used to be one of my hobbies. I’ve always had addictive hobbies. In the early ’90s I collected comic trading card. I still have most of them, tucked away in boxes somewhere. I think. Then it became comic books, and I identified as a comic geek for much of my life. I learned to read in part because of comics books and as I type this in my office, I have several thousand comics boxed away behind me. Then, late in jr. high I started buying D&D. But I still spent most of my money on comics and only bought the occasional D&D product. I didn’t really start spending until I got my first job after graduation, and started buying used Ravenloft products in a comic/games/curio shop. I think I really started spending money when I discovered eBay and began to buy up unwanted 3e books.
D&D slowly moved from an occasional hobby to a major part of my life during late 3e when I started playing Living Greyhawk . It got me out of the house and interacting with people. I bought more and more books to use them at the table. I was also playing more MMOs, which reduced the total money I spent on video games, and that money instead went to D&D. Slowly, over the last four or five years, gaming has become my main hobby as I’ve bought fewer and fewer comic books (after growing disenfranchised with Marvel and DC).
Really, having all but dropped comic books, most console gaming, trading cards… D&D is the only hobby I have left. Its what I spend money on. It’s one of my main methods of social interaction outside of work and family. It helps me relax and keeps me sane in a world of stress and work. As I do a gaming webcomic and blog, even when I’m not actually rolling dice, thinking about gaming it’s how I recreate.
The Official Celebration
I’m a little disappointed by Wizards of the Coast’s handling of D&D’s Ruby Anniversary. The weekly articles made no mention of the day and the big news post rapidly vanished from the Facebook page. There was a single article calling for people to make short videos along with a video from Ed Greenwood and a little piece by Troy Dennings. Since the 26th WotC has posted a couple new videos by authors Richard Lee Byers and Erin M. Evans. I know there are other videos out there: Rodney Thompson posted something on his personal profile but this hasn’t made it to the article.
They didn’t even change their Facebook profile’s background. There’s no dramatic or memorable D&D 40th Image to flood across the internet.
It seemed like everyone was excited about the 40th anniversary except WotC.
WotC should really have put out a call for videos weeks ago and released them all on the 26th. There should have had a big countdown for most of January with articles on the full history of the game. Perhaps some pictures of classic items and unique relics in the WotC archives. Perhaps a sale of classic PDFs on DnDClassics.com (it would have been a great day to release the OD&D books as PDFs). As the date fell on a Sunday, it would also have been a good opportunity for a World Wide Game Day.
It looks like WotC is planning a longer celebration of the 40th. They want to keep D&D in the public’s eye for longer, starting with the collector’s reprint of OD&D last year and culminating in the release of D&D Next. But I’m not sure it’s going to work out like that; D&D received some free media attention for its anniversary, but there’s no guarantee that will continue or resume when 5th Edition launches, or would have been as dramatic if they had gone all in for the 26th.
Really, it felt like WotC had no idea what to do without a product to market: because they couldn’t sell something and make money, the anniversary was largely ignored.
The worst part is there’s currently no easy way to get into the game. 4th Edition is increasingly hard to find, with many books vanishing from Amazon and the playtest is no longer available, and it’s two weeks until the next season of Encounters and the re-release of the playtest there. Anyone who hears about the game via the anniversary will have difficulty purchasing the game.
Unfortunate timing really.