Today is, as declared by Jon Peterson of Playing at the World, the 40th birthday of Dungeons & Dragons. It’s impossible for me to say how much this game changed my life and set me on the path to my career, but the best part about that is how many people I know that can say the same thing. For that, I owe a great deal to its creators: Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, along with the team of brave creative souls who joined them to help bring their game to the world.
Jon has a great video called “A History of D&D in 12 Treasures,” which reveals a lot of the background behind how D&D came to be. It’s well worth the watch. In that same vein, I thought I’d share some images from my own Players Handbook for the first edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.
The Players Handbook became a great treasure of my childhood, and I brought it to my first ever convention, which was held in my hometown at Beloit College back in 1982. My friends and I played in a D&D tournament and somehow managed to win it. (While you can’t really win a D&D game at home, you could manage to triumph in a convention tournament by doing better than the other teams of players.)
I met Gary there for the first time, and he signed my book, as you can see. As our prizes for winning the tournament, my friends and I won memberships in the fledgling Roleplaying Gamers Association (RPGA), which came with a subscription to the Polyhedron magazine. (Polyhedron #9 saw my first published game design work: a gadget I designed for a Top Secret RPG contest, which came in as a runner-up.)
I brought that same Players Handbook to my first Gen Con (XV, later in 1982) and hunted down more autographs for it. Jake Jaquet, then editor of Dragon magazine, signed it on the title page too. But the list of names on the frontispiece (which was just a blank page before the title page) is even more amazing. It includes an all-star cast:
- Doug Niles (game designer, novelist, and fellow Alliterate)
- Phil Foglio (of What’s New with Phil & Dixie and Girl Genius)
- JD Webster (of Finieous Fingers)
- Bill Willingham (of Fables)
- Jim Ward (game designer, novelist, and former VP at TSR)
- Tom Wham (game designer)
- Steve Perrin (game designer)
- Tracy Hickman (game designer and novelist)
(There’s another one there below Phil’s, and for the life of me, I can’t make out who it’s from. If you have any idea, please let me know!)
It stuns me that many of those names—the ones that stuck with the industry, at least—are now my peers, and I’m honored to call at least a few of them friends. I’ve had a wonderful, lucky run as a creator myself, and games and the people who make them have been a huge part of that.
I turned fourteen just before that first Gen Con of mine, and I’ve kept going ever since. I had my first booth at Gen Con, selling a fanzine called The Quill and Scroll, when I was seventeen, and this summer will be my 33rd year in a row. It’s my favorite time of year: a family reunion, summer camp, and marathon of fun all rolled into one.
(Pre-registration for Gen Con badges opens today, by the way. Grab yours before they sell out, and join me there!)
I could—and maybe should—write a book about how D&D has changed the world in just four decades. It created a new art form and a new way of thinking about entertainment that will outlast every one of us. It’s seeped into just about every part of our lives, whether we realize it or not.
And it’s so much fun.
Happy birthday, D&D! And thanks to Dave, Gary, and all the other wonderful people who made you, continue to create (and recreate!) and play you—and the multitude of games inspired by you—to this day.