About the retro game Dungeons & Dragons (and its many offshoots)

Dungeons and Dragons vintage game

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Dungeons & Dragons: War game becoming big social event for young (1977)

By Linda Hansen, Gannett News Service – Palladium-Item (Richmond, Indiana) November 19, 1977

Chivalry lives. Young people are forming medieval “dungeons” and sending knights in shining armor out to battle wicked wizards and fire-belching dragons. It’s a war game called “Dungeons and Dragons,” and young people play it as a group exercise in imagination, a social event.

Some are forming “dungeons” (groups of game-players) and wiling away their idle hours in this post-Vietnam age by playing war games. The leader of each group is called the dungeon master or, you guessed it, DM for short.

Dungeons and Dragons isn’t a game the same way you’d think of checkers or chess being a game. It is a set of rules and suggestions. It is like playing chess if you had to invent your own chessboard and your own set of chess pieces before you could get started and play it with nine or 10 other people.

Toys, games and fun for kids in the 1981 Sears Catalog

Tells how to move

Maybe you’d decide to play it on a circular surface with a dozen rooks, one castle and 15 knights in six assorted colors. Your “game book” would tell you how each piece can move, and what each piece has to do to capture another piece.

You would have to figure out the rest — like how to get started and where you wanted to be at the end of the game. If you then decided to name each pawn — for example, Ralph the Weird, or Bruce the Bold — and treat him like a person, invent a story of his life, name his horse, arm him with an arsenal of medieval weapons, charge him with a mission, you’d have something similar in flavor to the Dungeons and Dragons games many young people are playing.

Vintage Dungeons and Dragons from 1990

“It’s kind of crazy, but it’s fun,” one partial player said. “Most of us are into Tolkien, and this is a lot like Tolkien’s world.”

He’s talking about the British author, Tolkien, whose books of medieval legend, “Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, are selling like hotcakes among high school and college-age people. And indeed, the young people in his “Dungeon” have peopled their game with Hobbits and Tolkienesque Ores, evil forces who provoke constant confrontations and new battles.

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Form of escapism

“It’s escapism,” another player said. “It’s a way to get away from everyday things, to get wrapped up in something besides TV or your problems or arguments with other people — you unwind. You use your imagination.”

The game is played with dozens of little lead figures that members of the group paint and name, then enter in the game. A map of an imaginary kingdom is drawn complete with cities and geographic detail — woods, hills, creeks, enchanted places.

Nov 1981 Dungeons board game

The game is to move the little figures through a series of adventures — each move is determined by rolling dice to determine who moves, how far (if he’s lucky enough to escape a spell or sword), and how many times he can swing his axe or club or sword when he faces an enemy.

When does it end? “It doesn’t,” one player said. “We’ll probably be playing this forever. We just escaped from a huge dungeon. Tonight our group is facing an attack by 110 Orcs on the hill at Stone Creek…”

The dungeon master chronicles the play each night in detail. His playbook reads like a storybook. Each character is described down to the color of his eyes. The kingdom has imaginary cities and reads in part like a history book, describing who founded each city, when, why, who rules it, what wars have been fought there.

Vintage Dungeons and Dragons game play ads (2)

“Sometimes we stay up all night going over what happens and deciding things like if someone was knocked out of the battle tonight, what happened to him?” he said. “Was he wounded? Where? Is he bleeding? Who’s taking care of him? When will he rejoin the battle? What will happen to him in the meantime?”

“When you think about it afterward, you laugh at yourself. Sitting up all night getting bloodshot eyes, wearing yourself out over a game. It’s a crazy
thing to do — but it’s fun.” And it’s something else.

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The dungeon master said he figures if they stay at it long enough, his painstakingly written chronicles of the Limlan Adventure will be a good book he could publish.

Fiction by committee? “Why not, ” he said. “Maybe 10 people can write a better story than one person could.”

Dungeons and Dragons illustration 1977 - Pensacola News Journal

Arcade goes to a game store and finds instead A Dragon’s Den

By Suzanne Lord, Dynamite magazine/Arcade – March 1982

Once upon a time, there was a store called The Compleat Strategist, which sold war games. When a new type of game, known as Fantasy Role Playing (FRP), appeared, they sold that, too.

The first of these new games was called Dungeons and Dragons. In it, players got to become — for a few hours — the characters they played. They could be centaurs, or wizards, or even thieves all in search of a treasure that waits at the end of the dungeon. They ran into all sorts of imaginary adventures that were great fun. And no two games were alike, since the players made up all the adventures as they went along.

Arcade goes to a game store and finds instead A Dragon's Den 1982

D&D and other FRP games mushroomed into a national mania, and The Compleat Strategist is living happily ever after as the place to go for anything connected with FRP games!

That’s why ARCADE went there to find a really good D&D game actually being played. We had heard that players there got so involved in being the characters they played that their games went on for days, weeks — even months.

Apr 1982 Dungeon adventure game - TSR games

Discovering a Dragon’s Den

We arrived at the store and found a Dragon’s Den — a gaming room right in the back of the store!

On Saturdays from one to five o’clock, garners and game masters of all ages come to play all sorts of FRP games. There’s no admission charge. But you do need a vivid imagination and the desire to play fantasy games that are really out of this world!

ARCADE walked into a tiny room one Saturday and found about 40 people crammed together and having some very strange conversations. If you are familiar with D&D or other games of its type, what we saw and heard may make some sense to you. If not, join us for a very weird afternoon!

Vintage Gamemaster board games, including Axis & Allies, Shogun & Conquest of the Empire

There are three game masters (GMs, those who lead the games) and only room for two games today. One group leaves, with no hard feelings, to go elsewhere and play really weird games.

A large group remains to play D&D, and a smaller, older group sets up for a different type of role-playing game they call “Xanth.” Xanthers refer to the younger D&D players as “Munchkins.”

It’s very noisy and confusing. People talk about past games played. “Remember when the golden lion was stolen?” says one… so I offered them a choice — give me half of Lentura — or die!” laughs another.

Soon the game masters have set up, and Xanthers are deciding on their characters’ forms and powers. The GM explains that she has made up the land of Xanth, and that the object of the game is to survive it!

At the same time, the D&D GM is describing some places in his game plan. “If I have to use one word for these places, I would use — sleazy!” Giggling breaks out. Clearly, everyone who can will visit these “sleazy” spots — in their imaginations only, of course!

“You’re beginning to be too loud!” the store manager shouts from the door.

Vintage Dungeons and Dragons game play ads (1)

Lost in a land of imagination

The games intensify. Xanthers are lost in an imaginary land where anything could be dangerous. Some players choose to try every situation they run into. Others won’t even touch anything.

A D&D character has been stabbed. The player rolls his dice to see how bad the wound is. The higher the number the worse the wound. The GM gives such a yucky description of the injuries that everyone breaks character and laughs.

Most of the D&D players want to hack through everything in their paths. Xanthers are more thoughtful. “That can be handy” is something one Xanther says of almost anything that happens to his character, even when his character turns bright blue!

Because of their love of battles, about half of the D&D characters are “dead” within a couple of hours. But in this particular game, when a character dies, the players stick around to advise the “living”!

Meanwhile, a Xanthan Centaur sinks in quicksand. “I can help her,” a player says. “I have power.”

“Only over inanimate objects,” the GM objects. “A centaur is animate.” Rules about powers are set and agreed on before the game. It’s up to each player to remember the rules. This player remembers and gloats as he says, “The sand isn’t animate!” And he declares that the sand has been separated from the water. The centaur walks out. These players are all thinking fast!

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1982 Dungeons and Dragons - TSR games

D&D players are deep into the plight of one character. In their excitement they shout, “Offer him something!” Others yell, “Nah, kill him!”

A voice booms from the door. “Now it’s TOO LOUD!” roars the store manager.

All the Xanthan explorers are still alive. But they’ve been trapped in a dark, wet cave for over two hours! They are still there when the store closes at five o’clock. Is this the end of the game? No! The Xanthan players arrange to come back next week and continue their game. The five remaining D&D characters decide to end their game without getting the treasure.

We all leave the store, normal people once again. The fantasy is over, but we’ve got some great memories. We’d been to dangerous lands, survived critical situations, crawled through dank, dark caves, and met ogres, demons, dragons, and wizards — all in a small room in the back of a store.

It was strange. It was funny. It was weird. And ARCADE loved every minute of this very unusual Saturday afternoon!

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