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posted by janrinok on Tuesday January 30, @04:32AM   Printer-friendly

Dungeons & Dragons turns 50 this year, and there's a lot planned for it

"We have just fromed [sic] Tactical Studies Rules, and we wish to let the wargaming community know that a new line of miniature rules is available."

With this letter, written by Gary Gygax to wargaming zine publisher Jim Lurvey, one of the founders of what would become TSR announced that a January 1974 release for Dungeons & Dragons was forthcoming. This, plus other evidence compiled by Jon Peterson (as pointed out by the Grognardia blog), points to the last Sunday of January 1974 as the best date for the "anniversary" of D&D. The first sale was in "late January 1974," Gygax later wrote, and on the last Sunday of January 1974, Gygax invited potential customers to drop by his house in the afternoon to try it out.

You could argue whether a final draft, printing, announcement, sale, or first session counts as the true "birth" of D&D, but we have to go with something, and Peterson's reasoning seems fairly sound. Gygax's memory, and a documented session at his own house, are a good point to pin down for when we celebrate this thing that has shaped a seemingly infinite number of other things.

As with playing a good campaign, you've got a lot of options for how you acknowledge D&D's long presence and deep influence. The game system itself, now under Wizards of the Coast, will this year push "One D&D," a name the D&D leaders sometimes stick with and sometimes don't. Whatever the next wave is called, it includes new handbooks, guides, and Monster Manual books that are not exactly a new "edition," but also an evolution. Books like Xanathar's Guide to Everything and Tasha's Cauldron of Everything will be codified and unified by a new sourcebook at some point, but all of it will be compatible with 5th Edition material.

Also, at some point this year, stamps celebrating D&D's 50th will be available from the US Postal Service, at least if you rush. Ten different designs, leaning heavily on the dragons, were commissioned based on existing illustrations. There's a documentary from Joe Manganiello (still in pre-production, seemingly). And there's a 500-plus-page non-fiction book, The Making of Original Dungeons & Dragons: 1970-1976, with research help from the aforementioned Peterson, containing never-before-seen correspondence between co-creators Gygax and Dave Arneson.

[...] Take a moment on this occasion to look back through some notable D&Dcoverage at Ars:

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  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Thexalon on Tuesday January 30, @04:50AM (10 children)

    by Thexalon (636) on Tuesday January 30, @04:50AM (#1342354)

    The real joy of D&D, and indeed all role-playing, is not the pre-packaged stuff but all the stuff the people sitting around the table come up with. If you're min-maxing, if you're spending a lot of time looking through rulebooks, you're missing the point, which was to engage in a collective act of creative imagination.

    However, for TSR, and now WotC, that's bad, because if people get too creative they won't have to buy as much stuff to have a good time, which hurts sales. Heck, even worse, people might either make up their own game systems or dispense with a game system altogether. Or use (ugh) an older edition that somebody is selling off used for $20 maybe in total where WotC doesn't see a dime.

    So my advice is to use the rulebooks only if they help, and otherwise repeat to yourself it is just a game, you should really just relax.

    The only thing that stops a bad guy with a compiler is a good guy with a compiler.
    • (Score: 5, Insightful) by looorg on Tuesday January 30, @05:27AM (9 children)

      by looorg (578) on Tuesday January 30, @05:27AM (#1342357)

      I think I stopped caring about D&D when it was still called AD&D, so about the second edition. We found those rules to be good, with some modifications we had found in some online usergroup post regarding the magic system that was and from what I gather still is super klunky -- I think we later found out that this was alot like the psyioncs systems in/from the Dark Sun setting.

      I looked at one of the later editions when in the nerd store. Looks to me like WOTC has tried to streamline the rules so hard and make it more or less into the offline version of WOW and other computer games. If I wanted to play computer games I would play computer games, and I do.

      It does appear that their main "contribution" to the game is the COC and with that they for some reason felt they had to rewrite all the lore so that nobody was apparently evil but all viewpoints apparently equal and valuable -- orcs are not brutish and stupid and just cause you worship a gigantic spider monster that you sacrifice slaves and people that you kidnapped to you are not evil, it's just an alternative lifestyle in the dark.

      They really just lost the entire setting with their rewrites. The struggle of Good vs Evil is like fantasy 101, if you can't grasp that then what good are you.

      Not to mention that WOTC and D&D is like the baseline of role-playing-games. It was good when it was new then just become worse by the decade. I would say it's the bottom of the RPG barrel as it stands now. While others made better and more interesting copies and alternative systems. Clearly they are living of past glory, name and brand recognition.

      • (Score: 2) by Mykl on Tuesday January 30, @06:43AM (8 children)

        by Mykl (1112) on Tuesday January 30, @06:43AM (#1342364)

        I think most RPG systems have become super Woke recently, largely a response to demand from their core buying audience (15-25 year-olds who would regard themselves geeks/alternatives/misfits). There seems to be a real push to move away from "Race" and towards "Ancestry" for certain perks, there are no longer races that are inherently evil, there's lots of LGBTQIA+ representation in the various fantasy settings, pre-written adventures etc. Of course, you can always just Rule Zero (ignore) anything that doesn't gel with your own gaming group/adventure/world.

        Personally, I think I'd find it annoying to have to wonder all the time whether this band of marauding Orcs are just the victims of colonial misplacement and generational trauma - I'm here to have fun and not think too hard about the things I'm trying to stab. It's probably going to lead to an over-reliance on Demons, Devils and Undead to keep things simple.

        In terms of systems, our group jumped off the D&D train when they went to 4th Edition and moved to Pathfinder. I like the 3E / Pathfinder mechanics - they offer a lot of options and allow for a variety of builds (from what I can see, there is little variance in a lot of 5E builds).

        • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Opportunist on Tuesday January 30, @09:12AM (7 children)

          by Opportunist (5545) on Tuesday January 30, @09:12AM (#1342375)

          If you think D&D is bad in this regard, you haven't seen WoD yet.

          I was waiting for Werewolf 5th edition for one single reason: I wanted to see how they want to square the cube. For anyone who doesn't know the game, the Werewolf "Tribes" (kinda like "races") were stereotypes to the extreme in the old editions. There was the all-female-feminist tribe, there was the dirt-poor-white-trash tribe, there was the constantly-drunk-Irish tribe, there was the computer-geek tribe, the stereotypical-native-american-tribe and of course the stereotypical-magical-negro tribe... you get the idea. That thing was a field of landmines in today's culture.

          And yes, they solved it. Pretty much the same way. You're no longer born into a tribe and raised according to their ideas, you pick and choose a "camp" now, and of course these camps are more like a Furry convention with different interest groups forming rather than bickering factions with conflicting convictions that border on religious fanaticism.

          Personally? I don't get how this is supposed to be a horror game anymore. A friend characterized it pretty well: They tossed their pelts into fabric softener.

          • (Score: 3, Interesting) by looorg on Tuesday January 30, @12:06PM (2 children)

            by looorg (578) on Tuesday January 30, @12:06PM (#1342382)

            Werewolf was always the eco-warrior-hippie game tho wasn't it? That said if they changed WoD then I guess they also changed the other WOD games such as Vampire TMR (or however many letters there is to that now). Does Mummy, Wraith and the others even exist anymore? They were so small as I recall it I guessed they had just died by the side of the road by now. But overall I assume they have gotten a similar rework? Is there a good vampire clan? Poor old Nosferatu? Cause as I recall it the others were more or less messed up big time in one direction or another and the entire setting was just one giant deluxe circle backstab.

            It's a good thing they came in hardcover books tho. They can't ever edit the books I already own. They are immune.

            • (Score: 2) by Opportunist on Tuesday January 30, @02:55PM (1 child)

              by Opportunist (5545) on Tuesday January 30, @02:55PM (#1342406)

              Depends. As far as I'm concerned, Werewolf was a game about the dual nature of your being, being of two worlds, in more than one way, but belonging in neither. You are a battle machine that will win every fight but you already lost the war. Deal with it.

              The "smaller" Splats pretty much got canned, at least I don't know about any plans to push them to the 5th ed. What's out is Vampire (their flagship), Hunter and Werewolf. I would expect a Mage update somewhere in the near future. Other than that, I wouldn't count on seeing anything. The rest of the bunch didn't exactly develop a large playerbase. Changeling was too cutesi-poo. Mummy became a playable splat too late and was more an afterthought, and it didn't exactly work out it seems. Demon is anathema now because they already cut away any religious references to Cain in Vampire (not to mention rebranding the Setites and the Assamites to remove any semblance to any religious themes), so a game about fallen angels that became devils is probably a no-go now. And Wraith will probably only get a resurrection when some corporation that needs to peddle antidepressants can be won as a sponsor.

              Vamipre is now basically a "boomer vs. millennials" game in the metaplot. Frankly, not my cuppa java.

              • (Score: 2) by looorg on Wednesday January 31, @06:09AM

                by looorg (578) on Wednesday January 31, @06:09AM (#1342477)

                ... they already cut away any religious references to Cain in Vampire (not to mention rebranding the Setites and the Assamites to remove any semblance to any religious themes), so a game about fallen angels that became devils is probably a no-go now.

                There is always KULT, it was a weird weird spooky game when it came out. It took a few years but there was an english version eventually. Not sure if it gained any following. It was a very niche game in some regard.


          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 30, @12:17PM (1 child)

            by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 30, @12:17PM (#1342383)

            WoD was woke before woke was a thing. Take Vampire, the number one emo wank fest. "Oh I want to achieve golconda but how can I appease the beast within me".

            Give me the sabbat any day.

            • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Opportunist on Tuesday January 30, @02:48PM

              by Opportunist (5545) on Tuesday January 30, @02:48PM (#1342402)

              Vampire depends on how you play it. If you let it descend into an emo wankfest, that's what it is, but anyone trying to pull the "woe is me, how poor I am" bull at my table will find himself being mercilessly abused by the society. What you have in this game, if you play it "right" as far as I am concerned, you're dealing with a world where unfettered capitalism reigns supreme. Eat or be eaten, abuse or be abused, play or be played. If you're looking for compassion, you're wrong here. Of course you will get it. From someone who thinks he can use you as a speedbump against his enemy.

          • (Score: 3, Funny) by liar on Tuesday January 30, @07:04PM (1 child)

            by liar (17039) on Tuesday January 30, @07:04PM (#1342425)

            It's still a horror game... aren't you horrified?

            Noli nothis permittere te terere.
            • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Opportunist on Thursday February 01, @04:26PM

              by Opportunist (5545) on Thursday February 01, @04:26PM (#1342654)

              I prefer my horror to come from the plot, not the system.

  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by mendax on Tuesday January 30, @06:13AM (5 children)

    by mendax (2840) on Tuesday January 30, @06:13AM (#1342359)

    I was never to really get into Dungeons & Dragons. It completely did not interest me even though I saw others in my peer group in 10th grade (this would have been in 1979) playing it. (Apparently, our chemistry teacher turned some of them on to it.). It seems to be completely pointless. Now Star Fleet Battles, which I started playing in college, was a completely different animal! So, I think it wasn't so much role playing that I disliked, it was not being able to blow things up!

    Decades later I learned a very interesting fact about the game from I guy I met in a Twelve Step meeting who I later wrote while serving some time in a federal prison. He and other inmates were banned from playing it. Apparently, the idea of forming virtual campaigns was a threat to the good order and security of the institution, which is all any warden needs to justify forbidding any otherwise "normal" activity in prison. I suppose he saw it as a form of gang activity.

    It's really quite a simple choice: Life, Death, or Los Angeles.
    • (Score: 2) by Opportunist on Tuesday January 30, @09:15AM

      by Opportunist (5545) on Tuesday January 30, @09:15AM (#1342376)

      D&D is kinda like the fast food menu of RPGs. It's something that's easy to digest for everyone and it's kinda tasty, if a bit bland. It's easy to pick up and some sort of "gateway drug" for most RPG players. I think that's the main appeal the game has.

    • (Score: 4, Informative) by Thexalon on Tuesday January 30, @11:38AM

      by Thexalon (636) on Tuesday January 30, @11:38AM (#1342381)

      My understanding from people who have served time is that D&D or other table-top roleplaying has indeed gotten fairly popular on the inside if it's allowed, because it requires only things inmates are generally allowed to have (books, paper, pens, imagination, and lots of time). Plus it gets them friends who might help them out if they're in trouble without joining a gang.

      Of course, the Tolkien quote about the people who hate escapism being jailers comes to mind.

      The only thing that stops a bad guy with a compiler is a good guy with a compiler.
    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Gaaark on Tuesday January 30, @01:40PM

      by Gaaark (41) on Tuesday January 30, @01:40PM (#1342392) Journal

      One of the appeals of SFB, i think, was it's grounding in 'physics', or more real, 'Things you cannot change': a ship at this speed took so many grids to turn completely around (also one of the appeals of Car Wars!).

      There was no "I jump to the side and shoot a fireball at the mirror of doom and it reflects into the goblin behind Jehosophat, dealing"(roll the die)"10 points of damage!"

      You only have so much power: go faster, less power for weapons and vice-versa.

      Fun, strict: you had to really think out strategy.

      --- Please remind me if I haven't been civil to you: I'm channeling MDC. ---Gaaark 2.0 ---
    • (Score: 2) by VLM on Wednesday January 31, @01:16PM

      by VLM (445) on Wednesday January 31, @01:16PM (#1342503)

      I suspect after they bust enough inmates playing traditional dice gambling games falsely claiming "uh we're not gambling we're playing DnD", then they let them keep playing trad gambling games, eventually they end up with the usual problems, violence, etc, then its time to just ban DnD.

      With a side dish of metagame discussions probably sounding like pig latin gang activity. "Uh I'll trade you a 'dnd dagger' for a 'dnd potion of intoxication' if your 'dnd gang of orcs' helps us fight the 'dnd gang of kobalds' in the 'dnd dungeon' tomorrow during yard time"

    • (Score: 2) by VLM on Wednesday January 31, @09:25PM

      by VLM (445) on Wednesday January 31, @09:25PM (#1342559)

      Star Fleet Battles

      Acting vs playing.

      DnD role playing requires a long term investment in learning the character to act out the role.

      SFB, or FC, was more like playing and had less personal investment in your ships.

      Theoretically either gaming system supports long term immersive literature campaigns and "what happens if I put 12 cruisers up against 1 giant battleship?" playing style, but in practice each system has their own distinct play style.

      Another thing to note about SFB is IIRC I actually played federation commander (the "successor") and the entire genre is about detailed rules lawyering, so I would have gotten slaughtered playing FC-style in a SFB game. No "take a 20 and call it good" like DnD campaigns sometimes do to keep things moving. From memory FC/SFB was more about minmaxing the complex system and less about pretending to be starship commander in general.

  • (Score: 3, Informative) by janrinok on Tuesday January 30, @06:36AM (2 children)

    by janrinok (52) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday January 30, @06:36AM (#1342361) Journal

    In the earlier days of the site there was a small but enthusiastic following for D&D on one of our IRC channels (#idleRPG?). The channel is still there - I haven't look at it to check for recent activity.

    It tended to be used to relax after, or even during, a heavy coding session, but it was popular at other times too.

    I am not interested in knowing who people are or where they live. My interest starts and stops at our servers.
    • (Score: 2) by janrinok on Tuesday January 30, @06:38AM

      by janrinok (52) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday January 30, @06:38AM (#1342362) Journal

      Sorry, my typing isn't accurate as it used to be. I will have to slow down at the keyboard.....

      I am not interested in knowing who people are or where they live. My interest starts and stops at our servers.
    • (Score: 2) by canopic jug on Tuesday January 30, @09:33AM

      by canopic jug (3949) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday January 30, @09:33AM (#1342377) Journal

      There were some Usenet groups devoted to RPGs back in the day. At least for a while, it became popular for people to write summaries of ongoing campaigns after each session. Those were fun to read as long as they didn't get to loquacious.

      Money is not free speech. Elections should not be auctions.
  • (Score: 2) by VLM on Wednesday January 31, @01:03PM (2 children)

    by VLM (445) on Wednesday January 31, @01:03PM (#1342500)

    My retrospective on half a century of DnD (despite not quite being half a century old) is a RAPID acceleration of prices, new editions, financial deals and low risk boring politics.

    Prices used to be "high for a hardcover book" but now retail for $50 another couple financial deals and mergers and DnD books will cost more than college textbooks. They already do, on a per page basis.

    The rate of new editions is increasing. Soon consoooooooomers will have to rebuy all their books annually. The 2028 edition will be in the trash by Jan 1 2029, repeat. Corporations love recurring revenue so subscription at some point is inevitable. Ready to pay $25/month to play DnD? This also fragments the ecosystem into the people who played "awhile ago" being spread across multiple intentionally incompatible editions and a small and every shrinking number of narrowcasted hyperconsumers who will pay anything to collect the current edition, but there's fewer of them every year. Kind of like every other form of boring corporate legacy media viewer.

    Financial deals are wild. The days of DnD being small businesses are over. Just like legacy landline phone service, every time they company gets resold the price doubles to pay the middlemen, repeat until the customers leave. The inevitable result of nobody smaller than a billion bucks gets to sell in the market, is disney-fied boring formulaic ultra low risk stuff. This carries over into the political where bland and boring weaponized leftism that essentially no one likes and no one is permitted to criticize takes over. It used to be a hobby to be creative, no longer, only conformity is permitted. BORING! All the diversity of a Netflix original (aka, none). DnD is so boring... If you don't want bland furry hugbux simulator where the only magic is Trump Derangement Syndrome there's no appeal anymore. Boring! Its as exciting as a Hollywood formulaic sequel.

    • (Score: 2) by looorg on Wednesday January 31, @02:59PM (1 child)

      by looorg (578) on Wednesday January 31, @02:59PM (#1342512)

      Let me introduce you to tabletop wargaming, ie Plastic-Crack. One tiny box of a miniature or two ~ $80; a complete army of units about $1000 if you pick one of the cheap once. A rulebook/codex have a lifecycle of at most a couple of years, datasheets for units even less then that. Then all the dice, rulers and templates. Oh and you also need to paint all the miniatures, the terrain etc etc. Plastic crack.

      D&D, and most generic RPG:s, are cheap compared to say Warhammer 40k, Age of Sigmar or any of those games.

      • (Score: 2) by VLM on Wednesday January 31, @09:14PM

        by VLM (445) on Wednesday January 31, @09:14PM (#1342558)

        Yeah I get it from the financial demand side argument that per hour those are pretty cheap rates. I myself spent some time in my youth painting W40K minis. Never even played much, but I sure liked detail painting.

        Its just from the financial supply side, scraping up $50 is rough for a game book. Everything except AAA new release video games is cheaper than $50. The only mainstream-ish hobby still more expensive than DnD books is boomer live music tickets.

        Another interesting problem I've noticed and forgot to mention is the collapse of reselling DnD books... retail is like $50/book, its about $50/book PLUS sales tax at barnes and noble, and the local half-price-books franchise sells copies used for about half retail or about $25. That's great. The problem is Amazon sells them new for handwavy $24 to $28 depending on length and random chance with 'free' prime shipping. You most certainly can pay more for a used book at half-price-books than for new on Amazon, which doesn't help resale. Given the usual markup for used book resellers, the people selling DnD books can't be getting more than $5 per book, so better off using them as firewood than selling them. And that's before the edition treadmill effect where they're worth pretty much firewood prices after the next edition release.

        The problem with the edition treadmill is a generation of players were convinced "well, yeah, its $50 but I can play with it forever or for a decade anyway" then the corporation says LOL ha ha new edition every couple years, so the book goes from $4/year of fun to its $50 per book and you'll be tossing it out before its dusty.

  • (Score: 2) by VLM on Wednesday January 31, @01:10PM

    by VLM (445) on Wednesday January 31, @01:10PM (#1342501)

    Another indication of a dying hobby I have seen with DnD is in the 80s/90s kids I knew played DnD because they liked it and it was fun.

    Now that its boring and not fun anymore, the appeal is always to some diverse what-about related activity.

    Sure its boring and nobody plays anymore and its not fun and its overpriced to the point everything else is cheaper

    But whataboutthe art?

    But whataboutthe pop culture commentary?

    But whataboutthe turbokosher political and lifestyle themes?

    But whataboutthe appeal to history and tradition?

    But whataboutthe collectibility?

    But whataboutthe posters?

    But whataboutthe minis and models and painting?

    These people will do anything to avoid talking about the game being boring and expensive and run into the ground by corporates.

    Once the core appeal of a hobby disappears, there's a brief "donut" of interest exclusively in the related topics, then the whole thing disappears. Give it 10, maybe 20 years and we'll be posting stories "what ever happened to DnD?" "Remember DnD?" and maybe a retro boring sequel hollywood movie, assuming hollywood is still in business then, LOL.