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Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Dungeons and Dragons turns 30.

This site has a fascinating series of articles and interviews covering the development of the game and the birth of the role-playing game phenomenon. An interesting sidelight is the amusing infighting and revenge-taking seen in the naming of certain characters and regions in the game worlds created by Gary and Ernie Gygax, et. al. Some of the legends referred to in the game are based on their real life names. For example, one of the warriors was named Yrag, there were wizards named Xagyg and Serten, etc. Well, as is often the case, there were various fallings-out along the way. For instance, Gary Gygax named the orc realm in the Greyhawk setting the Pomarj, which involved the first letters of his first wife Mary Jo's name. But perhaps the most direct was Dave Arneson's name for the mysterious villain who haunted the Blackmoor setting: The Egg of Coot. The Egg was portrayed as a mysterious, powerful and largely unknowable "evil superbeing." Arneson, D&D's largely forgotten co-creator, had a major falling out with E. Gary Gygax, which led to the former quitting the company and filing suit, resulting in a settlement in 1981.

Interestingly enough, the two managed two patch things over sufficiently that Gygax began to publish a more developed version of the setting--complete with the Egg--before being fired in 1985.

Another interesting sidelight: Gary Gygax claims that Tolkien's works had little influence on the development of the game. That's probably right--especially in terms of "magic appeal". Gygax more or less lifted the game's magic system from Jack Vance's works, right down to the references to "ioun stones." But it seems pretty clear that Tolkien's popularity at the time helped to make it a phenomenon--that, and he borrowed "halflings" and "rangers" wholesale from the books. I discovered D&D right after blasting my way through LOTR, and so did my earliest gaming friends.

By the way, I have a confession to make:

Bryan, I deliberately snuffed your character in The Keep on the Borderlands so I wouldn't have to DM anymore. I didn't cheat, but I certainly made the climactic battle as violent as possible. Nothing personal--if Tim or Gary Ellsworth had been in the way, I'd have been just as happy. I just hated DMing at the time.

Please note that this had nothing to do with my metronomic victories in Panzer Leader and Blades of Steel. Those were just skill.

[Update 8/26: Upon looking through the Arneson interview, I changed some of the detail in paragraphs one and two. Apparently he and Gygax patched it over after the settlement.]

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