A Brief History of Dungeons & Dragons as Interactive Media

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Do you play games like world of Warcraft, Diablo 3, Neverwinter or other massively multiplayer online games?  How about older titles like Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy?

All of these great games are based upon what we’re talking about today: dungeons and dragons, which I’ll be referring to as D & D for the rest of this presentation. D & D was and still is for many, an early form of interactive media. I’ve been playing for about 20 years and still run a weekly game. I even like to paint miniatures.

Recently, I created and presented a Pecha Kucha presentation for my MCCNM 336 class on the history of D & D as Interactive Media, which can be seen here: The History of Dungeons & Dragons

It all began in the 1970s when the fathers of d & d, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, created a way to enhance his table top miniatures wargame, Chain mail by adding dice and a role playing element to it.

This led to the creation of TSR, who took the game in new directions. Since then, the game has changed companies (WoTC), gone through five editions, hundreds of novels, several board games, numerous video games and a popular mmorpg. Then there’s the virtual tabletop.

The core rulebooks of the Players Handbook, Dungeon Masters Guide and Monster Manual allowed interaction on a level rarely seen before. A game referee or dungeon master would describe a scene through interaction with the tables and rules presented in the manuals.

The players, having created characters by using the players handbook, would then react to the setup and often would need to reference tables, charts or passes in the phb.

The game eventually led to a series of novels and role playing books as well as two publications, Dragon (a magazine that featured suggestions and gaming culture) and Dungeon, such featured, well, dungeons.

The books, however, made things much more interactive. These books were very much like choose your own adventure, except that you played a character on an adventure or quest. You’d actually roll dice to handle combat and keep track of your character on a piece of paper. Some of the best modules, like the tomb of horrors, expedition to barrier peaks and temple of elemental evil came out during this era and are beloved by players today, with Tomb of Horrors even being used as a central plot point in Ernest Clines virtual reality novel, Ready Player One.

In the 80s, the game did run into some controversy with certain religious groups, but maintained it’s momentum with more books, a 2nd edition, a Saturday morning cartoon show, miniatures and interactive computer games.

With the release of computer games like pool of radiance and curse of the azure bonds, dragonstrike and dragons of krynn, d & d became a fully interactive computer game. You could create a party of characters, Dungeon crawl in real time, fight the monsters and play the entire adventure through simple commands on your computer. Unlike early BASIC games such as Zork, the D & D games had full color, VGA, joystick and keyboard support and played on both Apple and PC. Some of my favorite games of all time are what are referred to as, “the gold box games,” all of which can be purchased and run on modern hardware.

A suite of Core Rules software was also released for the 2nd edition of the table top game, compatible with DOS, windows 3.11 and Windows 95.

Later came Eye of the Beholder (Released for PC and Super Nintendo) featuring a much more graphical interface, seen today in games like The Keep for the Nintendo 3DS. Later, came Bulders Gate and eventually Neverwinter, D & D’s own mmorpg.

With the introduction of 3ed edition, a movie was released and Wizards of the Coast purchased TSR, thus acquiring the D & D game. During third edition, http://www.wizards.com created an entire web presence for the game, which continued into fourth edition. I never actually played 4e, so my knowledge of it is limited to checking out the books once from the library.

Additional websites, play by email games and chat rooms dedicated to playing the game emerged during the mid 90s as the web became more widely accessible.

D & D board games emerged prominently during fourth edition, with Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon, the legend of drizzt and the temple of elemental evil.

Fourth edition also saw an increase in users and content for the D & D Online mmo, which is still going strong today.

Finally, the current (5th) edition of the game arrived in 2014 with a new set of Core books and Adventure Paths.

Recently, there have been services such as Roll 20 or Fantasy Grounds which provide virtual table tops for players who may not be in able to actually meet in person. In a VTT setting, players sit at their computer with a microphone and headset. There will usually either be interaction with over players and the dm though skype or video chat.

With d & d having completed its move into the digital age, its popularity can only grow. It has already begun finding its way into popular culture through shows like Community, Critical Role and Stranger Things. All these years later, D &D is so much more than just that nerdy game you played in your basement.