Daily D&D Ramble: A guess at the History of D&D

Pretty, But Useless gave me this idea for an article. In it, I’m going to roughly layout the history of role playing games, from all of the bits and pieces that I’ve picked up from reading scraps of histories in various blogs and such. And then tomorrow or something, I take a look at what the ACTUAL history looks like. So, as a stronger disclaimer: THIS IS NOT AN ACURATE DEPICTION OF HISTORY!!!

We’ll start with Blackmoor. It was a war-game scenario in which the players would run the same fight in Germany or France or something. A raid against the Blackmoor manor, specifically. There were rules for how the enemies would react to your stealthy squad, coming in to accomplish your objective.

Then some years pass, no idea how many, but we end up with Chainmail, a table top war game with a medieval vibe. Gary Gygax and friends would play these a lot. But they became less interested in the playing with armies and focused more on the potential to have a small group of individuals. With a bit of a Tolkien twist, they started fleshing out the rules for the first games of Dungeons and Dragons. Eventually, they started TSR and published the game.

There were a few different versions of the game, back then, the Basic set and the Advanced rules. This was confusing, so in the early ’80s they recompiled the game into Advanced D&D, 2nd edition. At this time, the game had a hex based focus, where the adventures went into the wilds and into sprawling cave systems, mapping as they went, fearful of DM’s that tried to kill them as they got careless. The game would continue in this format for almost two decades, with manuals, modules, and splatbooks coming out of the wood work.

This world was great, except for some company issues with TSR and WotC and Pazio and pretty much, the game was passed through a few hands. In 2000, WotC had the license (and still do) and they decided that it was time to rebrand and relaunch the series and Third Edition was released.

Of course, with the new edition, there were some issues and in 2003, they had to re-release their core books, commonly called 3.5. With a better balance the game would last a long time.

And by a long time, I mean five years. Largely seen as a push to make the game more accessible to the video game crowd, Fourth edition was not a popular move by the older crowd. Of course, with the internet and those gamer crowd that was appealed to, a lot of people came into the game.

Of course, a big issue with only a five year gap between 3.5 and 4 is the books. For a five year gap or even an eight year gap, 3/3.5 had a LOT of books. And now, less than a decade later, we need to buy another set of books? That doesn’t seem fair.

And 4e had a lot of books. And creating characters got really difficult. Yeah, you could use the PHb, but there were so many options in Dragon Magazine, or in the splat books, that could slip through your fingers. There was a digital character builder WotC had put out. And piracy was rampant, as they wanted a $15 subscription.  Which, incidentally, I ended up paying once they had a comepletly digital service. And with the character builder, I would spend hours searching through feats, items and obscure abilities to make a character that could do some crazy stuff.

In, what, 2013? they put out the essentials line, which were streamlined characters. It was almost, but not quite, D&D 4.5. These weren’t out for long before the play test and the coming of D&D Next or, as we commonly call it, Fifth Edition.

Now, I wasn’t around for any launches except for 5e, but the staggered release they did in 2014 was kinda lame. The PHB came out in August, the MM in October, the DMG in November. I don’t think other launches were like that.

Also of note, here in 5e, they’ve tried to hold back from dropping hundreds of splat books like in the last pair of editions. We are at a grand total of 1 splat book, although we may be getting one or two by the end of the year. I guess the adventures have some bits and pieces we can use. But it’s not quite the same.

So that is my guesstimate of the history of the game. The beginning half is vague, because I don’t know it as well as the parts I lived through. But that latter half is pretty accurate. In its own way.

So tell me where I went wrong, where I messed up, and what I left out! And expect a new timeline, with accuracy, later this week.


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1 Comment

  1. Personally, I found this interesting, especially the burnout that seemed to happen switching from all the 3.5 books to the 4e books. I wonder if that was as much a cause as the video game-y feel of that edition for why it didn’t do as well.

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