Happy 40th Birthday Dungeons and Dragons

I am coming a bit late to this party but better late than never. The end of last month saw the 40th anniversary of the release of the very first edition Dungeons & Dragons. D&D is a game that has had a huge effect on the world. Not only did it create a modern role-playing game industry, it has had a huge influence on the way computer games have developed. Look at any modern MMO or CRPG and you will see the DNA of D&D. Look at almost any shooter set in vast room and cavern worlds and you will see its influence.

I would also argue that it has done a considerable amount to influence the development of the modern fantasy novel. A good proportion of modern fantasy novels seem to concern themselves with the levelling up of their heroes from innocent young swineherds to potent masters of their class. They also spend an enormous amount of time explaining complex magic systems. This was not at all common back when I was a lad.

I can still remember my first encounter Dungeons & Dragons. It was in the old Science Fiction Bookshop in West Crosscauseway in Edinburgh back in 1977. That’s not quite 40 years ago but it’s getting on for it. I picked up the white box edition, three very short booklets in a small box, and I couldn’t make head nor tail of them. It was only when I attended the inaugural meetings of the old Grand Edinburgh Adventuring Society a few weeks later that it began to make any sense at all.

When I understood what I was playing, it hit me with the force of religious revelation. I kid you not. You’ve got to remember that this was back in the 70s before modern computer games with immersive graphics, before the SF and fantasy film revolutions that started with Star Wars. The sub-culture had not yet gone mainstream. Computers were not everywhere.  This was something completely new.

I was a teenager who had grown up reading J R R Tolkien, Robert E Howard and Michael Moorcock. Most of my teenage years had been spent obsessing about stories set in fantasy worlds and now I had a chance to participate in just such stories. It was like finding the door to Narnia in the back of my wardrobe. I could step into another world. It changed my life. It affected my choice of career and my choice of friends. I can honestly say that my life would not be what it is today if it had not been Dungeons & Dragons.

Over the course of the years D&D and I have parted company occasionally but we’ve kept in touch. In the 1980s I mostly switched over to playing Champions. I only really looked at D&D when Oriental Adventures came out and then not for long. In the 1990s I was interested in a number of things that TSR released – Planescape being the best known of those and I played a bit of AD&D but not much.

I got really interested in D&D again when the third edition was released. God knows how many supplements I bought but it was a lot. I was particularly fond of Keith Baker’s Eberron and Fantasy Flight’s Midnight.

I can’t say I was terribly thrilled by the fourth edition. I thought it was well done but I also thought that it was a solution to a business problem rather than a gaming problem. I think it was designed to sell accessories such as miniatures and playing mats rather than immerse you inside the story being created in your head. I stuck with Pathfinder and, more recently, gotten into the Old School Renaissance in a big way. It has really renewed my interest and taken me back to my roots in the style of gaming that was common back when I first got into the hobby.

In any case I just wanted to say Happy Birthday, Dungeons & Dragons!

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