Dungeons and Dragons is a tabletop game that has been played by tens of millions worldwide, and because of the rise of the internet age, millions more have been added to the player userbase to the point where there are over 13 million active players. While it was considered to be for “nerds” in its early days, people from all walks of life play DnD now.
Those that are new to the game might not know where it came from, though. How did it get from the dank basements of 1970s teens to internet streamers with thousands of viewers? Before we look into the future of Dungeons and Dragons, we have to look into its past. Here is a brief history of DnD.
Starting with the Siege
Before Dungeons and Dragons came along, there was a game named Siege of Bodenburg created by Henry Bodenstedt in 1967 that was published in the Strategy & Tactics magazine. The medieval game was a favorite for Jeff Perren and the rest of the Lake Geneva Tactical Studies Association.
During the late 1960s, Perren wrote his own rules for Siege of Bodenburg, and fellow LGTSA member Gary Gygax added a fantasy element to his rules, creating an all-new game that was originally titled Chainmail and released in 1971. Meanwhile, Dave Wesley and Dave Arneson were working on their own wargame and used many of the rules of Chainmail.
Chaining the Dragon
Dave Arneson had worked with Gary Gygax before, and the two were able to share their ideas of blending the two sets of rules that they created. The new game needed a name, however, and Gygax let his toddler daughter decide on the simplistic Dungeons and Dragons. Gygax and his fellow players thought it was a big hit, and their playing group grew rapidly in the early days of DnD.
After playing for countless hours, Gygax continued to alter the rules so that they would be more player-friendly and accessible while also being fun. Gygax took inspiration from a lot of science fiction and fantasy pieces of media. It was clear that Dungeons and Dragons was going to be a hit, but Gygax was working for Guidon Games at the time, and the business was too small to handle the production that DnD required.
The Big Reveal
With that in mind, Gygax invested some of his money and found a business partner in the form of Don Kaye to found their own publishing company and created hundreds of copies of the original Dungeons and Dragons set. To raise enough to pay for the DnD printing, they tried a quick release of another smaller wargame, but the sales were almost nonexistent and the two ran out of their own money to make DnD widespread.
Instead, the duo turned to Brian Blume, who threw in enough money on the condition that he got 1/3rd of the publishing rights. Gygax and Kaye had no choice but to accept, and Dungeons and Dragons was finally ready to sell, releasing in 1974 as a boxed set with 1,000 total copies in its original run, with every copy selling.
Throughout the rest of the 1970s, Dungeons and Dragons became a big hit around the world, but Kaye passed away suddenly and left the company’s financial future up in the air. Gygax and Blume were able to get the rest of the business’s shares and had to find a bigger headquarters after the game gained popularity.
As more people began to play DnD, expansion packs were added and new content was released on a consistent basis to keep people coming back for more. Eventually, Dungeons and Dragons was purchased by Wizards of the Coast, which has owned the game since 1997. Over the years, DnD has picked up a lot of celebrity players and is one of the most popular games played on the streaming website Twitch.
“When I wrote the DnD game in 1972-3, I envisaged an audience of military boardgamers, military miniatures players, and fantasy, (science-fiction) and horror fans only,” Gygax said of the game’s creation. “This was indeed the initial core audience, and it wasn’t until 1976…that I began to realize that the appeal was more universal.”