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How Dungeons And Dragons Was Created

In 1974, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson unveiled their role-playing masterpiece, Dungeons & Dragons. In the years since then, the game has amassed a loyal fanbase.

Although Gygax’s life was not a world filled with sorcery, monsters, and magic, it was still a world filled with mystifying adventures. From playing war games as a child to roaming underground tunnels, it’s no surprise that Dungeons & Dragons will go down in history as one of the greatest games ever made.

Photo: WikiMedia Commons/Moroboshi

Roaming Underground Tunnels

Gygax was no ordinary child. With a yearning for adventure, Gygax found his way journeying through the underground tunnels of the Oak Hill Sanitarium in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. His obsession grew so big that he would often skip school to instead adventure through the tunnels, creating his own imaginative world.

In the game Dungeons & Dragons, Gygax made the effort to incorporate a feature that allows players to build their own mazes and tunnels. Along the hex square map, players can create worlds entirely built by their imagination. 

Lifelong Friends

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Gygax got into his fair share of trouble. At the age of seven, Gygax already made a name for himself as one of the members of the Kenmore Pirates, a rough and tumble group that always found themselves surrounded by problems. This, however, did not sit right with his father. As soon as he got word of this, he moved Gygax and his family to Wisconsin. 

There Gygax met Don Kaye, quickly becoming friends over their shared interest in war games. It’s a mystery if Gygax knew what would become of his friendship with Kaye. In 1972, years after their first meeting, the two friends built Tactical Studies Rules. TSR became the company that distributed the first-ever copies of Dungeons & Dragons. 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A Game Of Chance

Gary Gygax’s fascination with war games did not end in his youth. Even as an adult, Gygax played war games with his friends. Living a simple life as an insurance underwriter, he probably never thought of what would come from his after-work obsession.   

What most fans appreciate about Dungeons & Dragons are the infinite storylines that can bloom from just one roll of the polyhedral dice or the whims of a Dungeon Master. However, what most people don’t know, is that Gygax got his inspiration from working in insurance. He learned that no matter what plans were made, there will always be a random chance of luck. And in his own words, “random chance plays a huge part in everybody’s life.”

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

War Games

Miniature war games are essentially tabletop games centered around reproducing conditions appropriate to famous battles in history. The overall premise of the game is to obtain soldiers and their equipment, deploy and maneuver troops, and fight battles. With the premise alone, you can see where Gygax got his inspiration from.

Dungeons & Dragons is a game of collective storytelling. Set in a fantasy world, players can imagine themselves journeying on a quest, all the while overcoming obstacles they face on the way. The journey is never linear, as each player can tell their story in whichever way they choose. That’s the beauty of the game. The players write the story, and that’s exactly how Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson expected it to be.

The Impact Of Horror And Fantasy Novels

Insurance firms and war games weren’t Gygax’s only inspiration for this well-known game. In fact, the mystical nature of the game came from his fascination with horror and fantasy novels. Authors like H.P. Lovecraft were his main source of inspiration when creating the game’s fantastical worlds.

If you have ever read a book by Lovecraft, you would know that his stories are incredibly intricate and dynamic. His novels describe petrifying monsters committing unfathomable deeds and heroes who make it their sole purpose to save the world. It was books like these that Gygax spent time reading in solitude. And when comparing the two, you can see where Gygax’s own creations of beholders, kobolds, and rust giants were born. It’s amazing how the childhood of one young mind, led to one of the most referenced tabletop games in the world.