Sunday, January 26, 2014

Fortieth Anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons

This was the set of rules we used - the 1977 Advanced Dungeons and Dragons release

Today, it seems, is the fortieth anniversary of the release of Dungeons & Dragons.  Or, more properly, the day on which the fortieth anniversary of Dungeons and Dragons is being officially celebrated, as no-one seems quite sure what day it was released or even what "release" might constitute.  Certainly, January 1974 is agreed on as its birth month.

For some reason I always thought that it was an older game than this, going back to the sixties.  This means that when the Legatus first started playing it in September 1979 the game was only five years old.  Of course, I haven't played a game since 1980 so my flirtation with it didn't last very long!  I'd been playing proper wargames (rather than just solo Airfix clashes in the garden) since about 1972 although my wargaming activity (at least with school friends) had tailed off during the sixth form as I enjoyed archery and some rather more entertaining games with my first girlfriend from the archery club.

I'm afraid archery girl got the push when I went to university especially when I discovered she was rather younger than she claimed to be, although you wouldn't guess from her physical development, however. Anyway when my new girlfriend in my first term  at  university, C, suggested we go along to the Oxford University Dungeons and Dragons Society (now the Oxford University Role Playing Society) I had, at least, a passing knowledge of what the game was about.  I think someone else at school played it but I wasn't interested as it didn't use scenery and then, as now, nice figures and scenery are more important to me than game play.  This feeling was reinforced last year when I sat down at Colours to play Big Red Bat's Thapsus game.  Such lovely figures! Such splendid scenery!  I was quite happy gazing admiringly at the whole set up and would have been so without moving a single figure in anger. 

Exeter College

Anyway, I didn't know what to expect when C and I went along to Exeter College for our first game.  It being thirty six years ago I remember very little about it.  There were about eight players.  The Dungeon master was a beardy chemist (aren't all chemists beardy? -even the girls -like dwarfs, I suppose) and we soon discovered, as humble law students, that many of the puzzles he set required A Level Physics, Chemistry or Maths to solve.  In the game we seemed to be regularly confronted by three dwarfs called Thiamine, Niacin and Riboflavin, which tells you everything you need to know about him. The dungeon, disappointingly, was just a series of rooms drawn on lined paper laid out like dominoes as the quest progressed. We did at least have painted figures to use, which we borrowed, although they didn't have a female miniatures for C.  I suggested using a dwarf instead (she always claimed to be five foot two - hmm) but got one of the regular thumps that seemed to punctuate our relationship.  I didn't thump her of course; just tied her up once in a while but she wanted me to do that. C was the only girl there and, I gather, the only girl to ever turn up.  These days the OURPS has several women on its committee but there were a lot less women at the university then. 1979 was the first year that most colleges went mixed (my college had gone mixed in 1973, one of the reasons I chose it) so the two years above us had only a few hundred women from the four women's colleges to go around about 4,000 men.  Our year was far more even, thank goodness.

The Legatus and C in 1980: I have no idea why I thought purple would be a good colour scheme for clothes!

We went to D&D every week and over Christmas I bought some miniatures to represent us, so we didn't have to borrow them.  I've no idea where these figures came from.  I can't think that there was a shop where I could have bought them so they must have been mail order. An advertisement in Military Modelling, perhaps.  I painted up the female figure with red hair (Humbrol number 100) which went down well.  We developed a tradition that after every D&D evening we would have a bath together in the one decent (i.e. heated) bathroom in college, on Heberden staircase.  I think this might have been brought on by the fact that the room we used to meet in always seemed to be cold.  C really felt the cold.  Soon the baths became more interesting (perhaps they always were) than the games and we stopped going to D&D in the summer term.  I haven't played it since.

Still, I put the fact that I was in the OUD&D Society on my law firm applications and the firm that actually hired me mentioned it in my interview and later said it made my CV look a bit different.  So maybe all that dwarf chasing had been worthwhile after all.  Still preferred the baths though.

Today's post's music is the Moscow Symphony Orchestra's reconstruction of the complete score to The Sea Hawk (1940), Erich Wolfgang Korngold's greatest score, despite his Oscar for The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)).  In my first year at Oxford I bought an LP of Korngold's music (which I had loved since I first saw The Adventures of Robin Hood) conducted by Charles Gerhardt and put together with George Korngold, the composer's son.  The Gerhardt recordings date from 1972 but for sheer panache they haven't been surpassed, although there have been many new and more complete versions of Korngold's scores since.  Gerhradt's recordings did a lot towards rehabilitating Korngold, who had become desperately unfashionable in the fifties and sixties.  These days you can buy many recordings of his work and his symphony and violin concerto have both entered the classical repertoire.  Unfortunately, and unbelievably, when Gerhardt was putting together his suites of music for his recordings he was given Korngold's original score and cut it up and blacked out pieces he wasn't going to use.  That his son would allow this is even more amazing but perhaps he believed that this would be the only modern recording of his father's music, so just let it happen.  As a result, the score for this 2007 version had to be painstakingly reconstructed.

C didn't like Korngold and said it was just typical Hollwood film music (I think she was tone deaf, she only had three cassettes of music) but as Andre Previn observed, in the notes to his own recordings of excerpts from The Sea Hawk and other scores, it wasn't that Korngold sounded like film music it was that much film music started to sound like Korngold.  Every person who writes an orchestral film score  (especially John Williams) owes a huge debt to Korngold, who created much of the soundtrack idiom still in use today

Anyway, perfect background for swashbuckling games of Donnybrook, I would venture, although Korngold's score for Captain Blood (1935) has the advantage  in that the beginning of the film depicts the Monmouth Rebellion.


  1. Legatus I love this tale...and I am so envious of your university (and archery) years! We used to play Dand D in the Navy to pass many hours...1983 so it was still fairly new even then-and no I have not played it since 1985.

  2. I came across D&D in '79 at Uni, too. A love for D&D, and my wife, Jean, was pretty much all I did take away from Uni three years later! Thanks re Thapsus game. Hope to lure you into a couple more this year... as it happens, I expect to be running a gaming event quite locally to you...

  3. Great post - I had that edition of the Player's Handbook; I started when I was about 10, I think - so around 1983! I went to the OU wargames club a couple of times, but I was into 15mm Napoleonics back then and there wasn't much enthusiasm for it.

    The rehabilitation of Korngold's music over the past 20 or so years has been marvellous. I remember listening to his Symphony for the first time in my third year at Oxford - Chandos had just released the first recording of it since the 1970s; splendid stuff. Then the following year Decca released "Das wunder der Heliane", which has remained one of my 2 favourite operas ever since (the other being Strauss' "Salome" - as it happens, both operas in which the lead soprano gets her kit off).

    Best wishes


    1. I saw (all of) Maria Ewing in Salome at Covent Garden in the nineties Peter Hall production. Most impressive

  4. Fond memories here of D&D too, though a few years behind you... but also gave it up many years ago, though sadly not because of hot baths!

    Love the fact you put it on your CV and it went down well!