Game theory

Dwarf on d6

I am a life-long enthusiast of Gygaxian Dungeons & Dragons, a term I use to denote a range of rule sets that began in 1974 with the Original Dungeons & Dragons game and include Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, the Holmes Basic rules,  the Moldvay/Cook Basic/Expert rules, and finally the five Mentzer box sets, which culminated in 1991 with the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Compendium.

Depending on what one considers a distinct “version” of the game (and this subject is much debated by D&D historians), the concept of Gygaxian Dungeons & Dragons as I envision it encompasses five separate versions of the game (OD&D, Holmes, AD&D, Moldvay/Cook, and Mentzer).  Yet all of these versions are so close in spirit and so similar in mechanics that they are, essentially, the same game, and enthusiasts of Gygaxian D&D routinely combine elements from all of them when they play.  In 1986 company founder and D&D creator Gary Gygax left TSR, and the game would enter the post-Gygax era, giving rise to several subsequent versions of the game which, while “Dungeons & Dragons” in a legal sense (due to the ownership of the trademark) have little, if anything, in common with the Gygaxian game.


Dungeons & Dragons creator, patron saint of imaginative gaming and my continual creative inspiration, E. Gary Gygax.  Pictured here at his home in Lake Geneva, WI, in 2004.  He died tragically in 2008 of cancer.  He was 69 years old.

I say this because every once in awhile I will have the following exchange with a well-meaning person (not the same person every time, of course, but the exchange is usually identical):
WELL-MEANING PERSON: Hey Rick, I understand you play Dungeons & Dragons.
ME: Uh, that’s true, yes.
WELL-MEANING PERSON: Well that’s exciting, because my [son/husband/uncle/cousin etc.] loves Dungeons & Dragons!
ME: Uh-huh.
WELL-MEANING PERSON: You two might want to get together!
ME: Ummm, well, it’s complicated.  You see, first of all, one does not merely “play” Dungeons & Dragons.  It is true that it is a game, but far more than that, it is an intellectual, spiritual, and creative discipline.  It is a life-long path.  I have been following this path since 1981, when I was 10 years old.
WELL-MEANING PERSON: [Looking confused] Okay–
ME: Furthermore, I have a very specialized interest in the game.  I am a follower, enthusiast, and aficionado
of the original Dungeons & Dragons game by E. Gary Gygax.  This version of the game, along with its immediate ancestors from the late 1970s and early 1980s, including Advanced D&D, Moldvay, and Mentzer, is rarely played or studied today, except by life-long enthusiasts like myself.
ME: Now it is true that there is a game one can presently buy in stores called “Dungeons & Dragons.”  This game is produced by a company called “Wizards of the Coast” which legally owns the trademark “Dungeons & Dragons” and so, it is technically accurate to say that a person who plays this game “plays Dungeons & Dragons.”  But it is not the Gygaxian game, and in truth, an enthusiast of the Gygaxian game really has nothing in common with a person who plays this current version of the game, although I certainly wish such a person no ill will.
WELL-MEANING PERSON: Oh, well, okay.  [Completely baffled and backing away slowly.]
I use many rulebooks and resources, but my core rulebook is the 1991 Rules Cyclopedia: