D&D “Officially” Turns 40 Today

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The original Dungeons & Dragons, also called OD&D, looked like this. It was a small boxed set of three booklets, originally published in January, 1974.

When exactly is the 40th anniversary of D&D? When was the game first available to play? The answer is more complicated that you’d think.

“The birth of a game is not such an easy thing to timestamp as the birth of a person,” says Jon Peterson, author of Playing at the World and probably the foremost expert on the history of D&Din a recent post on his blog PlayingAtTheWorld. “A game must be printed, assembled, advertised, and sold. At what point do we consider the game available? When the publishers have copies in hand, that they can distribute to friends? When sales have been made to the general public?”

Peterson pegs the anniversary to an advertisement posted in a Feb. 1974 issue of El Conquistador. This Diplomacy fanzine ran a notice from the Lake Geneva Tactical Studies Association, a wargaming club in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, to which Gary Gygax belonged. Here is that modest advertisement:

An ad from El Conquistador, inviting people to play D&D at Gary Gygax's house. (Image: http://playingattheworld.blogspot.com)
An ad from El Conquistador, inviting people to play D&D at Gary Gygax’s house. (Image: http://playingattheworld.blogspot.com)

Which means the exact date (or the best guess at it) falls on the last Sunday of January. Which means today.

“If we need to celebrate somewhere in the neighborhood of late January, then the last Sunday of the month (this year, the 26th) seems like the best candidate,” writes Peterson. “As the El Conquistador advertisement above notes, Sunday was the day when Gary invited the world to drop by his house, at 1:30 PM, to have a first experience of Dungeons & Dragons.”

Incidentally, Peterson will be appearing in a Reddit AMA in honor of the 40th Anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons, Sun. Jan 26, at 1pm Pacific / 4pm Eastern. Peterson has promised to answer any question about the history of D&D. More info is available via the following link: http://gyg.ax/redditAMA. You can read Peterson’s post further explaining his reasons for picking Jan. 26 here.

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