D&D “Officially” Turns 40 Today

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.


Ethan Gilsdorf is a journalist, memoirist, critic, poet, teacher and 17th level geek. He wrote the award-winning travel memoir investigation Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms. Based in Somerville, Massachusetts, Gilsdorf writes regularly for the New York Times, Boston Globe, Salon.com, BoingBoing.net, PsychologyToday.com, Washington Post and wired.com. He has published hundreds of articles, essays, op-eds and reviews on the arts, pop culture, gaming, geek culture and travel in dozens of other magazines, newspapers, websites and guidebooks worldwide. He has also published dozens of poems in literary magazines and anthologies. He is a core contributor to the blogs "GeekDad, "Geek Pride" on PsychologyToday.com, and Boston NPR affiliate WBUR's Cognoscenti blog. He is also a book and film critic for the Boston Globe, and is the film columnist for Art New England. He and author Noble Smith geek out and wax nostalgic about D&D and other nerdy pop culture relics at Dungeons & Dorkwards. He is a lover of ELO and a hater of littering. Sometimes he wears a tunic and chainmail, or these grampy pants. More info fantasyfreaksbook.com or follow on Facebook fantasyfreaksbook