Dungeons & Dragons Was Originally Known By What Name?
Answer: The Fantasy Game
In the early 1970s, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson collaborated on what would go on to become the most enduring and iconic role-playing game of all time: Dungeons & Dragons. The iconic game didn’t always have such an iconic name, however. The earliest version of Dungeons & Dragons bore the spectacularly dull name of The Fantasy Game. To dig all the way back to the original game with the unimaginative name, we need to travel back half a century.
In the 1960s, both Gygax and Arneson were avid wargamers—as a hobby and passion, and they both played extensive tabletop simulations of historical and imagined battles. In late 1969, Gygax formed the Castle & Crusade Society of the International Federation of Wargaming and then went on to pursue his interest in medieval battle simulations by co-creating the game Chainmail with fellow Lake Geneva wargamer Jeff Perren the following year.
Chainmail foreshadowed Dungeons and Dragons on many levels—monsters, spells, combat rules, hero class-types, and more, all appeared partially or entirely in the early editions of Dungeons and Dragons. Still, Chainmail wasn’t the one-character-per-person role-playing game we now take for granted. It was, at heart, a war game shifted in time to the medieval era wherein players controlled large groups of medieval soldiers. As the game grew in popularity, more and more fantasy elements were introduced, shifting it away from being a simple medieval battle simulator.
In 1970, Dave Arneson began a medieval variation of Wesely’s Braunstein games, where players controlled individuals instead of armies and used Chainmail to resolve the combat. As the game went on, Arneson added innovations like character classes, experience points, level advancement, armor class, etc. This home-brewed variation of Chainmail took off, and Gygax and Arneson began a collaborative relationship focused on building a game around a more personalized Chainmail experience. Between 1971 and 1974, the two of them hashed out the rules and playtested The Fantasy Game. In 1974, they partnered with Brian Blume, whose father Melvin provided the much needed funding to get the game published and distributed to game stores across America.
Somewhere along the line between playtesting, financing, and preparing the game for publication, they decided that The Fantasy Game wasn’t the kind of title that would inspire anyone to pull a box off a shelf—or cough up $10 (approximately $53 when adjusted for inflation)—and the name was changed to Dungeons & Dragons.
The entire print run of 1,000 copies sold out within the first year, followed by 3,000 copies the following year. From that early start with a limited print run, the game went on to undergo many revisions and expansions. Current estimates peg the number of people who have played the game at over 20 million and the total amount Dungeons & Dragons merchandise sales at over one billion dollars—not a bad showing for a paper-based tabletop game created by two fantasy-obsessed wargamers.
Image courtesy of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson.