Dungeons & Dragons, the Allfather of role-playing games, was first published by Tactical Studies Rules in January 1974. Today we’re celebrating the 40th anniversary, not just of D&D but of the birth of a whole hobby. My dictionary defines a hobby as “an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure”. Tabletop role-playing games offer several kinds of pleasure, some of which can be enjoyed alone: reading rulebooks and supplements, learning new words and concepts, researching genre fiction or historical reference materials, creating worlds and characters with which to populate (and explore) them. You will be able, I’m certain, to recall many happy hours spent poring over library books, drawing maps of dungeons and star sectors, inventing new spells and monsters, and so on.
But the hobby lives at the table, where characters take on the semblance of real people in extraordinary situations and the game world unfolds around them with all its mysteries and potential rewards. There’s simply nothing else like it. In the thirty-one years since I took my first thief Spryre Worthen into a nameless “mazey dungeon” and got him out alive, I’ve been hooked on the experience of sharing a secondary world with friends and exploring it together at the table. Reading, writing, drawing – those are all splendid things, but the core of the hobby is social interaction. I’ve made many good friends playing these silly make-believe games, and this evening three of them will be coming over to mark the occasion of D&D’s 40th birthday with – what else? – a game. A dungeon crawl, to be precise, using the OD&D rules. As ever, we’ll begin by getting a takeaway supper from my local chip shop, after which 3d6 will be rolled in order, ridiculous names and random hats will be bestowed upon characters, and play will commence. There will be excitement, trepidation, laughter, searching, fighting, cheering, looting, more than likely some fleeing and – yes, perhaps – dying. There may even be cake. It will, I confidently predict, be uproarious fun.
So thanks to Dave and Gary and all the game designers who followed where they led. Hats off to all the players and referees around the world who’ve kept the hobby alive and thriving for four decades, despite the disdain or incomprehension of their peers and the distraction of new technologies. Happy birthday, Dungeons & Dragons. Many happy returns, RPG hobby.