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Dungeons & Dragons Is So Classic It Now Has Its Own Digital Archive

Guides and books from the past 40 years of Dungeons and Dragons are to be preserved online

Photo: Colin Schultz

First devised in the early 1970s under the innocuous title “The Fantasy Game,” Dungeons & Dragons grew into a cultural juggernaut. Although it’s still stigmatized as a pastime for geeks—with the iconic 20-sided die symbolizing all that’s (to an outsider) unnecessarily complicated about it—the game’s influence can be seen in the archetypes and underlying structure of modern gaming.

From its initial launch the game itself has grown more complexed and nuanced, and at times, designers have revised entirely the way it is played. Though some Dungeons & Dragons fans map out their own adventures (with one person controlling the enemies and the story, and the other players controlling the protagonists), others follow preset guides. Wired‘s Ethan Gilsdorf:

For many of us, those early experiences of exploring dungeons, slaying monsters and devouring bowls of Cheetos are inextricably linked to specific gaming products and their charmingly amateurish artwork of animated skeletons, spider queens, and aqua-colored dungeon maps.

…Alas, many of those rulebooks and adventures from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s have disappeared — forgotten, made obsolete, or discarded with the trash by parents when young gamers went off to college. (Thanks, Mom!). Only occasionally do these out-of-print products resurface at yard sales, online shopping sites, or at specialized auctions. If they can be located, they’re often only available for exorbitant prices.

In advance of Dungeons & Dragons’ upcoming fortieth anniversary, the publisher of many of those old paperback guides has opened a digital archive that should eventually include every edition of the game ever produced—some of which are accessible for free. Though this archive may be designed with profit in mind, it will also help to preserve these original, increasingly rare pieces of gaming history.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Outsmarting Napoleon - War games enthusiasts use miniature soldiers and multiple-terrain boards to simulate real battles
The Essentials: Video Games
Playing Video Games At Home Turns 40

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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