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It might surprise you to learn that Dungeons & Dragons has roots in a real-life adventure: a teen exploring tunnels under an abandoned asylum in his Illinois hometown. Gary Gygax drew from these underground crawls when he and Dave Arneson started creating games together. Their work launched a whole new genre: the role-playing game.
As an adult, Gygax had discovered a keen interest in war games, including Little Wars: A Game for Boys, which is thought of as the first contemporary war game. Developed by H.G. Wells from his son's toy soldiers in 1913, this game and others like it used dice to determine whether actions were successful, and referees negotiated in-game disputes.
Gygax – intrigued by the rules and backgrounds of his war games' characters – teamed up with Arneson to create a new kind of war game. Arneson's appetite for imaginative, never-ending play, along with the concept of a master storytelling referee, combined with Gygax's meticulousness and thirst for characters to produce Dungeons & Dragons in 1974 [source: Kushner].
Perhaps it's that combination of fantasy lore and intense attention to detail that gave D&D a reputation for being a game for reclusive outsiders. But in reality, D&D is very social. Not only are players sitting around the same table (or maybe the same Google hangout), but their characters are also working together on an adventure. The game revolves around a storyteller, or Dungeon Master, who isn't just building a narrative, but is also facilitating dialogue between characters and players.
In the next few pages, we'll roll the dice and learn the basics of Dungeons & Dragons. We'll also see how Dungeons & Dragons has established itself and evolved in culture. So grab your character sheet, a pencil and paper, and your 20-sided die because on the next page, we'll figure out what to expect from a D&D game.