At the dawn of roleplaying, the Castle & Crusade Society and Lake Geneva Tactical Studies Association (LGTSA) focused on Medieval Britain, and produced the Chainmail tabletop wargame rules with a fantasy supplement, which in turn spawned the original Dungeons & Dragons game.

Design choices indicate that the focus was historical. Consider pole arms, extensively described in OD&D supplements and AD&D 1e, all of which inflict the same damage but which are individually specific to certain nationalities.

Was D&D originally intended to be an historical wargame with certain fantasy additions, roleplaying optional? (Bonus: Cite specific historical/wargame bits which were included.)


4 Answers 4


The progression went like this

  1. Chainmail was a set of rules for wargaming with miniatures.
  2. People wanted to fight the battles they read about in Lord of the Rings, Conan, and other fantasy novels of the time. So the Fantasy Supplement was added.
  3. Dave Arneson was inspired by David Wesley Braunstein game to create his own version. He used the Man to Man and Fantasy Supplement Rules of Chainmail as the foundation of his rules. The scenario he picked was exploring the dungeon underneath Castle Blackmoor and later the surrounding Wilderness.
  4. Gygax and his friends from Lake Geneva found out about this and went to Minnepolis to play a few sessions of Dave's Game.
  5. Gygax started his Castle Greyhawk campaign with it's own dungeon and wilderness and wrote what was to be the Dungeons & Dragons rules.
  6. The Dungeons & Dragons rules were written with knowledge of Chainmail in mind but presented alternatives in order to use it as a Standalone game.
  7. Greyhawk Supplement I expanded and added rules that transformed the game into the D&D most of us recognize today.

The design choices were mainly in making Chainmail rules more interesting for man to man combat. Chainmail's 1 hit = 1 kill was transformed 1 hit = 1d6 damage, 1 level = 1d6 hit points. The Alternative combat system used a chart indexing level vs Armor Class instead of Chainmail's weapon vs Armor matrix or Creature vs Creature matrix. Spells and the Monster list were expanded. An equipment list was added. The focus of the original game was on dungeon crawling, and the exploration of the wilderness. Plus since this was a group of miniature wargamers rules for constructing castles and building baronies was included.

Original D&D wasn't designed as much it grew out of the piecemeal solutions to the rule problems they encountered while roleplaying their way through the campaigns of the time. While this sound haphazard it was wildly popular in both Minnepolis and Lake Geneva. They were refereeing over a dozen players a session and playing multiple times a week. So they got quite a lot of time in with developing the rules.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Good grasp of history as usual... \$\endgroup\$
    – ExTSR
    Commented Feb 8, 2011 at 18:22

A quick look at Gygax's polearm list and any good historical reference to polearms will tell you that Gygaxian design was far less concerned with history than the appearance of history. He makes distinctions that really aren't, and goes well into "overclassification."

Likewise, "Plate Mail" is a completely bogus term. Mail means chain; nothing else is mail. There are a dozen historical kinds of mail, but they all are rings joined together into sheets, and then rigged into a variety of styles of wear.

Gygax's Chainmail rules are not terribly historically accurate, either... they're a good basic set of rules. An introductory game, if you will. Other, far more accurate and simulationist games existed at the same time. Very few, however, were as easy to pick up as Chainmail.

D&D's emphasis on the Gold Piece as the primary currency is again, completely ahistorical. Most people, even the nobles, spent mostly silver coins... usually worth about 1/10th to 1/20th the value of a gold coin, and typically between 200 and 300 to the pound. The monstrously large gold coins of D&D are well beyond the reach of history.

The evidence left us from his rule-systems is one of game over simulation, game over history, and game over realism. Every decision point in the original D&D is, like those in Chainmail, designed for fun and ease of play. A vehicle for story.

Later developments in the game drove it away from the simplicity of both Chainmail and the original rules. But at heart, it's not a historical simulation.

And one of my history professors used to warn people: Anything historical you learned from D&D is almost guaranteed to be wrong.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ There was indeed a great deal of compromise for playability, and Gary's Swiss historical bias shows. But imo you make too much of a word choice (re plate mail) by a writer who invented and reapplied lots of other words too. \$\endgroup\$
    – ExTSR
    Commented Feb 8, 2011 at 18:25
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @ExTSR Frank, the Mail issue is just the easiest of Gary's sloppy use of language to point out. It also is the most clear evidence of his lack of one or the other of historical knowledge or concern for history, or perhaps a lack of both. The polearms list makes distinctions that weren't even made in historical polearm training manuals! He's syncretized several different languages' lists, making distinctions between the same polearm under two different names. It's important, tho', to see Chainmail for what it is: an introductory level game focused on play not historicity. It does play well.... \$\endgroup\$
    – aramis
    Commented Feb 9, 2011 at 20:16

The answer is provisionally sort of. It grew out of historical miniature wargaming, but it is more complicated then that.

There was an article written by: Paul La Farge Sept. 2006, "Destroy All Monsters", that can answer this question better than anything else I know.

Go here to read the article here: Destory All Monsters

There is more information here than you are asking for, but it answers the question 'where did D&D come from and how did it start' better than I can.

  • \$\begingroup\$ A further summary of the contents of the article would improve this answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tommi
    Commented Jul 4, 2020 at 8:04

Tim Kask, first employee at TSR, recalls what OD&D was intended to provide to the wargaming circles that many of the creators "pal'd around" in...

Tim Kask discusses the "original goal" of OD&D in a historical context (link takes you to the direct anecdote, watch the whole video for more context).

Tim relates a "gaming story" from before TSR (killerdmbombrpg, 2009). I edited for brevity, sans "uh" and "um"

...We rescued this dying dwarf. And, of course, I was the only dwarf in the party, so I was the only one that could talk to him because that was when languages [edit] because Gary was playing with people and languages. And if you didn't know Common you couldn't talk to anybody else, you know, that type of thing.

And so long story short, the dwarf was some high level war dude that had 96 retainers back at the hold, keep, whatever, the "big dude," and I just inherited the title [unintelligible].

The point of that is, that, the original goal of D&D, back in the old three books, was an extension of the miniatures; that you went out and did all these deeds of daring-do, for the purpose of amassing money, as well as experience, but the money was every bit as important, because the whole point was to build a keep. Build a castle, have your 80 men-at-arms, your 20 crossbow men, your fluffy wizard, and you two pet clerics, and all that. Grab all of the land around you as you possibly can and declare yourself "The Dude."

Ok, that was the game. You retired that character and started again. That was the game. That was the win. There actually was a win very, very early. Vaguely defined, but it was a win.

killerdmbombrpg (2009, August 19). Tim Kask part 1 Interview 1 [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gfbXKgTrcw


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