Happy 40th anniversary, Dungeons & Dragons, from all your grateful geeks

Raise your hand if you too squandered your youth on polyhedral dice and inscrutable role playing

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I agree, especially with the part where if you're low on gold you just go out into the woods, hack up other creatures, and loot theirs. It's highly possible that the concept of the home invasion was pioneered at a gaming table. Also, its reliance on fictional magic and its attempts to get players thinking about the nature of good and evil spawned a backlash from the right-wing Christian set that continues to this day but went largely ignored by people who were already abstaining from original sin even if it wasn't voluntary.

From D&D to data centers

What happens to gamers after a high school career spent stuffed into lockers working up dungeon maps on reams of graph paper? Usually one of two paths, with the obvious exception of the road to entertainment celebrity and deviance: They either opt for a degree in engineering and turn into well-balanced adults, or (like me) they land a completely unmarketable creative liberal arts degree, like a major in comparative Russian short stories with a pot minor, and from there straight to debtor's prison.

Sadly, the game has gone through multiple revisions since its inception in 1974 through a collaboration between two since-sainted geeks, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, reaching its generally accepted peak in the Advanced 2nd Edition somewhere in the '80s. But in the opinion of many old-school fans, including this demented reporter, it declined from there into a game that minimizes imagination and instead promotes the sale of inscrutable playing cards and action figures with PC cross-over products.

Hasbro, which acquired current publisher Wizards of the Coast in 1999 -- which had, in turn, taken over from the original D&D manufacturer, TSR, in 1997 -- recently announced the impending fifth edition of the game that it says will be optimized for play on multiple electronic devices while still maintaining the original role-playing tabletop flavor. This claim is so ludicrous it might as well be telling midlife-crisis-leaning men that Civil War reenactments are a great way to meet women.

Despite not having played since 1991, I, like many previous players, still suffer from an inability to let go of my D&D Chief Virgin past and have all my locker-scrawled maps, my descriptions of non-existent people and places, and my collection of ubiquitously pneumatic female miniature action figures clad in chainmail bikinis. I'm also inexorably drawn to the mall, like Google to an overpriced acquisition, whenever a new edition comes out, and I spend another $75 and more on core rule books I'll never use. I've stuffed all this into unmarked boxes tucked in a musty attic corner lest Pammy find them and think better of continuing our relationship.

Nevertheless, I credit the game with shaping many of my life choices over the years, which means I should probably burn Hasbro's offices to the ground. But for those few that actually improved whatever situation I was currently wrestling, I'm thankful. Happy anniversary D&D, let's hope you remain analog and Apple never makes an app out of you.

This article, "Happy 40th anniversary, Dungeons & Dragons, from all your grateful geeks," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, follow Cringely on Twitter, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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