Its been 40 years since the first version of the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role-playing game was introduced, and a new edition -- the fifth, dubbed D&D Next -- is primed for release.
A free set of basic rules is already available online. On Tuesday, a starter set will arrive in midstate gaming stores, and though many other games have challenged D&Ds one-time dominance, there are some hopes for a resurgence of the classics popularity.
In anticipation of the new release, Heroes & Villains in Warner Robins plans to try out the starter set at its in-store gaming tables Sunday, owner Mike McDaniel said.
Well be doing a full-fledged RPG, kind of demoing it, he said.
There is still strong, strong interest in Dungeons & Dragons, though as the game went through major rule changes in earlier editions, it lost some fans to newer related games such as Pathfinder, McDaniel said.
But players that are into (D&D), theyve been waiting a long time for a new edition.
Michael Starr, owner of Command Zone Games in Macon, said he hopes to see D&D games popping up at his tables, but that hasnt happened lately.
Its been a while, he said. The last D&D game he recalls seeing in his shop was about a year ago. Other tabletop role-playing games do see sessions there, but the card game Magic: The Gathering is the most popular, he said.
Players in Command Zone last week said its been a long time since they played D&D, but theyd heard vague mention that a new edition was coming out.
Ive played all of once, Eric Martinez said. That was just last October, but he wasnt sure what edition of the game he played.
Donald Chambliss Jr. last played in 2008. He and Martinez came to Command Zone to play Magic.
Chambliss and Martinez said theyd found it was difficult to get started in D&D without an experienced guide, and that even game basics -- in previous editions -- were a considerable investment for those just starting out.
But both men said they were willing to give the new edition a try.
Im actually interested to see what D&D Next is like, Chambliss said.
Starr said hes been hoping to attract some regular D&D players from the recently closed Avalon Comics, but none has turned up yet. Hell be happy to host games when players get the books.
If you have the stuff for it, go for it, Starr said.
The origins of tabletop role playing run all the way back to a miniature war-gaming rule book called Little Wars, written more than a century ago by H.G. Wells, according to Gary Gygax in his 1987 book Role-Playing Mastery.
In 1971, Gygax himself was co-author of Chainmail, a set of rules for re-creating medieval warfare -- which included a Fantasy Supplement by Gygax.
Thus heroes, spell-casting wizards, fire-breathing dragons, magic swords, giants, trolls, and werewolves began to appear in miniatures games across the country, he wrote.
Then in 1974, Gygax and Dave Arneson expanded on those ideas in the first edition of Dungeons & Dragons. An advanced version followed in 1977. The thoroughly reorganized Second Edition came out in 1989.
TSR, the company Gygax co-founded but left in 1985, ran into financial trouble and in 1997 was sold to Wizards of the Coast, which had just had huge success with Magic: The Gathering. Wizards, in turn, was bought by Hasbro in 1999, one year before a major D&D rules change with the release of the Third Edition.
In 2003, those rules were adjusted in version 3.5. And in 2008, the same year Gygax died, the gaming system got another major revamp.
Meanwhile, many other games were popping up, both tabletop and then on computer. And as D&D went through many changes, many longtime players turned to those.
Changes to later editions of D&D seemed to be aimed at recapturing some of that lost audience, but they actually drove some old fans away, McDaniel said.
Now, Wizards is hoping to redress all discontent with a new approach. D&D Next has been play tested by more than 175,000 people in the last two years to refine the rules, according to Mike Mearls, the games lead designer.
The games core rules, more than 100 pages, are available for free download at www.wizards.com/dnd. The starter set to be released Tuesday, which includes premade characters, a trial adventure and a set of dice, will cost $19.95.
Full rule books will come later this year: the Players Handbook on Aug. 19, the Monster Manual on Sept. 30 and the Dungeon Masters Guide on Nov. 18.
Waiting to see
Heroes & Villains is the only local gaming store that is planning to herald the D&D Next release with an event. The rest plan to carry the new edition, but they havent seen enough D&D games lately to warrant a big to-do, owners said.
The problem weve had in Macon for the last couple of years is that people cant get along on what edition they want to play, said Will Peavy, owner of Comics Plus in Macon. We get people all the time: Hey, do you play D&D? Yeah. What edition?
Dusty Gautney, co-owner of Vigilantes Comics and Café in Warner Robins, said hes been playing role-playing games for seven years and has probably tried about 20 games, including all editions of D&D. He thinks D&D Next will fix many of the games problems.
Im really looking forward to it, Gautney said.
The store stocks 4th Edition -- and also rival game Pathfinder, said Rosaly Aponte, Vigilantes co-owner. Theyre still looking for someone to run a D&D game there regularly. Meanwhile, an Atlanta representative of the company that makes Pathfinder may drum up someone to run that game regularly in the shop, she said.
Regular customers in the three-month-old store have kept up on news about D&D Next, but their current tabletop game of choice is superhero game Mutants & Masterminds, Aponte said.
They play it every Saturday, she said.
No regular D&D group has gathered at Comics Plus in a long time either, Peavy said, but the back room is always open for players.
I know D&D has struggled, he said.
Peavy has shelves packed with new and used copies of books and modules from all of the games editions, and he sees D&D Next as the latest in Wizards ongoing response to Pathfinder and other rivals -- perhaps a successful one.
I think it will be a big resurgence, he said. The players he knows still have a desire to play the game that started it all. Its just a matter of finding the time and a willing group, Peavy said. And reaching consensus on the edition, which D&D Next may resolve.
Gaming is still as strong as ever, he said.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.