Monday 24 January 2022

A Complete Timeline of Early D&D Scenarios I: 1971-1975

Following on in theme from my last posts on B2 The Keep on the Borderlands I've been researching the evolution of dungeon design in D&D from the birth of D&D up until B2 was published. Specifically I've been looking from 1971 up until the end of 1979 - which is when many sources claim B2 was published - it was actually published a few months later but the end of the 70s is a good cut-off point.

That has expanded into many other aspects of early scenario design (as a catch-all term for adventures of all types). To see how they influence each other, and to see how things develop, I found I needed a reliable timeline of all the scenarios - and I found many sources are either too vague (they only list the year) or in some cases completely wrong.

So here's the first part of my timeline. In addition to all scenarios published at the time I've included some early personal dungeons which weren't published at the time but might shed light on the evolution of scenarios, or which may have influenced other designs. That's been expanded to also include sample dungeons, boardgames, solo-dungeon creation methods, dungeons in adverts, and even dungeons in colouring books. It's been interesting to see how these peripheral items cross-influence the core items.

I've limited myself to D&D - there is an obvious cross-influence going on with Runequest, Tunnels & Trolls, and Metamorphosis Alpha in particular, but at this stage that was a bit too amibitious.

Afterwards I'll follow up with posts on the evolution of dungeons highlighting some connections I wasn't previously aware of and some new ones that I spotted during this process. I think this helps make sense of some aspects of early scenarios, which while far from perfect suffer from misunderstandings and invalid criticisms based upon our inevitably imperfect sight of the past. 

This first selection takes us from 1971 to 1975. I plan to give a separate post for each year from 76-79, and a final post covering scenarios in fanzines at the end.

This list is intended to be comprehensive and have accurate dates - to that end I have cited references for all the dates given. If you know of any items I have missed or any dates which are incorrect please let me know - but the main purpose is a reasonably accurate order. For personal dungeons and tournaments I list two dates - the date they were designed or first played (i.e. from when it could have influenced other scenarios), and then secondly the date it was published. 

Name: Blackmoor (JG37 First Fantasy Campaign)
Date: 1971.5 / 1977
Author: Dave Arneson
Publisher: Judges Guild
Type: Personal Megadungeon
Notes on date: See Hidden In Shadows for thoughts on when the first dungeon expedition was.
Notes: The start of it all. The first published version is a reasonably faithful portrayal of the original - though Hidden In Shadows show there are minor mapping errors. The key for most of the levels is not the original key but a restocking with official D&D rules for tournaments (likely Origins III in 1977). The surviving bits of the original key is fascinating - showing its wargaming roots.

Name: Dungeon!
Date: 1972.10 / 1975.7 
Author: Dave Megarry
Publisher: TSR
Type: Boardgame.
Notes on date: See Hidden In Shadows. According to the book Playing at The World, it was unveiled at Origins I July 1975.
Description: Dave Megarry was a player in Blackmoor, which inspired him to devise this dungeon-crawl boardgame in "a fevered, 72 hour marathon of creativity in October of 1972". Megarry and Arneson showed this to Gary Gygax and Rob Kuntz on the same visit as they played Blackmoor.

Name: Castle Greyhawk
Date: 1973.3 / (partial 1976.7)
Author: Gary Gygax
Publisher: -
Type: Personal Megadungeon
Description: The legendary 13 level dungeon designed for play testing D&D
Notes on date: See PlayingAtTheWorld. Note that the first level was actually published in July 1976 for Origins II – see The Acaeum.
Notes: This has never been published in full, but a couple of photos/scans have been published online. The level shown is one of two levels (including some of the keys) taken from photos of Gary playing at tournaments in the early 2000's. They are presumably from the 1998 version referenced in Gary's intro to Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works, designed for tournaments, which was the first 5 levels of this original dungeon plus one a split-level repurposed as level 6, so these are levels of the original. There is a third level visible as a poster in a photo from Origins II.

Name: El Raja Key (in the El Raja Key Archive)
Date: 1973.4 / 2017
Author: Rob Kuntz
Publisher: TLB Games
Type: Personal Megadungeon
Description: Third ever dungeon. An 11 level dungeon written for Gygax to adventure in during the D&D playtest. The published DVD is missing keys for all but the first 3 levels but is authentic scans of the original.
Notes on date: See 

Tonisborg (The Lost Dungeons of Tonisborg)
Date: 1973.Summer / 2021
Author: Greg Svenson
Publisher: Secrets of Blackmoor
Type: Personal Megadungeon
Description: Fourth ever dungeon. A 10 level dungeon written by an original player in Blackmoor. The published version contains scans of the original
Notes on date: See Hidden In Shadows

 Side on view (in Vol 3 – The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures)
Date: Second half 1973 / 1974.1 (revised 1975.12)
Author: Gary Gygax
Publisher: TSR
Type: Sample dungeon
Notes on date: See PlayingAtTheWorld
Notes: The first view of a dungeon in the original rules was a side-on view of the levels. This style was copied (and improved) in both subsequent versions of the Basic Rules.

Name: Sample level (in Vol 3 – The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures)
Date: As above
Author: Gary Gygax
Publisher: TSR
Type: Sample dungeon
Notes: A simple 1 page dungeon level with 1 page key to illustrate what a dungeon should be like. Note that it was redrawn in the fifth printing, in particular this obscures the fact that it originally had the standard box symbol for doors.

Name: Castle Greyhawk (Expanded)
Date: Early 1974 / -
Author: Gary Gygax & Rob Kuntz
Publisher: -
Type: Shared megadungeon
Noes: Revised much larger version of the dungeon, incorporating levels from the original Greyhawk and El Raja Key. This has never been published, but some of the parts from El Raja Key have been, and some published snippets of Castle Greyhawk may be from this version.
Notes on date: See Lake Geneva Original Campaign. RJK started co-DMing late 1973 so their collaboration on Greyhawk v2 is definitely after the sample dungeon.

Minneapa 42 Cover Dungeon
Date: 1974.4
Author: Craig VanGrasstek
Publisher: Minneapa #42
Type: Cartoon
Notes: One of "a couple" of covers that Craig VanGrasstek drew for the the Minnesota Science Fiction Society APA, Minneapa. This was not actually about D&D per se, but "The Game of Dungeon", the earliest D&D variant, written also by Crag VanGresstek (see 1974.11), based upon "Blue Petal"'s recollection of the game (see also 1975.8 below). See PlayingAtTheWorld for an explanation for how this variant arose (without Craig even having heard of D&D), and also Craig's posts at the Ruins of Murkhill. This extremely early (third only?) published dungeon map already has a prototype version of the joke of 100 orcs in a 10'x10' room. Note this map has squares for doors, squiggles for secret doors.

Model Dungeon (Rules to the Game of Dungeon)
Date: 1974.11
Author: Craig VanGrasstek
Publisher: Minneapa #49
Type: Sample Dungeon
Notes: See Playing At The World for info on this rules variant, and a download of the rules. Note that this map has (sort of) the arch symbol for doors - squares are used for secret doors! This map has an accompanying key. It is quite brief and the room contents is mostly rolled for.
Name: Ye Olde Surface
Date: 1974.12
Author: Craig VanGrasstek
Publisher: Minneapa #50
Type: Map of Dungeon environs
Notes: This is given at the same PaTW link as Model Dungeon 1974.11. This is given after a play report, and appears to be a map drawn especially for "Martin" to use as a start for creating their own campaign (rather than being that of an existing dungeon). It has distinct similarities to Blue Petal's dungeon map from the same group below (1975.8).

Name: Solo Adventures
Date: 1975.1
Author: Gary Gygax
Publisher: Strategic Review #1 (TSR)
Type: Random dungeon creation
Notes on date: See
Notes: First published rules for creating your own random dungeons. See PlayingAtTheWorld for how this concept first saw print in Midgard Sword & Shield (1974.10).

Name: Tomb of Ra-Hotep (in Tomb of Horrors pamphlet in Art & Arcana Special Edition)
Date: 1975.2 / 2018
Author: Alan Lucien
Publisher: WOTC
Type: Personal minidungeon
Noes: The earliest known scenario written out fully for someone else to DM. This was sent by Alan Lucien to Gary Gygax who acknowledged it's influence on Tomb of Horrors in that module's first edition.
Notes on date: See the letter from EGG in the forward to the A&A pamphlet acknowledging it in Feb 1975.
Rythlondar City
Date: 1975.3
Author: Len Scensny and/or John Van De Graaf
Publisher: Yggdrasil Chronicle #45 (Metro Detroit Gamers)
Type: City
Notes: This map comes from the Ryth campaign - the map was published in a Diplomacy Fanzine (on Jon's website) along with an intro to the campaign (first page in the Ryth Chronicles pdf). The campaign was written up in a fanzine The Ryth Chronicles, along with an updated version of the map. See PlayingAtTheWorld for further info and links to the pdf.

Name: Tomb of Horrors
Date: 1975.7 / 1978.1
Author: Gary Gygax (thanks to Alan Lucien)
Publisher: TSR
Type: Tournament (Origins I)
Notes: First ever tournament adventure. This was printed as a sort of protype module for many DMs to run. The original version was published in Art & Arcana along with Tomb of Ra-Hotep where you can see it is very close to the published version. 
Notes on date: For this, like many tournaments, see Greyhawk Online for details of which adventures were played at which tournaments and when those tournaments were.

Name: The Sunken City (in the El Raja Key Archive)
Date: 1975.8 / 2016
Author: Rob Kuntz
Publisher: TLB Games
Type: Tournament (Gencon VIII)
Notes on date: See above.
Notes: Only the map exists. The key in the printed version published along with the Archive is recreated (so likely similar content but sylistically different).

Name: Richard Tatge's Maze
Date: 1975.8
Author: Richard Tatge / Blue Petal
Publisher: In Memory of Paraguay #1 in A&E #3
Type: Map of dungeon environs
Notes on Date: In fanzine
Notes: "Blue Petal" gives a description of the Minneapolis gaming scene, focussing on Richard Tatge's 4 level dungeon. "But it is fun. Otherwise there not be gaming sessions lasting 36 hours". On the map he says "You will note the general store which is where we start out. North of the general store are three features that have been added, during the course of many descents. The radioactive pit was caused when a black priest and and white priest both got their prayers answered. Thor versus Azathoth I believe it was and it did do a bit of damage." With other details such as "Directly south of the General Store is the Troll Bridge. It costs one gold piece apiece to cross, but since no baddies or beasties will hit you on your way". The Troll Bridge is surely taken from Blackmoor, which shows how the Minneapolis dungeoneering tradition came directly from Blue Petal's experience of Blackmoor.

Name: Wizard’s Tomb (in The Character Archaic)
Date: 1975.9
Author: Pete & Judy Kerestan
Publisher: Wee Wariors
Type: Mini dungeon (map only)
Description: First ever published map of an actual (non-sample) dungeon. This is an unkeyed map contained in a D&D play-aids book (primarily character sheets). The Strategic Review VII #2, April '76, which advertises that TSR will be distributing this, states that The WIZARD'S TOMB is for solo play. 
Notes on date: The date is printed in the book - see RPG Geek

Name: The Temple of the Frog (in Supplement II: Blackmoor)
Date: 1975.12
Author: Dave Arneson
Publisher: TSR
Type: Adventure 
Notes on date: The date at DM's Guild is incorrect, as SR v1#5 (Dec 75) says it's "at the printers" and "Hopefully, by the time you read this, it will be available" thanks to D&D Chronologically for spotting this.
Notes: This is the first published D&D adventure. It is 21 pages covering the town, temple, and 2 dungeon levels. It is extremely non-standard.
Addendum: Secrets of Blackmoor on Twitter points out that this was originally part of the Blackmoor campaign and likely written in 1972. The date for positioning in the list remains as 1975.12 however, as except for a couple of rare cases I'm giving the date of publication except for Tournament Scenarios which get the date of the Tournament.

Well, that takes us to the end of 1975. It's quite an eclectic mix so far! Four years in and we've only had 19 entries, and we've still not got a published module. We have got a published adventure with The Temple of the Frog (but not a module), and we have got a printed module with Tomb of Horrors (but privately distributed - not published for another couple of years).

The prizes for each year are awarded as follows:
1971: Dave Arneson for Blackmoor
1972: Dave Megarry for Dungeon!
1973: prize withheld*
1974: prize withheld*
1975: Gary Gygax for Tomb of Horrors (which is remarkably still a very enjoyable dungeon with the right players and DM) 

*these prizes will be awarded when the two versions of Castle Greyhawk are finally published and comparisons can be made. And please have the confidence to publish the original not some modern fake rewritten version!

Updated to add Richard Tatge's Maze and Rythlondar City, and also Craig VanGrasstek's work. Note I've not included Alistair Macintyre's Dungeon Designs as they belong more to a discussion of traps.


  1. Great work and Super cool! I hate to point out that you missed one. Glendower Dungeon (4 levels, FFC 77:63). The stocking list reflects the style of Blackmoor's later levels so probably dates to fall '72, probably after Megarry's dungeon. Also I might as well mention that the stocking tables for Lake Gloomey include simple random dungeon rolls for # of passages and rooms. That's ca. June '72. No maps for these have turned up and may never have been made.

    1. Actually I'm really pleased when people point out I've missed one - I found out several that way. I wasn't sure what to do with Glendower Dungeon when I wrote this first blog post - especially as there's so little information on it (any links welcome). I hadn't spotted the random generation for Loch Gloomen at all! They probably both deserve separate entries rather than just me adding a note to Blackmoor's entry. Is the Loch Gloomen stuff also late '72?

  2. Yeah, Glendower dungeon didn't see much playtime so what you see in the FFC is pretty much it, but for Loch Gloomin we are in better luck. The Loch Gloomin material was utilized after Blackmoor was sacked in the 2nd Coot invasion in the Spring of 1972. Half to 2/3rds of the regular players were there during the invasion and failed to save the city and so were banished to Loch Gloomin. In mid July of '72 the infamous battle of Loch Gloomin took place. So we are likely looking at May/June for when the Loch Gloomin stocking lists were drawn up.