A History of Dungeons & Dragons
Part 11: 1984
1984 was something of a roller-coaster ride for Dungeons & Dragons. TSR was facing financial disaster. Gary Gygax successfully removed Kevin Blume as CEO and started working on getting TSR back in the black, which involved scaling back game lines, cutting staff, and working on new AD&D hardcovers which would appear a year later.
1984 also saw another resurgence in the controversy surrounding D&D in this era with the publishing of Dark Dungeons by Jack Chick. Dark Dungeons was a comic-book style publication that equated playing D&D to witchcraft and Satanism.
Spanning 1983 to 1984, a line of action figures bearing the D&D brand appeared in toy stores featuring iconic characters like Warduke, Strongheart, and Kelek.
Finally, 1984 was the year Dragonlance made its debut, both with a series of adventures and a new novel series, Dragonlance Chronicles. Although it took a few months, Dragons of Autumn Twilight, the first novel in the Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy, hit the New York Times bestseller list and put a D&D setting in the hands of readers who’d otherwise never heard of the game.
The Dragonlance world, while still recognizable as a D&D setting, included many new elements. Draconians were humanoid dragon-like creatures forming the bulk of the enemy forces in the war that lies at the center of the stories of the adventure modules and novels. A race called Kender, a curious race prone to “finding” things others had “misplaced or lost,” replaced the Tolkien-inspired halflings. Tinker Gnomes were a variation on the standard gnome with a love of highly impractical (and often highly dangerous) inventions. Dragonlance wizards were bound to the cycles of the world’s three moons, clerics were unknown, the gods had vanished three hundred years before during a world shattering event known as the Cataclysm, and steel pieces replaced gold pieces. In short, Dragonlance, with its emphasis on epic storytelling and in-depth characterization, was a major turning point for the Dungeons & Dragons game.
1984 D&D Products
February – UK2: The Sentinel. Part 1 of a two-part series in which the player characters seek out a magical gauntlet.
March – DL1: Dragons of Despair. Originally planned as a simple series of adventures featuring dragons as the end “boss” villain, the Dragonlance modules grew into an epic tale of love, war, and the return of the true gods of Krynn, the world upon which the Dragonlance adventures are set. This first adventure covers the quest to find the Disks of Mishakal in the ruins of the city of Xak Tsaroth, guarded by the black dragon, Khisanth. The Dragonlance modules featured pre-generated characters that mirrored the main characters of the novel series, thus making names like Tanis Half-Elven, Sturm Brightblade, Tasslehoff Burrfoot, and Raistlin Majere well known to both gamers and fantasy readers.
March – UK3: The Gauntlet. Part 2 of a two-part series about the quest for a magical gauntlet.
June – UK4: When a Star Falls. An adventure module in which the player characters seek out a fallen star while dealing with derro and svirfneblin.
July – CB1: Conan Unchained! Featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger on the cover in the titular role from the movie Conan: The Barbarian, this adventure was part of a short-lived license for Conan based D&D products. The adventure itself is set during Conan’s time as a pirate and raider and provided pregenerated player character stats for Conan and his companions Valeria, and Juma.
July – DL2: Dragons of Flame. The second module in the Dragonlance series, Dragons of Flame sends the player characters to Pax Tharkas to confront the Dragon Highlord Verminaard. The adventure also features a rescue component as the heroes must find and free prisoners of the dragon armies. Later reviews would praise the story of the Dragonlance series, but, starting with this module, would caution that the series treads into “railroad” territory (a tightly scripted plot that has little room for player character choice).
August – MV1: Midnight on Dagger Alley. An adventure designed to be played solo, with the use of a “magic viewer,” a framed piece of red cellophane used to see the red-obscured text within the module (designed to make only the character’s current location in the adventure readable). The magic-viewer concept would also see use that same year on the packaging of the Transformers line of toys, created by Hasbro, a company that would become significant much later in D&D’s history.
August – UK5: Eye of the Serpent. The player characters in this module are captured by a roc and brought to its nest. From there, they must escape through the mountains and a dangerous valley to get home again.
August – UK6: All That Glitters. This adventure features the classic hook of a treasure map, leading player characters through many dangers along the way.
September – DL3: Dragons of Hope. First of several unique takes on the classic adventure format in the Dragonlance series, Dragons of Hope tasks the player characters with escorting a group of refugees (the prisoners freed in DL2) to a safe haven, specifically the dwarven stronghold of Thorbardin.
September – Dungeons & Dragons Companion Set. Third in the “BECMI” series of boxed sets for the basic version of the D&D game, the Companion set covered character levels 15-25. This set introduced rules for settling down and governing a domain as well as “The War Machine” rules for mass combat. By this point, the “Basic” and Advanced D&D games had begun to significantly diverge from each other, each adding their own differing levels of complexity, such that “Basic” was something of a misnomer.
September – Legends & Lore. A revision of the older Deities & Demigods hardcover volume.
November – CB2: Conan: Against the Darkness! Set during Conan’s reign as King of Aquilonia, this adventure involves the city of Khemi and the villain Thoth-Amon.
November – Dragonlance Chronicles Volume 1: Dragons of Autumn Twilight. The first novel in the Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy, this book covers the events of the DL1 and DL2 adventures. Dragons of Autumn Twilight would later be adapted into an animated movie featuring Keifer Sutherland as Raistlin and a series of graphic novels by Devil’s Due Publishing.
November – DL4: Dragons of Desolation. In this adventure, the PCs secure refuge for the prisoners from Pax Tharkas in Thorbardin by agreeing to recover the Hammer of Kharas. The events of this adventure are almost entirely skipped or glossed over in the novels.
AC2: Combat Shield and Mini-Adventure. This product includes a small DM’s screen for the basic D&D game and a short adventure, Treasure of the Hideous One.
AC3: 3-D Dragon Tiles featuring The Kidnapping of Princess Arelina. This module contained cardboard cutouts for characters, walls, and other dungeon features. The sequel adventure, The Revenge of Rusak, which also featured 3D tiles, was also given the AC3 code, though it was later revised to AC8.
AC5: Player Character Record Sheets. Another set of character sheets for basic D&D, designed to accommodate characters using the Companion Set rules. They were quickly made obsolete by the release of the Master Set.
B6: The Veiled Society. This adventure module is a murder mystery set in the city Specularum, the capital of the Grand Duchy of Karameikos. The adventure also included cardstock stand-up elements similar to those found in the AC3 supplement.
B7: Rahasia. This adventure is a compilation and revision of the older RPGA1 and RPGA2 modules.
B8: Journey to the Rock. A wilderness scenario in which the player characters are hired by a wizard to learn the secrets of the mysterious Rock.
BSOLO: Ghost of Lion Castle. A solo adventure intended for a single player, though without the “magic viewer” gimmick of Midnight on Dagger Alley.
CM1: Test of the Warlords. Designed for the Companion Set, this adventure puts the player characters in the role of settlers establishing their own dominions, but they soon find themselves in the middle of a war between the mighty empires of Thyatis and Alphatia.
CM2: Death’s Ride. In this Companion level adventure, the player characters seek out a lost barony and take on an undead army.
CM3: Sabre River. The player characters must uncover the source of a curse within a dungeon nestled inside a volcano.
O2: Blade of Vengeance. Blade of Vengeance was a “basic” D&D module designed as a “duet” style adventure with a single player and the DM. The elf protagonist of the adventure seeks revenge against the red dragon that destroyed his family and village.
Player Character Record Sheets. AD&D character sheets.
X6: Quagmire! An Expert level adventure in which the player characters must trudge through a treacherous swamp to find a lost city before it is swallowed by the sea.
X7: The War Rafts of Kron. One of the first adventures set entirely on and underneath the ocean, the player characters are hired to thwart piracy against the Minrothad Guilds.
X8: Drums on Fire Mountain. An Expert level adventure in which the player characters explore an isolated jungle island.
XL1: Quest for the Heartstone. This adventure is notable for featuring characters from the D&D line of action figures, specifically Warduke and Strongheart.
XSOLO: Lathan’s Gold. A solo adventure similar to Ghost of Lion’s Castle but designed for an Expert level character. The player character seeks treasure in the Sea of Dread in an attempt to accumulate enough gold to meet a ransom demand.