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dnd was a computer role playing game written in the TUTOR programming language for the PLATO System by Gary Whisenhunt and Ray Wood at Southern Illinois University in 1974 and 1975. Dirk Pellett of Iowa State University and Flint Pellett of University of Illinois made substantial enhancements to the game from 1976 to 1985.

The name dnd is derived from the abbreviation "DND" (D&D) for the print-based tabletop role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, which was first published in 1974.


dnd was probably the third dungeon crawl game written for PLATO. The first such game, known as pedit5, was deleted just a few months after it was created. The second game, m199h, was created in a lesson unit (i.e., space on a fixed drive) reserved for foreign language instruction. It was similarly deleted as soon as the illicit program was discovered. dnd was the first PLATO lesson space created for the express purpose of being a dungeon game.

The GameEdit

In dnd, a player would create a character and then venture into the multi-level Whisenwood Dungeon in search of treasure and the famous 'orb'. The dungeon was populated by an assortment of monsters and treasures.

The game implemented many of the basic concepts of Dungeons and Dragons:

Players had characteristics such as strength, intelligence, and wisdom.
Players advanced in levels as they progressed.
Players cast magical and clerical spells.
Players found magic items in treasure chests.
Different spells inflicted different damage on different monsters.
The strength of the monsters encountered by a player increased as he/she ventured deeper into the dungeon. For example, monsters on Level 2 were generally stronger (i.e. harder to kill) than those on Level 1, and monsters on Level 3 were stronger than those on Level 2, and so on.

Teleporters moved characters between dungeon levels (especially the Excelsior Transporter, which first appeared in dnd on PLATO). High level monsters, like the boss monsters in coin-op video games, provided a grand finale for each dungeon. A unique feature, rather than requiring the player to remain trapped in the dungeon until either death or victory occurred, as many later video games did, dnd allowed a player to leave the dungeon alive, to recuperate and regain spells and return later, thus gradually increasing in power over many play sessions (often thousands).

The BossEdit

dnd was the first video game to have a boss. Prior to that time, video games were repetitious. For example, in the game pong, the ball would move faster as the game progressed. There was never a final and climatic battle. In dnd, the battle with the Golden Dragon was the climax to the video game.

'dnd' was first written without a boss. The original writers of the game were two psychology majors turned computer programmers. Thus, they were as interested in the players' reactions to the game as the "whiz bang" of the game itself.

Several things prompted the creation of the boss. First, pinball machines at that time began to have "high scores" displayed. It was thought that a "high score" would be a good addition for a video game. But in a video game where play might never end, a high score seemed pointless.

Second, a player could become so skilled at playing the game that the linear increase in the difficulty of the game did not present a sufficient challenge. That is, each level of dnd was incrementally harder than the previous level. The player's ability, however, increased faster than the difficulty of the game.

Third, players identified strongly with the characters they used during the game. The players began speaking of the game as if it were real. Thus, to enhance the illusion that the game was real, there had to be a "why" involved. "Why" is someone going into the dungeon?

The concept for a "boss" came from the front cover of the "Dungeons & Dragons" role-playing game. The cover depicted a dragon sitting on a large treasure. The idea then was to have the player on a quest to find "the Orb." However, the "Orb" was protected by a great monster.

The Orb itself was kept in a treasure room deep within the dungeon. Protecting the Orb in the treasure room was a powerful Golden Dragon and a number of lesser monsters. If the character defeated the Golden Dragon, retrieved the Orb and made it out of the dungeon, the character would be retired to the Elysian Fields. The character's name would then be inscribed for all to see when others visited dnd. The Golden Dragon was thus the first computer game boss.

History and firstsEdit


Subsequent revisions of the game added more dungeons, such as The Caverns and The Tomb, with different creatures guarding different treasures (such as the Grim Reaper guarding The Fountain), and the player had to obtain both The Orb and The Grail to win. Also, many different types of miscellaneous treasures were added over the years, with their icons added to the game's original graphical display.

dnd was the first computer game that placed the player within a story with a beginning, middle, climax, denouement and an end. dnd also was one of the first video games to attempt humor and irony within the game. Later PLATO games, such as avatar, oubliette, baradur, moria, dndworld, bnd, and sorcery, were heavily influenced by dnd (and each other) while adding innovative features of their own, from 1976 to 1979. Some games on non-PLATO computers were directly derived from dnd and other PLATO games by authors who copied the PLATO versions (in particular, the non-PLATO game named "dnd" with its goal of finding "the orb"), while other games, such as Rogue, were most likely independently created several years later.

dnd was the first adventure or RPG to have a store where the player could buy magic items: Aumakua's Alchemy sold potions, and Korona's Armory sold hardware such as magic swords and rings.

The game proved enormously popular on PLATO and continued to be played until PLATO was finally deactivated.


"Retro Playing Games", Computer Games, April, 2006, p. 36-37.

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