Monday, September 16, 2019

Ampersand, Assonances & Alliterations : The Shape of Dungeons & Dragons's Name

Stylistic devices in « Dungeons & Dragons »

The name « Dungeons & Dragons » contains :
  • an ampersand (&) ;
  • three and a half  alliterations ( DdD  nn  ss  + j-g ) ;
  • an assonance (with « on »),
  • a paronym (gathering 2 words which look alike) ;
  • a troponym (gathering 2 words from the theme of adventure and underground fantasy)
  • two allegories (the dungeons are places to explore, the dragons are mounstruous antagonists to defeat) ;
  • a binary form (with 2 consecutive and balanced words) ;
  • an aphorism (because it summarizes the content and the objectives of the game with very few words).


History of the name « Dungeons & Dragons »

With his Blackmoor campaign, Dave Arneson was the inventor of the gameplay of the first tabletop role-playing games (Peterson, 2012 ; Kuntz, 2017 ; Graves et al, 2019). In 1973, Gary Gygax decided to edit the mechanical rules and to streamline the game experience. He also decided the name of that game.
    « Dave Arneson was up in St. Paul and not with me when I wrote down two single-word lists of possible titles for the game. I did ask my player group which they liked, also queried my family. My youngest daughter Cindy, was adamant that I must use “Dungeons & Dragons.” As a number of others were in agreement with that choice, and I liked the alliteration, that’s what I went with when I took the mss. I had written to the printer in early December 1973. » (primary source : Gygax, 2002)
    « Gygax paired random mythic words like fantasy, adventure, swords, and sorcery until he came to one his 4-year-old daughter Cindy approved of. “Oh, Daddy,”she said, “I like Dungeons & Dragons the best!” » (secondary source : Kushner, 2008)

From the moment of the first publication (1974), the name Dungeons & Dragons belonged to the two co-authors. Dave Arneson left TSR in 1976 and kept receiving royalties on D&D products as co-author. Later, Gary Gygax wrote a new edition, changing the name for « Advanced Dungeons & Dragons » without paying royalties to Dave Arneson who filed 2 lawsuits (Appelcline, 2015a, p. 32). After Wizards of the Coast bought TSR (1997), his CEO Peter Adkison definitely solved the property of the name with both Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson to secure the name « Dungeons & Dragons » and to abandon the word « Advanced » (Appelcline, 2015b, p. 145).

Original Woodgrain Edition Dungeons & Dragons Box Set (1974).
Crédit photo : BlackGate, 2016.


Legacy of the stylistic devices


Trade dress ?

The name Dungeons & Dragons is copyrighted and it is a registered trademark ®.

The trade dress is another concept of intellectual property designed to protect what make a product unique : special fonts, layout of covers, of texts, of figures, etc. It seems that the stylistic device « ____ & ___ » cannot be claimed as trade dress. For this point, I lack of sources and expertise and I think it can change depending on the cases. For example, after been fired from TSR, Gary Gygax said he couldn't publish a game named Dangerous Dimensions because of the initials "DD", so he renamed it Dangerous Journey (Sacco, 1999).

[Digression: rpg-module by Michael C. Davis for LaTeX reproduces faithfully the layout of the modules of the 80s. I used it easily. I just dicovered TeXBrew which gives a imperssive outcomes for D&D 5th].


In TSR and WotC products

The stylistic devices « ___ & ___ » were not reused a lot by the others TSR and WotC products. Hypothesis : to distinguish D&D from its supplements or from other product lines (Star Frontiers, Gamma Worlds, etc.).
  • Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes (1976).
    • Supplement no. 4 to OD&D.
  • Swords & Spells (1976).
    • Supplement no. 5 to OD&D.
  • Deities & Demigods (1980).
    • Supplement to AD&D.
  • Legends & Lore (1984).
    • Supplement to AD&D. Renamed, maybe because of the moral panics of the 80s (Appelcline, 2013) or for other reasons (Hartlage, 2019)
  • Legends & Lore (1990).
    • Supplement to AD&D 2nd ed.
  • Deities and Demigods (2002).
    • Supplement to D&D 3rd ed.

Other publishers

On the other hand, the stylistic devices « ___ & ___ » was used at least by 20 other publishers for games or perdiodicals. It could have been motivated by : homage, tribute, parody, pastiche, competition or collaboration.

Publication year Ampersand Alliteration Assonance
Tunnels & Trolls 1975 x x
Alarums & Excursions 1975 x

White Bear and Red Moon 1975

Owl and Weasel 1975 x x
Bunnies & Burrows 1976 x x x
Chivalry & Sorcery 1977 x x x
Villains and Vigilantes 1979
x x
Jeux & Stratégie 1980 x x
Power & Perils  1983 x x
Privateers & Gentlemen 1983 x

Mutants & Masterminds 2002 x x
Blood & Honor  2002 x

Vast & Starlit 2003 x x x
Mazes & Minotaurs  2006 x x
Tranchons & Traquons 2007 x x x
Swords & Wizardry  2008 x

A Song of Ice and Fire RPG  2009

Secrets & Lies 2009 x

Mazes & Perils  2011 x

For Gold & Glory 2012 x x x
Plurals not included

Venn diagram for the variations on the name « Dungeons & Dragons »


New items I discovered since the first publication of this post in French in May (with the help of Reddit):


    • Shannon Appelcline is author of the notice as Product Historian.
  • Appelcline, Shannon. 2015a. Designers & Dragons: The 70s. 2e éd. Silver Spring, MD: Evil Hat Productions.
  • ———. 2015b. Designers & Dragons: The 90s. 2nd ed. Silver Spring, MD: Evil Hat Productions.

Databases & tertiary sources used

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