Gary Whisenhunt, Ray Wood, Dirk Pellett, and Flint Pellett's DND

Original creators of

The Game of Dungeons (dnd)

Originally created on PLATO

New information has come to light which might require a retraction of some of this information. This page will be updated as soon as more is known and a decision made. -- Dirk

Open letter to "Classic Gaming .com":

Re: your web page, titled "The History of Computer Gaming", specifically

The statement
"1973 was also the year two influential Dungeon exploring games made their appearance on the PLATO system. The first, was a port of the original DND game by Daniel Lawrence in 1972 on a DEC system. Ported by Flint and Dirk Pellett, the game was a popular role-playing game with a 3 x 3 overhead view of each dungeon area"
is (except for the description of the actual game) completely false, provably false, in many ways, and the misinformation should be immediately corrected.

For starters, Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax published their game known as "Dungeons & Dragons" in January of 1974. There could not possibly be any games based on it, let alone named after it, written on computers, prior to that time, so the claim that Lawrence wrote a game called "dnd" in 1972 is clearly ludicrous, regardless of the alledged location it was written or source of inspiration for it.

So, then, where did the game known as "dnd" come from, if not from Lawrence in 1972, which was impossible??


"Dungeons & Dragons" was published in January 1974.

In 1974, Gary Whisenhunt and Ray Wood, attending SIU in Illinois together, played a previous dungeon game, pedit5, which was deleted for being a game in a file not meant for games. In 1974 and 1975, they felt they could improve on pedit5, and created a game based on D&D (logically naming the game "dnd" since it followed the ideas in D&D closely).

That game was written from scratch by Gary and Ray (not "ported" from anything) on the PLATO computer system, a mainframe that had terminals in many locations across the country, connected by dedicated phone lines to the central computer at the University of Illinois in Urbana, Illinois. PLATO was intended as an educational computer system, for the delivery of "lessons" to students in any number of subjects, but it was also (as in the case of "dnd") a platform for many very popular and very innovative games, among them Empire (a Star Trek-based war game) and AirFight (a flight simulator that became the basis of MS's FlightSim).

Some unique features of PLATO at the time included special keyboards and special software for the development of "lessons" for students: the keyboards had a key labeled "HELP" which, when pressed, would often take someone to what was called a "help lesson" to explain the usage of the main program. The keyboards also had arrows printed on the keys surrounding "s" (i.e. a left arrow on "a", a right arrow on "d", up arrow on "w" and down arrow on "x" as well as diagonal keys). Those keys were always referred to, by everyone and all system software on PLATO, and every game native to PLATO, as "arrow keys". Gary Whisenhunt and Ray Wood naturally used those keys for moving around in the game of dnd, explaining in their "help lesson" for the game of "dnd" that the player would press the "arrow keys" (which were marked right in front of their faces on every PLATO keyboard) to move in the dungeon. So, naturally, the written-from-scratch game of dnd on PLATO used X, A, W, and D for moving around.

Among the unique features of the game of dnd (aside from those derived from its original development platform, PLATO), was the very first ever "boss" monster in any video game, the Golden Dragon, which guarded the Orb, which the player sought as the ultimate goal of the game. Another was the "Excelsior Transporter" which allowed an advanced powerful player to quickly descend into the dungeon without wasting play time on levels that were already mastered.

Some of the universities that had PLATO terminals for use by their students included SIU, where Gary Whisenhunt and Ray Wood created and programmed the very first original version of dnd, and ISU (Iowa State University) in Ames, Iowa, where Dirk Pellett first played Gary and Ray's game of dnd in 1975, and Purdue University, where Daniel Lawrence first played Gary and Ray and Dirk's game of dnd in 1976.

Dirk Pellett had also played D&D at Caltech in 1974 and 1975, before coming to Iowa State University. He played dnd, and liked the game so much that he had ideas for improving it. He made his suggestions to the original authors, Gary Whisenhunt and Ray Wood. They liked his ideas enough to give him access to edit the game directly, and he joined them as a full-fledged author of the game. By October 30th, 1976, Dirk had added many enhancements, including a great variety of magic items and more monster types. Within 21 months of the publication of the D&D rule book, the game of dnd based on it had reached version 2.8, and a counter of the number of dungeon trips by all players since the game's creation (or, at least, since the counter was initialized) was fast approaching the 100,000th trip.

It was around this time that Daniel Lawrence (which your page claims as having impossibly written the game in 1972) liked the game so much that he had ideas for creating a copy of it on a DEC computer at Purdue, without informing, much less asking permission of, any of the original authors of the game. Unlike PLATO, the computer he wrote it on had terminals only at Purdue, so there was no opportunity for the real authors of the game to learn of the existance of the unauthorized copy (let alone "port it to PLATO" as your page claims).

Daniel Lawrence's unauthorized copy of the PLATO game was also named "dnd" and also had a "help lesson" (though no such terminology was ever used on the DEC machine he used) that directed players to press "arrow keys" (though no such terminology was ever used on the DEC machine he used) to move in the dungeon, which were assigned to the keys X, A, W, and D (though the keyboards on the DEC machine had no arrows on those keys, unlike standard PLATO keyboards). Lawrence's unauthorized copy of dnd also had an "Excelsior Transporter" allowing players to bypass easy levels in their quest to find the "Orb" as the ultimate goal. There is therefore absolutely no chance whatsoever that Lawrence developed 'his' game independently, and it is indisputable that the 'porting' (i.e. unauthorized copying) was from PLATO, not to it, that PLATO was the original platform, and that Gary Whisenhunt and Ray Wood, joined by Dirk Pellett, were the game's original authors.

After or possibly about the same time as this unauthorized copy was made, Flint Pellett (then at the University of Illinois) joined the team of dnd authors on PLATO and, with full knowledge and consent of the original authors, made numerous innovative enhancements of his own. The game of dnd continued to be popular on PLATO until the entire computer system was finally shut down, and the "lessons" (and games) transferred to other delivery systems.

Lawrence eventually went on to successfully market 'his' game without informing the publisher about the creative origins of the game, and without informing any of the original authors, let alone paying them anything for the use of their ideas. In fact, the original authors of the game never heard of Daniel Lawrence, or his version of their game, until people began claiming they had copied 'his' game (which was ludicrously claimed to have been written before Arneson and Gygax published the ground-breaking work that dnd was based on), often citing various wildly inaccurate web pages as support for their belief. Thus, to have him credited as being the original author adds insult to injury, and should be corrected immediately by anyone interested in being factual about "The History of Computer Gaming" (the actual title of the page cited above).

Dirk Pellett
original author (not porter) of dnd