Richard Garriott’s Handwritten DND #1 Design Notes

Now this is an exciting find. You may all recall that Richard Garriott’s Akalebeth — the progenitor of the Ultima series — began as a project called DND #28 which, as the name suggests, was his 28th simple game built around a basic implementation of Dungeons & Dragons. The history of these games is chronicled, in brief, on the Shroud of the Avatar website:

Richard’s father told Richard, that if he could create a whole working role playing game, that he would split the cost of an Apple ][ computer with him. The result was DND #1!

DND #1 was created on a teletype at Clear Creek High School in Houston Texas, connected via an acoustic modem to a PDP 11 type mini-computer. Richard typed the game on a separate terminal onto paper tape spools, then read the tape strips into the terminal connected to the offsite computer, and ran the resulting program. The resulting program would play a simple Dungeons and Dragons like role-playing game. The player had a character that would explore a dungeon in search of treasure while fighting monsters along the way.

Richard wrote 28 of these “DND” games in High school. He numbered them DND #1 through DND 28. When he finally had that Apple ][, he rewrote DND #28 to become DND 28b… also known as AKALABETH the precursor of all things Ultima!

You can download a copy of the BASIC source code for the game from the Shroud of the Avatar website. In late 2015, however, as he was going through boxes of archival material that he had kept since the earliest days of his career as a game development, he came across the original, handwritten notes he had made for the game:


Richard Garriott’s Handwritten DND1 Design Notes

Hand-written design notes for DND #1, Richard Garriott’s first game.

Several of the pages appear to be the layouts of dungeons that featured in DND #1. There are also written notes (including code) for the game, especially the dungeon generator. The dungeon maps are basically grids of numbers, with each number denoting a different thing (e.g. 0 for navigable spaces, 1 for “roll” which I assume means random events and encounters, 2 for traps, 3 for secret doors, and 4 for regular doors).

The cover page is also interesting, as it includes a “please return” notice (along with a phone number) that gives an idea of how long it took for Richard Garriott to write out his notes and plans for DND #1: 98 hours.

The Ultima Codex is, as always, very grateful to Richard Garriott for sharing this piece of game development history. We’ve heard a lot about DND #1 over the last year or so, especially since it is now playable in Shroud of the Avatar (as of that game’s eighteenth pre-alpha test release), but these documents help complete our understanding of it: we’ve seen the source code, and people have even found ways to get the game to run on emulators for very early computer systems. Now we also get to see the by-hand work that went in to its design and creation…where it all began, as it were.

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