Researching the Murray RPG Collection at Duke University

Advanced Dungeon & Dragons Players Handbook, by Gary Gygax, Copyright TSR Games


This morning I began looking at a bunch of paper based role playing games. I suppose you could call what I’m doing feral research. Investigating a topic or group of topics with some intensity without belonging to academia. Thank you Stan Goff for introducing me to the phrase ‘Feral Scholar’ and for being a intellectual role model. Thank you Duke University for having the vision and resources to house this important work of the Twentieth Century.

The RPG are part of the Edwin and Terry Murray Collection of Pop Culture at Duke University. I learned about the Murray collection from a friend a few months ago. She mentioned that there were a ton of RPG in the collection just sitting in boxes. Seems they’re not known and little is being done much with them. The comic book part of the Murray Collection has been cataloged and there is a list online.

I eventually got in contact via email with someone at the Rare Book, Manuscripts, and Special Collections Library. He sent me a spreadsheet of a preliminary list of the RPG collection. It had over three hundred entries! Later I met with him and a grad student in person. They informed me that they’re working on the cataloging and that it should be done soon. I discovered that the collection had more than RPG boxes but other books, modules, and figurines. They brought out some amazing examples of 1970’s Dungeon & Dragons box sets.

This experience was really surprising to me. When I saw the art on the boxes and small staple bound manuals I felt a tingling sensation all over my body. It was a feeling similar to being in the presence of great art that I had admired for years only in magazines. Or possibly meeting a hero in person for the first time. Lost memories of my teenage years came flooding back. I knew I had seen some of this art and logos before. It was a very powerful experience for me that I don’t quite understand yet.

Many of the D&D books I’ve owned were lost at some point. I got bored with them and put them on my book shelf in my room at my parents house. Years latter when I went back to gather comic books and other memorabilia the D&D books were gone. I suspect my religious mother trashed them upon finding the graven image on the AD&D Players Handbook. 🙂

Before I requested to look at more of this collection I decided to focus on the visual art of the games. I’m not a Dungeon or Game Master. It’s been decades since I actually played a role playing game. (That is going to change…) But I do have some experience with the arts.

Next post in this series is about the RPG I found in Box #9.

Note: This work is pretend scholarly research and inspired by morbid curiosity. I intend to respect the intellectual property of all companies and persons. If you object to your images being on this page please contact me and I’ll take them down asap.

Update The book cover above was, according to Wikipedia, illustrated by David A. Trampier.

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