The Chainmail game is the progenitor to Dungeons and Dragons. It is a medieval miniatures wargame created by Jeff Perrin and Gary Gygax. Although it was not the first set of rules for miniatures wargamming, it was the first to incorporate a fantasy element.

The Creators

I’m sure everyone is already familiar with Gary Gygax, the father of D&D. Jeff Perrin, the co-creator, was a hobby shop owner and fellow member of the Lake Geneva Tactical Studies Association (LGTSA). Together they created the rules for the Chainmail game. Don Lowry was the illustrator, creating the artwork for the Chainmail game.

In 1971, Lowry formed a publishing company named Guidon Games (which would produce rulebooks for miniature wargaming and board wargames) and asked Gygax to come on as editor. Guidon Games’ first publication was the Chainmail game (also in 1971).

Chainmail’s Origins

Gygax formed the Castle & Crusade Society (C&CS) in 1968. It was a chapter of the International Federation of Wargamers, dedicated to medieval miniature wargaming. Its membership included Rob Kuntz and Dave Arneson.

C&CS published a newsletter called the Domesday Book which contained a set of rules called the LGTSA miniatures rules. These rules were later expanded upon to become Chainmail.

Chainmail Core Rules

In the core rules, each figure represents 20 men. Troops are divided into six basic types:

  • Light Foot
  • Heavy Foot
  • Armored Foot
  • Light Horse
  • Medium Horse
  • Heavy Horse

Melee is resolved by rolling six-sided dice.

For example, when heavy horse are attacking light foot, the attacker is allowed to roll four dice per figure, with each 5 or 6 denoting a kill. On the other hand, when light footmen are attacking heavy horse, the attacker is allowed only one die per four figures, with a 6 denoting a kill.

Additional rules govern missile and artillery fire, movement and terrain, charging, fatigue, morale, and the taking of prisoners.

The Fantasy Supplement

Expanding on the core rules, the Fantasy Supplement added jousting, one-on-one combat, and fantasy creatures. The one-on-one combat used two six-sided dice to resolve attacks and took into account each attacker’s weapon and armor type. The armor types used were almost identical to those that would later appear in Dungeons & Dragons.

Gygax wanted to capture the sort of swashbuckling action found in Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian as well as the fantasy creatures and spells exemplified in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. In a 2001 interview Gygax recalled that

…as the members began to get tired of medieval games, and I wasn’t, I decided to add fantasy elements to the mix, such as a dragon that had a fire-breath weapon, a hero that was worth four normal warriors, a wizard who could cast fireballs, [which had] the range and hit diameter of a large catapult, and lightning bolts, [which had] the range and hit area of a cannon, and so forth. I converted a plastic stegosaurus into a pretty fair dragon, as there were no models of them around in those days. A 70 mm Elastolin Viking figure, with doll’s hair glued to its head, and a club made from a kitchen match and auto body putty, and painted in shades of blue for skin color made a fearsome giant figure. I haunted the dime stores looking for potential additions and eventually found figures to represent ogres, elementals, etc. The players loved the new game, and soon we had twenty or more players showing up for every session.

Each of the fantasy creatures were treated as one of the six basic troop types. For example, halflings were treated as light foot and elves were treated as heavy foot. Giants were treated as 12 heavy footmen, and required 12 cumulative hits to kill. Heroes were treated as 4 heavy footmen, and required 4 simultaneous hits to kill. Wizards were not limited to fireballs and lightning bolts: they could cast other spells, and a stronger wizard could cancel the spell of a weaker wizard by rolling a 7 or higher on 2d6.