Before I discuss Telengard further, there’s a very confusing point concerning its history that I need to make clear. You may have heard of a game called dnd, developed in c1975 by Gary Whisenhunt and Ray Wood for the PLATO computer system. If not, you will. When I mention DND, in all capitals, I am not referring to that game. Upper-case DND is one game, lower-case dnd is a different game.
The history of Telengard, even more so than any whale so far (and possibly any yet to be), is fraught with conflicting facts and missing information. All that seems to be known and agreed on is that Daniel Lawrence is the author of Telengard, that Avalon Hill saw the game at a convention in c1982 and licensed it for publishing, and that Lawrence developed it on a Commodore PET some time previously, as an adaptation of DND, a game he had previously been developing at Purdue University on their mainframes.
Lawrence himself says on his website that he developed Telengard for a 8KB Commodore PET in 1978, as a rewrite of DND. The “final” version, which must have been the version licensed by Avalon Hill in 1982, uses 32KB.
Mobygames lists six games, including dnd, DND and Telengard, as part of the “DND” family, but there are a number of apparent errors, omissions, and inconsistencies. For instance, the Telengard entry lists a 1978 mainframe release called “DND,” but makes no mention of any PET version from before 1982, while "DND" is also listed as a separate game entirely, but as a 1976 mainframe release.
In 2016, CRPG Addict had played through a nearly exhaustive list of games in the DND family, including Telengard, dnd, and pedit5. With his final entry on the subject, on a game listed in Mobygames as Heathkit DND, he posted a speculative timeline of dnd-related events. To my knowledge, nobody else has posted a timeline of that nature, but there are some incomplete details, such as the omission of Telengard on the PET. He speculates that Heathkit DND is a stopgap in between DND and Telengard, but if Lawrence’s work on Telengard PET predates Heathkit DND, then that would probably make Heathkit DND a derivative of Telengard rather than the other way around.
So, I have my own take on the timeline. It’s largely based on CRPG Addict’s, but revised to consider the likelihood of a Telengard ’78, and omits the many endpoints which are of interest to CRPG Addict’s comprehensive journey, but not to mine.
- pedit5 (c1975), by Reginald Rutherford, written for PLATO.
- dnd (c1975), by Gary Whisenhunt and Ray Wood, written for PLATO.
- DND (c1976), by Daniel Lawrence, written in BASIC for a mainframe computer at Purdue.
- Telengard (c1978) by Daniel Lawrence, written in 8KB BASIC for the Commodore PET as an adaptation of DND.
Every connection here is tenuous. Dirk Pellett, who collaborated with Whisenhunt and Wood on revisions to dnd, states in dnd’s history file that it was inspired by pedit5, but pedit5’s author Rutherford claimed dnd was in development first. In 2007, Lawrence denied that he ever played dnd, which multiple CRPG historians including CRPG Addict found dubious. Pellett claimed plagiarism in a scathing open email, but later expressed uncertainty, if not a retraction. And I have no clear guideline on where DND ends and Telengard begins; both were continuous development efforts with obscure beginnings and multiple endpoints.
Furthermore, none of the dnd variants still exist in their original forms, but all of them exist in some playable form, albeit years or even decades removed from the original. Of course, without access to the real originals, this makes establishing a canonical timeline all the more challenging.
- A version of pedit5 is playable at Cyber1.org, which emulates the PLATO system. Differences from the deleted original are unknown.
- Two versions of dnd are also playable at Cyber1.org, marked v5 and v8. Both are newer than DND, and incorporate enhancements by Dirk Pellett, detailed in a history file.
- BASIC source for various ports and enhancements of DND are floating around, and there are playable disk images of a VAX/VMS port of an uncertain date and authorship, as well as a 1984 DOS remake which CRPG Addict covered.
- Many post-1981 versions of Telengard are available, including 32 KB Commodore PET, Commodore 64, DOS, and even Windows.
So this is hardly a clean and ideal retrospective, and I’m certain that no matter how hard I look at the chronology, I’ll still have lots of questions that will probably never be answered to my satisfaction. But for the purpose of this project, I will treat Telengard as a 1978 title, even though we’ll probably never get to see what Telengard was like in 1978, and I will regard pedit5, dnd, and DND as notable ancestors and play each of them in some form, if not necessarily to completion.