Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Old School Computer DnD Pedit 5

Just finished reading Playing at the World by Was a little miffed that he missed crediting the pedit5 PLATO program which my buddy Rusty Rutheford at University of Illinois wrote, and only mentions the PLATO DnD program (which sounds very much like pedit5) being observed by an anonymous source at Cornell instead. However that is price one pays for not writing stuff down. When I voiced my complaint on the blog of holding, I was surprised when the author of the book responded in person. He suggested an alternate book "Dungeons and Desktops" which might have more details, unfortunately in it pedit5 is dismissed as ephemeral and not well documented. However, after the publication of that book "Rusty" sent an email to author which is reproduced here

I actually played pedit5 a lot in fall of 1975 before being subverted to the face to face version of DnD. It played a lot like the much more modern Dungeon Hack with a single player wandering the dungeon facing a series of random monsters with random treasures.  PLATO has has a long  but ambiguous history with gaming. Being one of the first interactive terminal computers and having networking capability across the many University campuses, it foreshadowed many multiplayer online games we are familiar with today. It also had the  ability to allow one to generate ones own fonts, which Rusty used in pedit5 by creating line art enclosing parts of a square to generate a top down view, as well as the sprites for the monsters. Those who are looking for more graphical representation have only to look at the thin wall 20x20, 30x30, and 20x20 with a 10x10' extension rooms in my old school dungeon which was influenced by the style of pedit5. However, the academics at the University who had created PLATO as an Educational tool highly frowned on its use for games (I had to use it for freshman physics homework, dull as dishwater).   Being 17 and on PLATO at the time I am well aware of the furtive nature of playing games on “Play-Toy”. About the time they gave me the boot for hijacking my fathers account I decided to quit wasting time on computer games and become an engineer instead.

Was in the same Boy Scout troop with Rusty’s sons and played DnD, Runequest, and Empire of the petal throne with him many times. Unfortunately the University of Illinois Conflict Simulation Society was not big on writing news letters (Some of members are still running Winter War an annual convention dating back from that time, although the club has been disbanded, most likely due the lack of a student to act as president, a role I fulfilled while attending graduate school at the University of Illinois in the mid 1980's), so the only documents I have from those times are a few issues of the Wurm Walder, the news letter of the local SCA chapter. I do remember playing many interesting variants of DnD (It seemed every DM I played with had his own rules). I suspect most of those are lost in the depths of time. And no I don't know "Rusty" actual first name, everyone just called him "Rusty" or in my case dependant on the situation Mr. Rutheford.

P.S. Here a link showing actual game play of pedit5 which is still playable on the cyber1 PLATO emulator here Someone with access could try cryo2 and see if my buddies magic fountain game (I loaned him the file space) is still there too!


  1. Hello from Japan. Thanks for such a rare story. Did you also play some other DnD-based PLATO games prior to pedit5? Some people say there was a game called m199h at least.

  2. Nope pedit5 was the first DnD based game I played. A friend of mine was working on a game we called Magic Fountain which I let him store in my file cryo5. However, the University may have deleted it, when they kicked us off the computer for playing too many games with it.

  3. One more missing piece in the history of computer roleplaying game... that's more than interesting! Could you please let me know details about Magic Fountain as far as possible? Was that based on pedit5 ? Or much different game?

  4. Much different game. Worked a bit like the old, old Trek computer game. However instead of sectors we had walled gardens; instead of Klingons, werewolves; instead of photon torpedoes, arrows. One of the great things about the old Plato system it was build to handle foreign languages so had a pretty good font editor, so we made a font of monsters pictures to use in the game (actually I only did the troll). Afraid I gave up my game programming to focus on mechanical engineering, so I am just a rocket scientist, instead of some rock star game programmer. Not sure what happened to my friend.

  5. Interesting... It must be the first fantasy strategy ever in the history of computer games. Did that game have level/experience system as well?

    Also may I ask one more thing? Mr.Rusty Rutherford stated "I wrote it all in about 4-6 weeks in the fall and winter of 1975" in his interview, but you " played pedit5 a lot in fall of 1975"... It's a bit confusing. Does that mean you played very early version of the game? Or the correct development period should be 1974 rather than 1975?

  6. I suspect I was playing the early release version


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