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Dragonchess

Dragonchess was invented by Gary Gygax and published in Dragon Magazine #100, August 1985. Gary Gygax is probably best known as the inventor of the most well known role playing game (Advanced) Dungeons and Dragons. Dragonchess is a three-dimensional chess variant, where the pieces are actually characters and monsters from the Dungeons and Dragons setting. In the same issue of Dragon Magazine, one also finds a short story by Gary Gygax, titled At Moonset Blackcat Comes. Interestingly, Gord, the hero of this fantasy story, (also appearing in other works of Gygax), plays some games of Dragonchess against a mysterious opponent. When Gord sees the board, he says:

I have played at Chatranj before, but this board is far different.

His future opponent replies:

Chess has many forms, ... but all are similar, too.

Besides this being a nice quote, the above also shows that Gygax has been aware of more chess variants. His mentioning of Chatranj, (a different spelling of Shatranj), is also interesting. The fact that pawns do not have an initial double move in Dragonchess probably is Gygax tribute to this ancient predecessor of chess as we know it; quite fitting for a game supposed to be played in a fantasy world, although players may find that this slows the game.

The following description of the game was written by Edward Jackman, with some final editing done by Hans Bodlaender. The description below addresses some ambiguities and typos in the original description of Gygax.

Notice: " [an error occurred while processing this directive] Dragon Chess" is a registered trademark of DRAGONCHESS INC. of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada, and is not to be confused with this description of Gary Gygax's rule set and story. One is a commercial product (a board game) of Dragonchess Inc, while the other is a set of rules for a version of 3 dimensional chess devised and described by Gary Gygax.

Rules

DRAGONCHESS is played on 3 8x12 boards stacked above each other. The near right corner of all three boards is white. The top board represents the sky, the middle board the ground and the bottom board the underworld. Here is the starting setup:

8  - - g - - - r - - - g -    
7  s - s - s - s - s - s -    
6  - - - - - - - - - - - -    
5  - - - - - - - - - - - -    
4  - - - - - - - - - - - -      TOP (1)
3  - - - - - - - - - - - -    
2  S - S - S - S - S - S -    
1  - - G - - - R - - - G -    

8  o u h t c m k p t h u o    
7  w w w w w w w w w w w w    
6  - - - - - - - - - - - -    
5  - - - - - - - - - - - -    
4  - - - - - - - - - - - -      MIDDLE (2)
3  - - - - - - - - - - - -    
2  W W W W W W W W W W W W    
1  O U H T C M K P T H U O    

8  - - b - - - e - - - b -    
7  - d - d - d - d - d - d    
6  - - - - - - - - - - - -    
5  - - - - - - - - - - - -    
4  - - - - - - - - - - - -      BOTTOM (3)
3  - - - - - - - - - - - -    
2  - D - D - D - D - D - D    
1  - - B - - - E - - - B -    

   a b c d e f g h i j k l

Algebraic notation is used. A cell is noted by the board number, file letter and rank number, in that order. For example, the Gold Elemental (E) in opening setup starts at 3g1. All pieces are referred to by their initial letter except the Dragon which is referred to by the letter R to distinguish it from the Dwarf.

The GOLD (uppercase) player moves first. The SCARLET (lowercase) player moves second.

Here are the pieces and their moves. In the diagrams, cells that can be reached by capturing or non-capturing moves are marked 'x'. Cells that can be reached by capturing moves only are marked 'c'. Cells that can be reached by non-capturing moves only are marked 'm'. Cells where pieces are frozen are marked 'f'. Cells where pieces may be captured from afar are marked 'a'. To distinguish between the movements of a piece from two or more positions, [brackets] or {braces} are used around the pieces and the destination cells.

Top board

Sylph

Moves as a Berolina pawn. When not capturing, it moves one space diagonally towards the opponent's side. It may capture by moving directly ahead one space towards the opponent's side. It may also capture by moving straight down to the middle board.

While on the middle board, the Sylph cannot move at all except to make a non-capturing move back to the top board. It may move to the cell directly above it OR any empty one of the six home cells that any friendly Sylph occupied at the start of the game.

Sylphs do NOT promote.

8   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
7   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
6   - - m c m - - - - - - -    
5   - - - S - - - - - - - -    
4   - - - - - - - - -[m]- -      TOP (1)
3   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
2  [m]-[m]-[m]-[m]-[m]-[m]-    
1   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
        
8   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
7   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
6   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
5   - - - c - - - - - - - -    
4   - - - - - - - - -[S]- -      MIDDLE (2)
3   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
2   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
1   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
    a b c d e f g h i j k l

Griffin

While on the top board, the Griffin makes an unblockable move or capture three squares one direction and then two squares perpendicularly -- for example, a Griffin at 1a1 can move to 1c4 and 1d3.

A Griffin may make an unblockable move or capture from the top to the middle board by moving to any of the cells diagonally adjacent to the cell directly below it.

While on the middle board, the Griffin can move or capture one square diagonally, or return to the top board by making a unblockable move or capture to one of the cells diagonally adjacent to the cell above it.

8   - x - - - x - - - - - -    
7   x - - - - - x - - - - -    
6   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
5   - - - G - - - - - - - -    
4   - - - - - - - - - - - -      TOP (1)
3   x - - - - - x - -[x]-[x]   
2   - x - - - x - - - - - -    
1   - - - - - - - - -[x]-[x]   
        
8   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
7   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
6   - - x - x - - - - - - -    
5   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
4   - - x - x - - - - - - -      MIDDLE (2)
3   - - - - - - - - -[x]-[x]   
2   - - - - - - - - - -[G]-    
1   - - - - - - - - -[x]-[x]   
    a b c d e f g h i j k l

Dragon

The Dragon cannot move off the top board. It may move or capture with the power of a chess Bishop or King.

Instead of moving, the Dragon has the additional power of 'capturing from afar'. To do this, the Dragon does not move and one enemy piece that is either in the cell directly below the Dragon or orthogonally adjacent to the cell below the Dragon is removed from the board. The Dragon MAY NOT move and capture from afar in the same turn!

8   - - x - - - - - x - - -    
7   - - - x - - - x - - - -    
6   - - - - x x x - - - - -    
5   - - - - x R x - - - - -    
4   - - - - x x x - - - - -      TOP (1)
3   - - - x - - - x - - - -    
2   - - x - - - - - x - - -    
1   - x - - - - - - - x - -    
        
8   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
7   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
6   - - - - - a - - - - - -   
5   - - - - a a a - - - - -    
4   - - - - - a - - - - - -      MIDDLE (2)
3   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
2   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
1   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
    a b c d e f g h i j k l

Middle board

Oliphant

Moves and captures exactly like a Rook in chess. It never leaves the middle board.

8   - - - - - x - - - - - -    
7   - - - - - x - - - - - -    
6   - - - - - x - - - - - -    
5   x x x x x O x x x x x x    
4   - - - - - x - - - - - -      MIDDLE (2)
3   - - - - - x - - - - - -    
2   - - - - - x - - - - - -    
1   - - - - - x - - - - - -    
    a b c d e f g h i j k l

Unicorn

Moves and captures exactly like a Knight in chess. It never leaves the middle board.

8   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
7   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
6   - - - - x - x - - - - -    
5   - - - x - - - x - - - -    
4   - - - - - U - - - - - -      MIDDLE (2)
3   - - - x - - - x - - - -    
2   - - - - x - x - - - - -    
1   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
    a b c d e f g h i j k l

Hero

While on the middle board, the Hero may move or capture one or two cells diagonally, jumping over a piece of either color if necessary. The Hero can also move or capture to the top and bottom boards by making an unblockable move to a cell diagonally adjacent to the cell directly above or below it. While on the top or bottom board, the Hero cannot move except to return to the middle board by making an unblockable move or capture to a cell diagonally adjacent to the cell directly above or below it as the case may be.

8   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
7   - x - x - - - - - -{H}-    
6   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
5   - x - x - - - - - - - -    
4   - - - - - - - - - - - -      TOP (1)
3   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
2   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
1   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
        
8   x - - - x - - - -{x}-{x}   
7   - x - x - - - - - - - -    
6   - - H - - - - - -{x}-{x}   
5   - x - x - - - - - - - -    
4   x - - - x - - - - - - -      MIDDLE (2)
3   - - - - - - - - -[x]-[x]   
2   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
1   - - - - - - - - -[x]-[x]   

8   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
7   - x - x - - - - - - - -    
6   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
5   - x - x - - - - - - - -    
4   - - - - - - - - - - - -      BOTTOM (3)
3   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
2   - - - - - - - - - -[H]-    
1   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
    
    a b c d e f g h i j k l

Thief

Moves and captures exactly like a Bishop in chess. It never leaves the middle board.

8   - x - - - - - - - x - -    
7   - - x - - - - - x - - -    
6   - - - x - - - x - - - -    
5   - - - - x - x - - - - -    
4   - - - - - T - - - - - -      MIDDLE (2)
3   - - - - x - x - - - - -    
2   - - - x - - - x - - - -    
1   - - x - - - - - x - - -    
    a b c d e f g h i j k l

Cleric

The Cleric moves and captures exactly as a chess King does on whichever board it happens to be on. It may also move or capture to the cell directly above or below it.

8   x x x - - - - - - - - -    
7   x C x - - - - - - - - -    
6   x x x - - - - - - - - -    
5   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
4   - - - - - - - - - - - -      TOP (1)
3   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
2   - - - -[x]- - - - - - -    
1   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
        
8   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
7   - x - - - - - - - - - -    
6   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
5   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
4   - - - - - - - - - - - -      MIDDLE (2)
3   - - -[x x x]- - - - - -    
2   - - -[x[C]x]- - - -{x}-    
1   - - -[x x x]- - - - - -    

8   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
7   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
6   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
5   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
4   - - - - - - - - - - - -      BOTTOM (3)
3   - - - - - - - - -{x x x}   
2   - - - -[x]- - - -{x{C}x}   
1   - - - - - - - - -{x x x}   
    
    a b c d e f g h i j k l

Mage

The Mage moves and captures exactly as a chess Queen while on the middle board and may also move and capture to the cell above and below it.

While on the top or bottom board, the Mage may only move or capture one cell forward, backward, right or left. It may also move or capture one or two cells straight up or down. It may NOT leap over a piece on the middle board while going from top to bottom or vice versa.

8   -[x]- - - - - - - - - -    
7  [x[M]x]- - - - - - - - -    
6   -[x]- - - - - - - - - -    
5   - - - - - x - - - - - -    
4   - - - - - - - - - - - -      TOP (1)
3   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
2   - - - - - - - - - -{x}-    
1   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
        
8   - - x - - x - - x - - -    
7   -[x]- x - x - x - - - -    
6   - - - - x x x - - - - -    
5   x x x x x M x x x x x x    
4   - - - - x x x - - - - -      MIDDLE (2)
3   - - - x - x - x - - - -    
2   - - x - - x - - x -{x}-    
1   - x - - - x - - - x - -    

8   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
7   -[x]- - - - - - - - - -    
6   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
5   - - - - - x - - - - - -    
4   - - - - - - - - - - - -      BOTTOM (3)
3   - - - - - - - - - -{x}-    
2   - - - - - - - - -{x{M}x}   
1   - - - - - - - - - -{x}-    
    
    a b c d e f g h i j k l

King

While on the middle board, the King has the normal move and capture of a chess King and may also move and capture to the cell above and below it.

While on the top or bottom board, the ONLY thing the King may do is move or capture to the cell directly above it or below it back on the middle board. The King is a sitting duck when driven off the middle board.

There is no castling move.

8   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
7   -[K]- - - - - - - - - -    
6   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
5   - - - - - x - - - - - -    
4   - - - - - - - - - - - -      TOP (1)
3   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
2   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
1   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
        
8   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
7   -[x]- - - - - - - - - -    
6   - - - - x x x - - - - -    
5   - - - - x K x - - - - -    
4   - - - - x x x - -{x}- -      MIDDLE (2)
3   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
2   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
1   - - - - - - - - - - - -    

8   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
7   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
6   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
5   - - - - - x - - -{K}- -    
4   - - - - - - - - - - - -      BOTTOM (3)
3   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
2   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
1   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
    
    a b c d e f g h i j k l

Paladin

The Paladin may move and capture as a chess King or Knight while on the middle board. It moves and captures as a chess King while on the top or bottom boards. It may move or capture from board to board by making a 3d Knight's move -- two cells in any direction and then one cell in a perpendicular direction. It's move is unblockable.

8   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
7   -[x x x]- - - - -{x}- -    
6   -[x[P]x]- - - -{x}-{x}-    
5   -[x x x]- x - - -{x}- -    
4   - - - - - - - - - - - -      TOP (1)
3   - - - x - - - x - - - -    
2   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
1   - - - - - x - - - - - -    
        
8   - -[x]- - - - - -{x}- -    
7   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
6  [x]- - -[x]- -{x}- - -{x}   
5   - - - - x - x - - - - -    
4   - -[x]x x x x x -{x}- -      MIDDLE (2)
3   - - - - x P x - - - - -    
2   - - - x x x x x - - - -    
1   - - - - x - x - - - - -    

8   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
7   - -[x]- - - - -{x x x}-    
6   -[x]-[x]- - - -{x{P}x}-    
5   - -[x]- - x - -{x x x}-    
4   - - - - - - - - - - - -      BOTTOM (3)
3   - - - x - - - x - - - -    
2   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
1   - - - - - x - - - - - -    
    
    a b c d e f g h i j k l

Warrior

The Warrior has nearly the same move as the chess Pawn. It may move but not capture one cell forward. It may a capturing move one cell diagonally forward. It does NOT have the option of moving two cells on its first move.

On reaching the opponent's baseline, the Warrior promotes to a Hero only.

It is restricted to the middle board.

8   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
7   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
6   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
5   - - - - c m c - - - - -    
4   - - - - - W - - - - - -      MIDDLE (2)
3   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
2   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
1   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
    a b c d e f g h i j k l

Bottom board

Basilisk

The Basilisk may move or capture one cell directly or diagonally forward and may also move without capturing one cell straight backwards.

Though the Basilisk is restricted to the bottom board, it has the power to freeze any opposing piece on the cell directly above it on the middle board. Freezing is automatic whether an opposing piece moves over the Basilisk or the Basilisk moves under the opposing piece. Freezing is temporary -- once the Basilisk moves away or is captured, the frozen piece regains its normal powers.

8   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
7   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
6   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
5   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
4   - - - - - f - - - - - -      MIDDLE (2)
3   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
2   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
1   - - - - - - - - - - - -    

8   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
7   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
6   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
5   - - - - x x x - - - - -    
4   - - - - - B - - - - - -      BOTTOM (3)
3   - - - - - m - - - - - -    
2   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
1   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
    
    a b c d e f g h i j k l

Elemental

While on the lower board, the Elemental may move or capture one or two cells orthogonally. (It may NOT leap over occupied cells.) It may also move but not capture one cell diagonally.

It may also make a capturing move to the middle board by moving one cell orthogonally and then one cell up. The intermediate cell MUST be empty.

The Elemental may not move while on the middle board except to return to the bottom by moving or capturing one cell down and then one cell orthogonally. The intermediate cell MUST be empty.

8   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
7   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
6   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
5   - - x - - - - - - - - -    
4   - x - x - - - - -[E]- -      MIDDLE (2)
3   - - x - - - - - - - - -    
2   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
1   - - - - - - - - - - - -    

8   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
7   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
6   - - x - - - - - - - - -    
5   - m x m - - - - -[x]- -    
4   x x E x x - - -[x]-[x]-      BOTTOM (3)
3   - m x m - - - - -[x]- -    
2   - - x - - - - - - - - -    
1   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
    
    a b c d e f g h i j k l

Dwarf

While on the bottom or middle board, the Dwarf may capture one cell diagonally forward or move without capturing one cell forward or laterally.

It may move up to the middle board by capturing to the cell directly above.

It may move back to the bottom board by making a non-capturing move to the cell directly below.

8   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
7   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
6   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
5   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
4   - - - - - - - -[c m c]-      MIDDLE (2)
3   - - c - - - - -[m[D]m]-    
2   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
1   - - - - - - - - - - - -    

8   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
7   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
6   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
5   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
4   - c m c - - - - - - - -      BOTTOM (3)
3   - m D m - - - - -[m]- -    
2   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
1   - - - - - - - - - - - -    
    
    a b c d e f g h i j k l

Sean Shubin commented:

It seems strange to me that the dwarf in dragonchess can never move backward. The warrior is fine because it promotes to a hero, which can move backwards. Once the dwarves reach the end there is no tactical use for them in the game, they might as well have been captured. My solution is to add a rule that allows the dwarf to reverse his direction upon reaching either end of the board.

Play the game with the original rules, or add Sean Shubin's rule.

Value of the pieces

Gary Gygax gives these estimations of the relative value of the pieces:

Piece Value
King -
Mage 11
Paladin 10
Cleric 9
Dragon 8
Griffin 5
Oliphant 5
Hero 4.5
Thief 4
Elemental 4
Basilisk 3
Unicorn 2.5
Dwarf 2
Sylph 1
Warrior 1

I believe that the Dragon is far more powerful than stated here, in most situations more powerful that any other piece by a good chunk. It might be a good idea to reduce its power, restricting its ability to capture from afar to the square directly beneath it.

I believe the Paladin is a the second most powerful piece followed by the Mage. The Hero is probably more than just a half a Warrior stronger than a Thief and the Oliphant is more than just half a Warrior stronger than a Hero.

It is a large game with many pieces and games can be long and slow. Notice also that in the opening position, the Dragons can capture an unprotected Sylph.


Here's the game score of my first try:

Scarlet -- J. Hunter Johnson
Gold -- Edward Jackman
Played by email 1994-1995

Scarlet Gold
1) Dr1d4 P1h6
2) G1e4 Dr1j5
3) S1g2-1h3 P1g6
4) H2h3 S1e7-1f6
5) Dr1d5 Dr1i5
6) P2i3 W2e6
7) PxDr GxP
8) Dr1e6 G1a5
9) Dr1e7 P1f7
10) Dr1d8 C1e8
11) DrxS1c7 G2b6
12) Dr1c6 C1d7
13) Dr1d5 C1e6
14) Dr1c4 G1a5
15) GxS M2d6
16) H2a3 GxS1k2
17) H2c5 M2e5
18) W2j3 H2h6
19) G1j5 U2c6
20) G2j2 W2b6
21) G2i3 WxH
22) G1h4 GxG
23) SxG O2b8
24) G1h8 C1e7
25) Dr1d5 M2f6
26) T2j2 H2g5
27) E3g3 W2h6
28) E3g4 M2g6
29) H2i4 M2f5
30) S1g5 H2f4
31) W2e3 HxS1g5
32) Dr1e5 GxS
33) DrxM GxDr
34) TxT UxT
35) M2c4 W2d6
36) H2h5 S1i7-1j6
37) E3f5 E3g7
38) H2i6+ WxH
39) TxW+ T2h7
40) M2g4 W2g6
41) S1f3 P1g8
42) S1g4 O2b4
43) TxT+ DxT
44) P2e4 H2f6
45) W2a3 O2b6
46) GxW UxG
47) E3h5 E3g5
48) ExE HxE
49) W2a4 O2j8
50) D3f3 G1g2
51) O2a3 U2h5
52) S1h5 O2j4
53) M2f3 GxM
54) DxG U2f6
55) U2l3 O2j5
56) W2g3 P1g7
57) W2a5 O2a6
58) O2a4 P2g5
59) D2f4 P2f3+
60) K2f1 H2d7
61) U2c3 H2c6
62) C2e2 P3h3
63) O2a3 UxW2e4
64) D3g2 PxD
65) C2f3 UxU
66) W2b2xU W2c4
67) D2e4 O2j5xW2a5
68) OxO OxO
69) K2g2 P3g3
70) U2j4 P1g4+
71) K2h3 HxD
72) C2e3 P2g2+ mate in three

If 73) K2g4 then O2g5 mate

If 73) K2i4 then O2i5+ then if 74) K1i4 then S1i4 mate, or if 74) K3i4 then D3j6, 75) any D3j5 mate

If 73)K1h3 then S1i5, 74)any S1h4 mate

If 73)K3h3 then H2f5, then if 74)W2g4 then Hxg4 mate, or if 74)anything other than W2g4 then P3g4 mate

Here's a shorter game:

Scarlet Gold
1) R1d4 G1i5
2) G1e4 GxS1g2
3) RxS1g7 RxR
4) GxR P1h6
5) GxM GxP
6) GxS G1g2
7) M3f1 P2h4
8) D3f2-3e2 PxD
9) W2k3 E3g6
10) M3f2 E3g4
11) C3e1 E3g3
12) C3f1 ExE
13) CxE P3i1
14) K1g1 G1a5
15) C3h1 G1d3 mate

Edward Jackman


Written by: Edward Jackman. Editorial changes by Hans Bodlaender. Wout Broere spotted an error in the diagram of the Sylph move. Sean Shubin commented on the move of the Dwarf.
WWW page created: 1995 or 1996. Last modified: January 27, 1999.