Life is a kind of Chess, with struggle, competition, good and ill events -- Benjamin Franklin

25 Sep 2007

Dragonchess is a 3-D chess variant based on Dungeons and Dragons. It was created by the inventor of D&D Gary Gygax. After building a board, I began buying miniatures so that I could have my own game to play. It didn't take long before I was less interested in DragonChess and more interested in painting the miniatures.
  1. Introduction
  2. Game Setup
  3. Terminology
  4. Notation
  5. Point Values
  6. Movement
  7. Building a board
  8. Downloads
Introduction

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. The object of the game (as in standard chess) is to checkmate the opposing King. An understanding of the rules of chess is helpful in order to understand how DragonChess is played.

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. After all that, I went through the document with a fine tooth comb, and eliminated the rest of the typos and discrepancies that existed in the document, bringing everything into agreement with the rules as laid out by Gygax. :)

Game Setup

The playing surface for DragonChess is a three-tiered structure of rectangular boards, which each board composed of a grid 12 squares wide and 8 squares deep. The squares are alternately colored light and dark (or other color tones that contrast with each other), and configured so that a light-colored square is in the near right-hand corner when the board is viewed from the longer side. The upper board represents the air; the middle board the land; and the lower board the subterranean world. To simulate the various environments, it is suggested that the squares on the upper board be colored light blue and white; on the middle board, light green and amber; and on the lower board, red and brown. Each board is the starting place for pieces particular to its environment; some pieces cannot move up or down off the board they begin on, but other pieces can travel between two or even all three boards. The opposing forces are designated as Gold and Scarlet, with Gold always moving first.

At the start of the game, each player's pieces are positioned as shown below. Each force on the upper board consists of six Sylphs, two Griffons, and one Dragon. On the middle board, each side possesses one King, one Mage, one Paladin, one Cleric, two Heroes, two Unicorns, two Oliphants, and twelve Warriors. Each side's force on the lower board is made up of six Dwarves, two Basilisks, and one Elemental. In all, there are 42 pieces per side, or a total of 84 pieces in the game.

8  - - g - - - r - - - g -
7  s - s - s - s - s - s -
6  - - - - - - - - - - - -
5  - - - - - - - - - - - -
4  - - - - - - - - - - - -      Upper Board (3)
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 Board (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  - - - - - - - - - - - -      Lower Board (1)
3  - - - - - - - - - - - -
2  - D - D - D - D - D - D
1  - - B - - - E - - - B -

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

In the following descriptions of how pieces move and capture, squares on the board(s) are described in algebraic notation, with files (columns) labeld "a" through "l" reading left to right from Gold's viewpoint, and ranks (rows) numbered 1 (nearest to the Gold player) through 8 (nearest to the Scarlet player). A numerical prefix of 3 (upper board), 2 (middle board), or 1 (lower board) designates the board on which a certain square is located. Thus "3a1" is the square in the near left-hand corner of the upper board, as viewed from the Gold player's position, and "1l8" is the square in the far right-hand corner of the lower board. Each piece is identified by the initial letter if its name ("S" for Sylph, etc.) except for the Dragon, which is identified by "R" to distinguish it from a Dwarf piece.

In all other respects, movement and capture notation is essentially the same as for standard chess. See the section on Notation for a full description.

In the diagrams of movement that accompany the description of each piece, "m" designates a square that a piece can move into, if that square is unoccupied (i.e., no capture is permitted); "c" designates a square that can be occupied only if a capture is involved; and "x" designates a square that can be occupied either by a capturing or a non-capturing move.

A designator in brackets [] or braces {} shows the movement of the piece when not on it's starting board (i.e. a Hero on level 1 or 3).

Notation

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.

1) W2f3
2) S/3e2-3d3
A basic non-capturing move; notation 1 is the first non-capturing move that the Gold Warrior starting at 2f2 can make. (Read it as "Warrior moves to 2f3.") In most cases, a non-capturing move can be noted simply by naming the type of piece being moved (W) and the square it moves to (2f3). When more than one piece of the same type is capable of making the same move, the moving piece is specifically identified by naming the square it is moving from, using a "/" to indicate "at." (Read notation 2 as "Sylph at 3e2 moves to 3d3.") In this notation, a hyphen is used to separate the location square from the destination square.
3) W2e3
4) Wx2e3
5) W/2d2x2e3
6) WxU2e3
7) WxU
Five ways of describing a capture; the correct notation depends upon the position of the pieces and, to some extent, the preference of the players. Notation 3 can be used if only one Warrior is capable of moving to 2e3, and if that move involves a capture. Notation 4 is more specific, using the "x" to indicate a capture. (Read as "Warrior captures (unspecified piece) at 2e3.") Notation 5 is necessary when more than one Warrior would be capable of making a capture at 2e3, again using the "/" (as in notation 2 above) to indicate "at." (Read as "Warrior at 2d2 captures at 2e3.") Notation 6 includes the identification of the type of piece captured -- in this case, the Unicorn located at 2e3. Notation 7, read simply as "Warrior captures Unicorn," can be used if only one such capture is possible. In most cases, the proper notation would be 4, 5, or 6, or a minor variation on one of those. The important thing is to describe each move in such a way that the notation could only refer to one specific move by one specific piece. This will avoid possible confusion if the moves of a game are to be studied or replayed. [Or played via email!]
8) W2f8(H) The move and promotion of a Warrior. (Read as "Warrior moves to 2f8 and is promoted to a Hero.")
9) Rx2c4 [Same as notation 4 - I don't see any difference. This is for the Dragon.]
10) UxOch Illustrating the use of "ch" to indicate a move that puts the opposing King in check. (Read as "Unicorn captures Oliphant with check.")
Other symbols:
  dbl ch
  dis ch
  mate
These three terms, taken from standard chess notation, indicate certain special occurrences. Double check (dbl ch) occurs whenever a move enables one or more pieces to give check at the same time. Discovered check (dis ch) occurs when the move of one piece opens a path that enables a different piece to give check. And "mate," of course, is checkmate -- noted on the final move of a game, when the King is attacked in such a way that it cannot avoid being captured on the attacker's next move.
Point Values

Piece Value
King - (infinite)
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
Movement

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

Upper Board

Middle Board Lower Board
Sylph

Sylph

Moves as a Berolina pawn (converse to that of a regular Chess 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 (3)
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
Griffon

Griffon

While on the top board, the Griffon makes an unblockable move or capture three squares one direction and then two squares perpendicularly -- for example, a Griffon at 3a1 can move to 3c4 and 3d3.

A Griffon 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 Griffon 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 (3)
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

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 (3)
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
Warrior

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
Oliphant

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

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

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 (3)
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 (1)
3   - - - - - - - - - - - -
2   - - - - - - - - - -[H]-
1   - - - - - - - - - - - -

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

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

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 (3)
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 (1)
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

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 (3)
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 (1)
3   - - - - - - - - - -{x}-
2   - - - - - - - - -{x{M}x}
1   - - - - - - - - - -{x}-

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

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 (3)
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 (1)
3   - - - - - - - - - - - -
2   - - - - - - - - - - - -
1   - - - - - - - - - - - -

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

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 (3)
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 (1)
3   - - - x - - - x - - - -
2   - - - - - - - - - - - -
1   - - - - - x - - - - - -

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

Dwarf

While on the bottom or middle board, the Dwarf may move or 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.

Once it reaches the opponents side, it does NOT promote.

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 (1)
3   - m D m - - - - -[m]- -
2   - - - - - - - - - - - -
1   - - - - - - - - - - - -

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

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.

If the opposing King is the piece being "frozen", the King is checkmated if any other piece attacks it and the opponent is unable to capture the attacking piece or interpose a piece to blunt the attack.

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

8   - - - - - - - - - - - -
7   - - - - - - - - - - - -
6   - - - - - - - - - - - -
5   - - - - x x x - - - - -
4   - - - - - B - - - - - -      BOTTOM (1)
3   - - - - - m - - - - - -
2   - - - - - - - - - - - -
1   - - - - - - - - - - - -

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

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 (lower board) 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 (lower board) cell MUST be empty.

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

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

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

I have built a Dragonchess board using plywood. Gary Gygax suggests plexiglass. Make the squares 1.5" and making each playing surface 18" x 12". Allow an additional 1.5" around the board to drill holes in each corner so that you can stick a .25" dowel through the boards to give the 3-D effect. I used wood glue to hold it all together (it's held up fine for 3 years now!). As far as pieces go, I have been collecting miniatures from local hobby shops, and painting them using gold and scarlet spraypaint. But when I first began, I simply used paper with the name of the pieces scribbled on. 25mm scale figures work best. Good luck.

Downloads

A while back I built a computer version of Dragonchess following these official rules. You can download it here. It requires the vb5 runtime library.
I've also created a 'cheat sheet' (abbreviation of all the moves). Enjoy!