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D&D General Dave Arneson: Is He Underrated, or Overrated?


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Sacrosanct

Legend
More insider information regarding the topic from a couple of weeks ago. Bill willingham gives his take.
Although, I don’t know how I feel with the realization that my favorite edition only exists because it was meant to screw Dave out of royalties…And now I really really want to see those master rules.

 

darjr

I crit!
More insider information regarding the topic from a couple of weeks ago. Bill willingham gives his take.
Although, I don’t know how I feel with the realization that my favorite edition only exists because it was meant to screw Dave out of royalties…And now I really really want to see those master rules.

I wonder if Lawrence Schick would mind if I asked him about this? I wonder if he’s ever weighed in?
Also Tom Moldvey’s “Lords of Creation” is an interesting read.
 


Gygax was no businessman. If he was, Arneson would have gotten zero credit and no royalties. Instead, he got credit and TSR got lawsuits. If Gygax were a businessman, I'd say Arneson was underappreciated. Instead, I have a very different take. Overrated? No, and this coming from the once young man who fell in love with all things Blackmoor (playing an Assassin and later a Monk in D&D from the very beginning). I don't think it's controversial to say, "An Arneson is rated precisely how he means to." Which is to say, as the co-creator of D&D. Dave Arneson was not a prolific writer, or even an average volume writer. In the early days of D&D he wasn't cranking out products like Gary and company. I still have a stack of original print modules and Arneson's name is only on a few. If you want understand the D&Differences between Gygax and Arneson then look at their modules. If you look at Keep on the Borderlands, and then compare it to Temple of the Frog you will see two very different styles of D&D. The Keep is designed for tactical play: tips on monster strategies, tactics, and playstyle while never delving into the roleplay of NPCs. Temple of the Frog delves into local history and the convoluted happenings surrounding the Temple. Today, we tend to see a LOT both in our modules allowing us as DMs to choose was is best for our group. So let's be real here, modules helped create D&D as much as, and in some ways more than, the rule books; and that doesn't look good for Dave.

Unlike so many other campaign settings, Greyhawk was built from the actual campaigns of DMs that later became modules. There are several campaigns of DMs turned entire module series: L-Series (Lendore Isles; Lakofka passed away last year), R-Series (Lost Oeridian lands of Greyhawk), T-Series (Temple of Elemental Evil, or Gygax's campaign with Kuntz's Lord Robilar), and so on. It was a world that was played in first, and then later designed to be explore by everyone else. Dave Arneson's campaign world, as compelling as it is, was barely published. Campaign super modules like The Temple of Elemental Evil completely changed the way everyone plays RPGs and designs their home campaigns forever. The Village of Hommlet changed the way DMs build their quaint little towns or even think about them. Ravenloft changed the way modules themselves are written by professionals, baking intrigue and randomness into the design so it can be played over and over again with different outcomes. Mind you, I'm not even getting into the later 2e modules that improved on what we learned during 1e era and have stood the test of time only to inform us on the games we play today. But where is Dave Arneson's Blackmoor in all of this?

i-got-a-fever-snl[1].jpg

And the only prescription is more Blackmoor!

Dave Arneson's D-Series is a unique blend of sci-fi tantasy that was a welcome break from the standard folklore (Tolkenism, Orientalism, Paganism, et al), but it was never fully realized. Like Gygax's later T-Series, Arneson was creating a sandbox, a very clumsy, dirty sandbox built in a swamp. This is where I suspect Dave Arneson wasn't invested in RPGs. He had amazing creativity, but poor execution of his ideas in publication. The modules Dave Arneson created are just disorganized. Often they lack good descriptions, don't reuse language to reinforce themes, and lack sound structure. Each of the module reads like a DM's campaign notes, which I suspect that's what they are. If someone told me to take one of my campaigns and publish it, you'd probably get something like the D-Series and I'd get the stink-eye from today's editors. For me, this tells me a lot about what was happening in those days before the split, who was doing what, and how invested they were in D&D. I wanted more modules about Blackmoor, especially something grandiose like a Temple of Elemental Evil for Blackmoor, but it appears Dave wanted out long before he officially left.
 
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More insider information regarding the topic from a couple of weeks ago. Bill willingham gives his take.
Although, I don’t know how I feel with the realization that my favorite edition only exists because it was meant to screw Dave out of royalties…And now I really really want to see those master rules.

Thanks for that - it was an interesting read, and not something I'd ever been aware of before. It shows how creativity can arise from the strangest situations.

On the issue of royalties, I made up my mind when I got to the bit in the Game Wizards where Dave Arneson successfully sued for royalties for Monster Manual II, when it was an accepted fact that he hadn't contributed one word towards it. It seems wrong to me that someone can come up with an idea, do very little to turn that idea into a successful product, and then accept royalties for every subsequent product anyone else ever makes for it.

If I was running TSR at the time, I too would have tried to get out of paying 2.5% (I think) of sales income from all future D&D products they made to that person, forever. Of course, a similar argument also applies to Gary Gygax's royalties, but TSR weren't in a position to cut him out (until, of course, they were).
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
Their names are on the books!

Probably not the 3.5 books, though.

If you’re interested in the 3e-development era, you could look into the history of EN World. The archived pre-3e articles and interviews from Eric Noah’s site would be a good place to start.

There’s plenty of other good stuff to be found in the “Features” section of EN World, too. Like the archived Q&A threads with Gary Gygax, for instance.

I would assume their names are in the books, but if you don't have the books, or you got them early enough that reading the legal information page wasn't normal... that information can pass you by.

But the point that got me thinking is that, well, we talk a lot about Gygax. I don't think there has been much of a time I've been involved in DnD that I didn't know the name Gary Gygax. It was perhaps over a decade later after I was introduced to DnD that I heard the name Dave Arneson. And since then it has mostly been in two contexts. One "the guy who helped Gary Gygax, the Father of DnD and really important person" which certainly never made it seem like Arneson contributed much, and only here very recently as a counter-point to Gygax. And that second point is a bit odd if you think about it, because it ALSO is less to do with how he contributed to the game directly, and more like "this really important player played more like us".

And, even more than Arneson, the names of Monte Cook (who I've heard of as "very important RPG designer" but never knew he had a connect to 3E) and Johnathan Tweet (never heard of him before) seem to get lost to the wayside.

So, are they overrated for their contributions to the game? To my perspective, no, not at all, because their contributions to the game seem to hardly ever come up, except in the context of Gygax. And maybe that is the truth. Maybe Gygax truly did all the heavy lifting and there are facts that need to come to light to show the true state of the game and how it was changed over the years and who was responsible for what. I always, 100% advocate for the truth, but thinking about how little I've seen these people talked about, I can't say they are overrated yet.
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
Gygax was no businessman. If he was, Arneson would have gotten zero credit and no royalties. Instead, he got credit and TSR got lawsuits. If Gygax were a businessman, I'd say Arneson was underappreciated. Instead, I have a very different take. Overrated? No, and this coming from the once young man who fell in love with all things Blackmoor (playing an Assassin and later a Monk in D&D from the very beginning). I don't think it's controversial to say, "An Arneson is rated precisely how he means to." Which is to say, as the co-creator of D&D. Dave Arneson was not a prolific writer, or even an average volume writer. In the early days of D&D he wasn't cranking out products like Gary and company. I still have a stack of original print modules and Arneson's name is only on a few. If you want understand the D&Differences between Gygax and Arneson then look at their modules. If you look at Keep on the Borderlands, and then compare it to Temple of the Frog you will see two very different styles of D&D. The Keep is designed for tactical play: tips on monster strategies, tactics, and playstyle while never delving into the roleplay of NPCs. Temple of the Frog delves into local history and the convoluted happenings surrounding the Temple. Today, we tend to see a LOT both in our modules allowing us as DMs to choose was is best for our group. So let's be real here, modules helped create D&D as much as, and in some ways more than, the rule books; and that doesn't look good for Dave.

Unlike so many other campaign settings, Greyhawk was built from the actual campaigns of DMs that later became modules. There are several campaigns of DMs turned entire module series: L-Series (Lendore Isles; Lakofka passed away last year), R-Series (Lost Oeridian lands of Greyhawk), T-Series (Temple of Elemental Evil, or Gygax's campaign with Kuntz's Lord Robilar), and so on. It was a world that was played in first, and then later designed to be explore by everyone else. Dave Arneson's campaign world, as compelling as it is, was barely published. Campaign super modules like The Temple of Elemental Evil completely changed the way everyone plays RPGs and designs their home campaigns forever. The Village of Hommlet changed the way DMs build their quaint little towns or even think about them. Ravenloft changed the way modules themselves are written by professionals, baking intrigue and randomness into the design so it can be played over and over again with different outcomes. Mind you, I'm not even getting into the later 2e modules that improved on what we learned during 1e era and have stood the test of time only to inform us on the games we play today. But where is Dave Arneson's Blackmoor in all of this?

View attachment 145833
And the only prescription is more Blackmoor!

Dave Arneson's D-Series is a unique blend of sci-fi tantasy that was a welcome break from the standard folklore (Tolkenism, Orientalism, Paganism, et al), but it was never fully realized. Like Gygax's later T-Series, Arneson was creating a sandbox, a very clumsy, dirty sandbox built in a swamp. This is where I suspect Dave Arneson wasn't invested in RPGs. He had amazing creativity, but poor execution of his ideas in publication. The modules Dave Arneson created are just disorganized. Often they lack good descriptions, don't reuse language to reinforce themes, and lack sound structure. Each of the module reads like a DM's campaign notes, which I suspect that's what they are. If someone told me to take one of my campaigns and publish it, you'd probably get something like the D-Series and I'd get the stink-eye from today's editors. For me, this tells me a lot about what was happening in those days before the split, who was doing what, and how invested they were in D&D. I wanted more modules about Blackmoor, especially something grandiose like a Temple of Elemental Evil for Blackmoor, but it appears Dave wanted out long before he officially left.

Not to counteract anything you are saying, but do we know he wasn't invested or do we know that he wasn't a good writer?

I think it might be completely possible that he was invested in RPGs, but he felt that the rulebook was enough. Maybe he felt people should make their own worlds and no one would really care about his world, because it should be their world. That is also a possible read of the situation, and while history has proven him wrong, I wouldn't immediately chalk that up to not being invested in the genre.

I mean, how many DMs do we have here on ENworld? And how many of them have published their homebrew settings? And how many of those that are published would look a lot more like Arneson's work?

I don't dispute any of the facts on the ground, but I hesitate to start reading his mind based off the work he did or didn't do. Maybe he didn't want out, but just fell on the wrong side of the hype.
 

Aldarc

Legend
And, even more than Arneson, the names of Monte Cook (who I've heard of as "very important RPG designer" but never knew he had a connect to 3E) and Johnathan Tweet (never heard of him before) seem to get lost to the wayside.

So, are they overrated for their contributions to the game? To my perspective, no, not at all, because their contributions to the game seem to hardly ever come up, except in the context of Gygax. And maybe that is the truth. Maybe Gygax truly did all the heavy lifting and there are facts that need to come to light to show the true state of the game and how it was changed over the years and who was responsible for what. I always, 100% advocate for the truth, but thinking about how little I've seen these people talked about, I can't say they are overrated yet.
Jonathan Tweet and Monte Cook are both big industry names, who have a wide assortment of influential products both before and after their work in 3e D&D. They have shown up a fair amount in discussions on these forums, including a popular Jonathan Tweet article talking about the 3e design of the Cleric and Monte Cook's Planebreaker Kickstarter within the past few days. Do their names come up? Yep. And I know that you've been using terms coined by them quite a bit in your discussion. Does "LFQW" / "Linear Fighter, Quadratic Wizard" ring any bells? Monte Cook coined that.

I honestly have no idea how one could participate in this forum for as long as you have and not know who they are. It's almost astounding. Flabergasted even. Like I'm gonna have to take a short walk as I process this.

Embarrassed Shame GIF
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
Thanks for that - it was an interesting read, and not something I'd ever been aware of before. It shows how creativity can arise from the strangest situations.

On the issue of royalties, I made up my mind when I got to the bit in the Game Wizards where Dave Arneson successfully sued for royalties for Monster Manual II, when it was an accepted fact that he hadn't contributed one word towards it. It seems wrong to me that someone can come up with an idea, do very little to turn that idea into a successful product, and then accept royalties for every subsequent product anyone else ever makes for it.

If I was running TSR at the time, I too would have tried to get out of paying 2.5% (I think) of sales income from all future D&D products they made to that person, forever. Of course, a similar argument also applies to Gary Gygax's royalties, but TSR weren't in a position to cut him out (until, of course, they were).

It may feel wrong to you, but that is actually rather standard and something I wholeheartedly support.

Jack Kirby and Joe Simon are no longer alive, but if they were I would 100% support them getting a cut of the Captain America movies, because they created Captain America. And yes, this can get into very dicey territory, especially when a creative project can be influenced by many different people over a long period of time.

I understand royalties and credit are pretty controversial in a lot of ways, but there are too many people who made something possible, then get screwed out of any money, while someone else uses their concept and their idea to make BILLIONS. I know TSR certainly wasn't pulling in that sort of cash, but they actually could have potentially made that happen, and if they did, I think many of us would have felt it unfair that Arneson didn't see that money for something that was, in a significant part, his idea.
 

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