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

Sticking to what are the reported facts, Arneson had the vision of the new model, Gygax wrote it down...
Both are creators, none would have done the game alone. Then if we need to appoint one name only as the "true" creator, this is an opinion and it is subjective according to the info available, his own idea and his mindset...
It is like talking of an artist and an engineer: the artist provides fantasy, ideas and the "emotional" part... The engineer prodides the structure, the plan and its deplyoment...
It is up to everyone decide who (if one only has to be appointed) is the creator...
My opinion is towards Arneson because i am kind of "romantic" and i do see in his part the most valuable contribution.
I would interpret the situation a little differently.

Arneson had been successfully running Blackmoor for two years; a large, multi-player, character-focussed fantasy campaign comprised of rulers, generals and ‘heroes’ – with some overlap across the characters and players. As all aspects of the campaign had a major Kriegsspiel element (i.e. the players’ involvement with the game was presented to them through the information that their characters were aware of and the enhancement of player agency in the game by the prioritisation of referee’s/game-master’s rulings over formally set out rules) the game emerged through the on-going interaction of players and their characters (from kings to spear carriers) mixed with the guidance and imagination of the referee/games-master.

Arneson was unable to access the writing skills and vocabulary necessary to translate the game in to something that could be easily communicated to those outside of his immediate circle.

Gygax also lacked the necessary abilities. However, forever keen to turn a dollar on his hobby whenever the opportunity presented itself, he saw a way of presenting a bastardised version of aspects of Blackmoor through a rough mix of Chainmail and Megarry’s boardgame Dungeon! Though Arneson was disappointed with the result, Gygax, by tying him in with co-authorship and royalties, ensured that D&D was able to establish itself over several years with little meaningful competition.
 

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overgeeked

B/X Known World
Arneson was unable to access the writing skills and vocabulary necessary to translate the game in to something that could be easily communicated to those outside of his immediate circle.
This is the only part I'd quibble with. We don't have a copy of Arneson's notes to Gygax. So we don't know where the communication issue was, or if there even was one. Whether it was with Arneson's inability to communicate the idea or with Gygax's inability to understand, we don't know. Whether it was Arneson fully communicating the idea and Gygax completely understanding it, but simply deciding to change things anyway, we don't know. Access to Arneson's notes would answer the question.
 


Whether it was with Arneson's inability to communicate the idea or with Gygax's inability to understand, we don't know. (...) Access to Arneson's notes would answer the question.
I agree, there is a huge unknown in there, though, given their different experiences of game playing up to that point, I would imagine that it was a combination of both.

As a crude (or, possibly, obtuse) analogy for the way the concept of Blackmoor was recreated in Lake Geneva, one could use the life-size ‘dinosaur’ statues at Crystal Palace in south London (see A visitor's guide to the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs ). Created in the 1850’s, following a boom in paleontology over the previous 70 years and some major fossil discoveries just 30 years earlier, the statues represented the most up to date consensus of how the larger creatures known at that time would have looked. However, though the sculptures have a majesty of their own, they were based on interpretations of partial skeletal fossil finds and, as a consequence, differ quite considerably (in some cases) from the current consensus.

Likewise, Arneson turned up at Gygax’s house with fragments; the most portable chunk of the Blackmoor campaign (the dungeons) shorn of: all bar one of his players, the wider political landscape the dungeons existed in, and several years of collective experience of the ‘active’ referee role (as introduced by Wesley through his stripped-down Strategos and the Braunstein games).

While stunned by the gaming experience, Gygax’s only terms of reference were fantasy Chainmail (from which Arneson had borrowed and repurposed much of the terminology) and the conceptually ‘easier to digest’ Megarry game, Dungeon. Add in Gygax’s desire for a fully codified rule set against Arneson’s preference for a more organically-derived ruling-based system (Gygax's reaction to Arneson's notes suggests they were more likely 'ideas to bear in mind' rather than rules per se) and it seems obvious why Gygax’s impression of how to realise the Fantasy Game as a product was so at odds with what Arneson thought he had demonstrated.
 

darjr

I crit!
Dave did publish a game to his own specs meant to compete with D&D.

Adventures in Fantasy.


It’s probably the closest you’ll get to what Dave intended or would have done as a product.

Though I admit it was written in the shadow of D&D and meant to compete with it. I think Dave really thought it might have competed well against D&D. It absolutely did not.
 


Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Gygax also lacked the necessary abilities. However, forever keen to turn a dollar on his hobby whenever the opportunity presented itself, he saw a way of presenting a bastardised version of aspects of Blackmoor through a rough mix of Chainmail and Megarry’s boardgame Dungeon! Though Arneson was disappointed with the result, Gygax, by tying him in with co-authorship and royalties, ensured that D&D was able to establish itself over several years with little meaningful competition.

....uh, no. This is just not in accord with the historical evidence. And it is pretty well documented now.

First, you are incorrectly portraying Gygax as someone "forever keen to turn a dollar on his hobby" while Arneson is some, what, pure Gamer?

Not at all true. In fact, total bunk. Arneson tried over and over again to make money on the hobby- he just was terrible at it. He didn't want anything to do with D&D because he thought the money was in making figures - and then, when he saw the actual money TSR was making, both demanded royalties for all the products he could, while, at the same time, told everyone that it was a terrible product. He burned EVERYONE that he got into business with. The way he made money was by suing TSR and Gygax.

Next, as much as I appreciate Arneson as a creative force (especially w/r/t DMing), Gygax certainly didn't try and tie him in with co-authorship and royalties in order to avoid competition. That's so far from the historical truth that ... well, it's not correct. Gygax was offering other creators what he thought were the correct terms when he started TSR (which was supposed to publish a number of different rules)- as he learned, the imprecise wording of the terms ended up biting the company in the posterior.

Seriously, all of this has now been covered well in books. not sure why you feel the need to re-argue things incorrectly.
 


....uh, no. This is just not in accord with the historical evidence. And it is pretty well documented now.

First, you are incorrectly portraying Gygax as someone "forever keen to turn a dollar on his hobby" while Arneson is some, what, pure Gamer?

Not at all true. In fact, total bunk. Arneson tried over and over again to make money on the hobby- he just was terrible at it. He didn't want anything to do with D&D because he thought the money was in making figures - and then, when he saw the actual money TSR was making, both demanded royalties for all the products he could, while, at the same time, told everyone that it was a terrible product. He burned EVERYONE that he got into business with. The way he made money was by suing TSR and Gygax.

Next, as much as I appreciate Arneson as a creative force (especially w/r/t DMing), Gygax certainly didn't try and tie him in with co-authorship and royalties in order to avoid competition. That's so far from the historical truth that ... well, it's not correct. Gygax was offering other creators what he thought were the correct terms when he started TSR (which was supposed to publish a number of different rules)- as he learned, the imprecise wording of the terms ended up biting the company in the posterior.

Seriously, all of this has now been covered well in books. not sure why you feel the need to re-argue things incorrectly.
It is pretty well documented that Gygax was keen to make enough income from his hobby to support his family. Despite Chainmail (with the fantasy supplement) selling 100+ copies a month, Gygax was disappointed with the insufficient return he was receiving.

Arneson, at that point, was only making pennies from the hobby as a result of his collaborations with Gygax. But, as he was younger and didn't have a family to support, it was less of a concern to him.

The money that Arneson received as co-author of D&D was only that which Gygax had agreed with him. That Gygax decided to try and freeze him out was Gygax's issue.

Whatever his motives, Gygax did tie Arneson into the commercial success of D&D despite the fact that Arneson really wasn't happy with the direction it took. If Arneson hadn't been tied in, then the launch of the publication could have seen it embroiled in bad feelings as Arneson and the Twin Cities crowd could have gone to far greater lengths to bad mouth it and Gygax.

Seriously, all of this has now been covered well in books. not sure why you feel the need to re-argue things incorrectly.
 


Alzrius

The EN World kitten
Dave did publish a game to his own specs meant to compete with D&D.

Adventures in Fantasy.


It’s probably the closest you’ll get to what Dave intended or would have done as a product.

Though I admit it was written in the shadow of D&D and meant to compete with it. I think Dave really thought it might have competed well against D&D. It absolutely did not.
In terms of a stand-alone product, that's probably the closest, but it's worth noting that Different Worlds #42 and #43 had his two-part Blackmoor adventure "The Garbage Pits of Despair," which is a fascinating snapshot for how he'd have presented Blackmoor on its own.
 

darjr

I crit!
In terms of a stand-alone product, that's probably the closest, but it's worth noting that Different Worlds #42 and #43 had his two-part Blackmoor adventure "The Garbage Pits of Despair," which is a fascinating snapshot for how he'd have presented Blackmoor on its own.
I must find this, thank you.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
It is pretty well documented that Gygax was keen to make enough income from his hobby to support his family. Despite Chainmail (with the fantasy supplement) selling 100+ copies a month, Gygax was disappointed with the insufficient return he was receiving.

Arneson, at that point, was only making pennies from the hobby as a result of his collaborations with Gygax. But, as he was younger and didn't have a family to support, it was less of a concern to him.

The money that Arneson received as co-author of D&D was only that which Gygax had agreed with him. That Gygax decided to try and freeze him out was Gygax's issue.

Whatever his motives, Gygax did tie Arneson into the commercial success of D&D despite the fact that Arneson really wasn't happy with the direction it took. If Arneson hadn't been tied in, then the launch of the publication could have seen it embroiled in bad feelings as Arneson and the Twin Cities crowd could have gone to far greater lengths to bad mouth it and Gygax.

Seriously, all of this has now been covered well in books. not sure why you feel the need to re-argue things incorrectly.


I'll bite, given that I wrote the OP (you did know that, didn't you) and that the OP was a specific response to Jon Peterson's book Game Wizards, which documented this issue in great detail. But you know what- you joined on Saturday solely for the purpose of commenting on this thread, so obviously your snark is well-earned!

Let's break down your points-

First, you seem to elide what I wrote- no one denies that Gygax was trying to make money. No, the point is that Arneson was trying to make money as well. What has been extensively documented, now, is how terrible he was at it. How so many people got burned in the 70s by trusting Arneson. How he repeatedly made claims that he had rules (and didn't), and how he repeatedly had other people do the work ("editing") for him.

Next, you seem to ignore what has actually been reported regarding the lawsuit. There's a reason I referenced Nimmer and the illustrations. It is somewhat impressive that a person managed to say that his game was nothing like what TSR put out, and also that everything that was completely due to his work. And, again, this is basic IP and contract law; the reason for the settlement, as was explored in the book, is because it happened at a moment of maximum leverage. - not because it was earned (it had to do with a contract that was poorly written, and, arguably, a poor decision by the judge early on).

Next, "whatever his motive ..." Dude, THERE IS AN ENTIRE BOOK ABOUT THIS. It has the contracts. It describes exactly how TSR was formed.

So ... maybe educate yourself before you comment? Here's a link-


Or ask your library to carry it. KTHX!
 

darjr

I crit!
I… uh…

Ok example.

Arnesons lawyers challenged TSR and claimed he deserved big royalties on Monster Manual II. He made zero contributions to that book as an author and his lawyers didn’t claim he did. They made the claim that it was a derivative of the Monster Manual, which he’d won a case in court already about royalties on that book, so he was due for its “derivative”.

In my mind i do not think Dave was due a single red sent for MMII and absolutely not as much as he asked for.
 


Parmandur

Book-Friend
I… uh…

Ok example.

Arnesons lawyers challenged TSR and claimed he deserved big royalties on Monster Manual II. He made zero contributions to that book as an author and his lawyers didn’t claim he did. They made the claim that it was a derivative of the Monster Manual, which he’d won a case in court already about royalties on that book, so he was due for its “derivative”.

In my mind i do not think Dave was due a single red sent for MMII and absolutely not as much as he asked for.
The crazy making thing to me is that he could pribhave done very well with TSR if he just applied himself...
 

darjr

I crit!
The crazy making thing to me is that he could pribhave done very well with TSR if he just applied himself...
I’m not so sure.

I do think him and Gary clashed on many levels. And so, without much power in the relationship, he couldn’t get any traction.

I think much of the myth of “he didn’t do anything” about his time at TSR can be put down to: it was a VERY short time there and he was the kind of person that would clean toilets (work his but off in shipping) cause it needed doing. I think that soaked his time and drained his will.

But I must add that not only Gary had made similar claims about Dave.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Welcome to the second in an occasional series: Snarf Presents Hawt Taek Thursdays. The first was a reevaluation of Lorraine Williams, which was not controversial at all, so I thought I'd do something equally banal.
Ah yes. This is the internet content I crave.
One sec, let me grab some popcorn.

Go On Popcorn GIF
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
In terms of a stand-alone product, that's probably the closest, but it's worth noting that Different Worlds #42 and #43 had his two-part Blackmoor adventure "The Garbage Pits of Despair," which is a fascinating snapshot for how he'd have presented Blackmoor on its own.
There's also the First Fantasy Campaign from Judge's Guild.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
There's also the First Fantasy Campaign from Judge's Guild.
Good point, although I always feel the need to point out to anyone hunting for a copy of FFC that A) make sure you get the maps that are supposed to come with the book as well, and B) for some reason the third printing only has sixty-four pages compared to the ninety-six in the first two printings. I'm not sure if they shrunk the font size, or if material was liberally cut from the third printing, but it's something to take note of.

EDIT: Also, fun fact, the city of Vestfold in FFC was originally called Tonisborg, being developed by Greg "The Great Svenny" Svenson and set in Dave's Blackmoor setting. Dave changed the name when it came time to publish FFC, presumably because he didn't want to use any of Greg's material without his permission. More on this can be found over on Havard's Blackmoor Blog.
 
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