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Rob Kuntz Recounts The Origins Of D&D

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In this interesting article from Kotaku, Rob Kuntz relates a history of early TSR that differs somewhat from the narrative we usually hear. It delves into the relationship between Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson (D&D's co-creators) and the actual development of the game, which dates back to Arneson in 1971.

 
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Rob Kuntz

Adventurer
A lot of people hold this belief, but is there really any basis for this? In the early 70s, Dave wrote a series of articles submitted to Gary's fan magazine, the Domesday Book. Dave published the game Don't Give Up The Ship (co-written with Mike Carr and Gary Gygax) and later went on to publish RPGs like Adventures in Fantasy and Trapman as well as adventures for Shadowrun and various other RPGs.

As Rob Kuntz mentions in this thread, Dave clearly had the intent of getting his Blackmoor game published.

Would a game by Dave without Gary have been as good or as successful? That is a different question and we will never know the answer to that one.

I am definitely not disputing Gary's contributions to the game. But I think we shouldn't dismiss Dave as simply a man with ideas either.



-Havard
The only thing that needs correcting is that DB was not a fan magazine by Gary. It was a Societal affiliated newsletter organ of the IFW (International Federation of Wargaming)--more specifically of the Castle & Crusade Society as adjunct:

It was formed by Gary Gygax and Rob Kuntz in 1970. Its starting membership included Gary Gygax, Rob Kuntz and Jeff Perren, and as of mid-April 1970, also included Dave Arneson.

 

Oldtimer

Great Old One
Well by 1974/75 I was 19/20 years, a young adult and had two publishing credits...
You were two years ahead of me in age and a universe ahead of me in publishing credits then. :)

Do you still have that letter? I'd love to see a copy of it for posterity and historical purposes if you do!
I'll see if I can find it. A lot of entropy has accumulated over the years. But I'll dive into the darkest corners and see what I can find.
 

Rob Kuntz

Adventurer
Do you still play if so what edition?
I don't play here in Corsica, too isolated and it's a tourist spot. Back in the states and when at conventions I play my variety of AD&D, no UA, except for some minor things like magic, spells and all of it house ruled from the old days carried forward. At ATHENSCON 2017 I showcased my redone Lake Level from 1973 and it was crafted for AD&D 1st edition. Ran two sessions. Beware the coconut crabs!
 

Rob Kuntz

Adventurer
You were two years ahead of me in age and a universe ahead of me in publishing credits then. :)


I'll see if I can find it. A lot of entropy has accumulated over the years. But I'll dive into the darkest corners and see what I can find.
Heh. Don't destroy too much with that pick of yours! ;) If you find it it will be a joy. The "Chairman" bit was because I was the Chairman of GENCON (75/76). Many thanks in advance and take it easy!
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
I don't play here in Corsica, too isolated and it's a tourist spot. Back in the states and when at conventions I play my variety of AD&D, no UA, except for some minor things like magic, spells and all of it house ruled from the old days carried forward. At ATHENSCON 2017 I showcased my redone Lake Level from 1973 and it was crafted for AD&D 1st edition. Ran two sessions. Beware the coconut crabs!
I know this doesn't mean as much as I want it to mean, but I'll take it as a stamp of approval and appeal to authority every time I tell someone "UA was not 1e, and almost never allowed." :D
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
I know this doesn't mean as much as I want it to mean, but I'll take it as a stamp of approval and appeal to authority every time I tell someone "UA was not 1e, and almost never allowed." :D
UA was a dumpster fire that had a few good ideas buried within it; kind of like a collection of Dragon Magazine articles. Which it really was.

(It's my recollection that it was pushed out because of the financial difficulties of TSR at that time, but I could be mis-remembering that)
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
I know this doesn't mean as much as I want it to mean, but I'll take it as a stamp of approval and appeal to authority every time I tell someone "UA was not 1e, and almost never allowed." :D
Also, you've probably already seen this, but there's a deep dive into the making of Quagmire! (X6) here-

(Link doesn't work) (Search for Medium Quagmire Module History )

Which might make you wonder at how they managed to produce so many great things. ;)
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
The idea that he was not going to publish it eventually is of course a non-fact as he was seeking to do so. He had invested 1.5 years in play-testing and iterating it and in creating the breakthrough architecture for it in order to do so. Lowry passed and so did AH, much to their dismay later on, of course. But that was because they did not know what it was. Arneson had proven what it was and thought it suitable for publication, thus the Demo 1.5 years later.
This is interesting because it potentially refutes the idea that without Gary Gygax's involvement, D&D would never have come into being as not just a commercial product, let alone become as wildly successful as it did. I say "potentially" because, as a counterfactual, it's impossible to know for sure. Nevertheless, Rob, I want to ask if you can expound on what you've said here. Specifically:

1) Had Arneson refined his game to the point where it was written down as a whole product (i.e. contained all the rules necessary for play), and said written product would be understandable to someone who had never participated in a role-playing session before?
2) If so, why did Gygax feel the need to rewrite so much of it (was it only due to personal jealousy, as you've noted previously)?
3) With both Don Lowry and Avalon Hill having elected to pass on his game, who was Arneson planning on demoing it for if Gygax hadn't jumped on it?
4) Do you think that Arneson's game, lacking any significant rewriting or editing from someone else, would have reached the same level of popularity and commercial success that Dungeons & Dragons did?
 

Rob Kuntz

Adventurer
This is interesting because it potentially refutes the idea that without Gary Gygax's involvement, D&D would never have come into being as not just a commercial product, let alone become as wildly successful as it did. I say "potentially" because, as a counterfactual, it's impossible to know for sure. Nevertheless, Rob, I want to ask if you can expound on what you've said here.

Specifically:

1) Had Arneson refined his game to the point where it was written down as a whole product (i.e. contained all the rules necessary for play), and said written product would be understandable to someone who had never participated in a role-playing session before?
2) If so, why did Gygax feel the need to rewrite so much of it (was it only due to personal jealousy, as you've noted previously)?
3) With both Don Lowry and Avalon Hill having elected to pass on his game, who was Arneson planning on demoing it for if Gygax hadn't jumped on it?
4) Do you think that Arneson's game, lacking any significant rewriting or editing from someone else, would have reached the same level of popularity and commercial success that Dungeons & Dragons did?
Well it is not meant to refute anything but the fact that he wasn't attempting to publish both it and DUNGEON.

1) He had refined the game so it was playable by what was in his head and on paper and by the players knowledge of this. He had refined it enough to play it and to inform Gary, when asked, how it worked, both in play and by phone. Gary in fact had to go to Minnesota to play again as he did not fully grasp the organization due to Arneson's notes and that he retained some of that in in head. So, Gary finally gasped what Arneson was doing through play and inquiry, just as Dave's players had done. If he hadn't, he could never have written D&D.

2) I suppose that he felt that the mechanics were not aligned to his own preferences. However, some of Arneson's systems were retained, though changed (the source for this is from SoB and another independent researcher reconstructing Armeson's total system from documents).

3) Well one might ask that of anything, as TSR had to (essentially) self publish it; and Gary had been in a better position with Lowry as his Rules Editor and AH as Don Greenwood was acquainted with Gary and respected him. So it was not about if not Gary why Dave? It was about the concept itself. No one could wrap their head around it even though Arneson and his group loved it and so did we, So Dave, like Gary, would have, I suppose and just like Gary, essentially and finally self-published it.

4) Why take away significant rewriting and its future from Dave that is accorded to Gary under such a hypothetical? That he had gotten to that stage after 1.5 years is a plus towards its eventual refinement for print, not a minus.
 
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darjr

I crit!
I’m intrigued by the idea that there is a rule set that is closer to Arneson original rules out there. Is it available?
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
I’m intrigued by the idea that there is a rule set that is closer to Arneson original rules out there. Is it available?
You might find the discussion in this thread interesting:


There's a mention of a copy of the rules as part of the kickstarter (along with the Tonisborg dungeon) but I don't see it now. I'm guessing it is a separate project by the SoB (Secrets of Blackmoor) individuals.

In addition, there is another blog-


Which often delves into the old rules.
 

havard

Explorer
In addition, there is another blog-


Which often delves into the old rules.
Thanks for the plug lowkey13! :)

I write about rules and also everything Blackmoor, Dave Arneson, D&D and a bit of Mystara :)

-Havard
 

GreyLord

Adventurer
Hey Rob,

Off the normal path, but I know you were around back then and were familiar with the products being put out. Here's a question that's been burning me for years.

One of the items I originally was given was a Holmes Basic Set. In it, I distinctly remember that Elves could be fighters or Magic-users and had to choose which to be and gain Experience each adventure.

I have since lost that set. However, people say that such a thing never existed, or if it did, it was prior to official version being published. In copies I have bought since I find that Elves seem to advance in both fighter and magic-user rather than how I remembered it.

Do you recall the earliest sets of Holmes and if any of those had the rules as I remember them in relation to elves?
 

Warpiglet

Explorer
This was posted online from the supposed foreword of the Holmes set. It was an early hit entering those search terms....

https://www.americanroads.us/DandD/DnD_Basic_Rules_Holmes.pdf


If quoting here is not allowed I will happily edit it out.

"ONCE UPON A TIME, long, long ago there was a lit- tle group known as the Castle and Crusade Society. Their fantasy rules were published, and to this writer's knowledge, brought about much of the current interest in fantasy wargaming. For a time the group grew and prospered, and Dave Arneson decided to begin a medieval fantasy campaign game for his active Twin Cities club. From the map of the "land" of the "Great Kingdom" and environs — the territory of C & C Society — Dave located a nice bog wherein to nest the weird enclave of "Blackmoor," a spot between the "Giant Kingdom" and the fearsome "Egg of Coot." From the CHAINMAIL fantasy rules he drew ideas for a far more complex and exciting game, and thus began a cam- paign which still thrives as of this writing! In due course the news reached my ears, and the result is what you have in your hands at this moment."

E. Gary Gygax 1973
 

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