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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Comments

darjr

I crit!
Hold on. Griff is VERY passionate about this topic. Understandably so. He does have a film to sell but having met him, “selling it” is utterly secondary to getting history “right”.

Though I think Rob is doing just fine, and forums are sometimes exactly for folks to ask their questions and challenge other posters. Griff, so far I think it’s making your points and Robs stronger.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Hold on. Griff is VERY passionate about this topic. Understandably so. He does have a film to sell but having met him, “selling it” is utterly secondary to getting history “right”.
Maybe, but based on his two comments so far, I have no desire to engage him; unlike Rob, Griff has no long-standing reservoir of goodwill with me.

I am always in favor of the careful study of the early history of D&D; and I think that Dave Arneson's story is an amazing one and deserved to be told fully. That said, I have found the repeated framing of this as Arneson v. Gygax in media to be .... unwelcoming and divisive.

I'd rather celebrate Arneson, than tear down others. Life isn't a zero-sum game.
 

Rob Kuntz

Adventurer
When I see people questioning Rob Kuntz I have to wade in as well.

It's easy to go online and be yet another self made expert.

So my first question is: Who are you that you think you can disparage Rob Kuntz freely while hiding behind internet anonymity.

My second question is: what are you sources?

I saw a post stating something along the lines of: Others disagree with you. What others disagree with Rob? Using that language is as good as when a politician says: Mistakes have been made. It's a weak tactic, cite your sources and name the names.

Somehow it has been forgotten how research is conducted. Rob is a Primary Source, why attack him? You should be asking him questions.

Most of the arguments being posited against Rob are the same old arguments. They lack sophistication and really do not add anything to the discussion of the history of RPG's.

I am going to pose a serious question for everyone to ruminate on.

Q: How does Gary Gygax learn to play RPG's as a referee?

A: He goes to Minnesota and plays with Arneson and his group of players.


There are letter indicating that this trip occurs and one of the sources from Secrets of Blackmoor told me this story which I recorded.

It is supported by Rob's narrative of: We tried to reproduce what Arneson had done the next morning, but couldn't.

If Gygax does not know how to run an RPG style game, despite a lot of later efforts to create a smoke screen surrounding this issue, why is it the only person on the planet that can teach him to play an RPG is Dave Arneson?

Because Arneson invented what I call the Adventure Game and most people call RPG's.

The flow of information only flows one way - Arneson to Gygax. Without Dave Arneson to teach Gygax this game style, Gygax would be a nobody.

As to who created D&D, it's a collaboration. They did it together. Arneson did a lot more than provide 18 pages of notes. There are entire manuscripts that have been found now that were not typed by Gygax.

Griff
Well, Hi Griff! I believe that it's settled down here a bit and we are back to even or at least agree<>disagree parity.

As to, "We tried to reproduce what Arneson had done the next morning, but couldn't," my substantive text in the "Two Daves, Two Gygaxs and Two Kuntzs article which I allowed Kotaku to reference is:

"While back in my home away from home Gary and I convened back at the dining table. He brought forth hex paper (large hexes used for board game designs like his Alexander the Great, Dunkirk, et al) and colored pencils and ink pens. We then talked.

Gary noted that the concept Arneson had unveiled [the night before] could be used for crafting stories--an ongoing story-making factory as I understood him.

This can be construed as Gary seeing the opportunity as suggested--for making stories. That he was disappointed with the two 1 hour sessions we ran through and that he immediately began a communication with Dave and arranged for that trip is of course supportive of your POV. Because Dave had no rules (except in head, with his players and as cues and ready systems already derived through play, i.e., "the notes") was the factor for Gary not fully understanding the concept even after that first session (even though we all played it and enjoyed it with no hitch). That these rules "are strictly fantasy" (EGG, Forward to D&D) also exposes why some organization was not grasped--it was a conceptual system, and every other game preceding D&D of the "tabletop" variety were MATERIAL systems with all of their organizational rules up front and not at all permeable as the Fantasy RPG engine allowed, at least then.
 
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lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
This can be construed as Gary seeing the opportunity as suggested--for making stories. That he was disappointed with the two 1 hour sessions we ran through and that he immediately began a communication with Dave and arranged for that trip is of course supportive of your POV. Because Dave had no rules (except in head, with his players and as cues and ready systems already derived through play, i.e., "the notes") was the factor for Gary not fully understanding the concept even after that first session (even though we all played it and enjoyed it with no hitch). That these rules "are strictly fantasy" (EGG, Forward to D&D) also exposes why some organization was not grasped--it was a conceptual system, and every other game proceeding D&D of the "tabletop" variety were MATERIAL systems with all of their organizational rules up front and not at all permeable as the Fantasy RPG engine allowed, at least then.
Rob-

This is the part I think I'm not fully grokking. I know it means a lot to you, so I'm trying make sure I'm following it!

Most of us are familiar with variations of the "notes" story- in other words, the difficulties (supposed or real) that Gygax had in transforming Arneson's game into something that could be published and played.

What do you mean by a conceptual system? If D&D was later reduced down to rules, did that make it a material system? Or are you saying that the ability to play "outside the rules" is what made it conceptual?

(PS- if you're going to address this in your column, I can wait!)
 

Rob Kuntz

Adventurer
Rob-

This is the part I think I'm not fully grokking. I know it means a lot to you, so I'm trying make sure I'm following it!

Most of us are familiar with variations of the "notes" story- in other words, the difficulties (supposed or real) that Gygax had in transforming Arneson's game into something that could be published and played.

What do you mean by a conceptual system? If D&D was later reduced down to rules, did that make it a material system? Or are you saying that the ability to play "outside the rules" is what made it conceptual?

(PS- if you're going to address this in your column, I can wait!)
I cover this in Dave Arneson's True Genius; and NO, I'm not trying to sell you the book! :) But it is covered in full therein. VERY BRIEFLY (consider this a toyish abstract): What we do in RPGs is mostly self-organized imagination, constantly changing except when we need "mechanics" to adjudicate outcomes. Thus Arneson's systems architecture is an interdependent fusing of Conceptual and Mechanical systems, a super system which has no historical antecedent that I have found (to date).
 
Well, I tend to think that this is complicated. Wesley should always get a tip of the cap for his role in the beginning (Braunstein, Blackmoor, Greyhawk, get it?).

But he wasn't really down with RPGs. I know! And Braunstein wasn't really designed for the roleplaying- that was player driven. So, I think he gets just the right amount of credit- the mention.
How do you know?

Sky is Green - I know!

Right from the beginning your arguments are shallow and not very sophisticated.

I would say that you do not know enough about what Braunstein is to really pass judgment on it.

If you did know, you would realize that Braunstein is a kind of role playing game. Having played it and examined what remains from it, I would say that it is in many ways more of a role playing game than D&D because one actually assumes a role.

Arneson's brilliancy was to take Wesely's method and use it in order to create a shared reality. Yet there is a polarity within these designs. As the design moves toward a controlled world experience, then the player to player interaction is diluted.

These are very different Game Engines, yet I don't presume to say one is an RPG, or not. The real issue is to understand what the game is simulating and why. Arneson's game begins as a Braunstein, or at least he calls it that. The play descriptions from both Corner of the Table Top and all of his players support this as fact.

Wesely's invention has its own genius designed into it. One can use Wesely's design to model social interactions between people. It is a profound leap. I would compare it to Machiavelli's, The Prince in game form.

In fact, I would say that under certain circumstances even a D&D game can switch between game engines. You can see a referee employ Blackmoor play methods, then switch to Braunstein style, and then go back to Blackmoor. This is the beauty of these systems, you can easily use all of them without even knowing you are using all of them.

Arneson changes the Blackmoor Game Engine creating something entirely new. The label of Role Playing is to me a misnomer. Wesely's game IS a role playing game. Arneson's game is more about interacting with and altering reality.

The play style for Blackmoor is cycled into all other games that follow. Greyhawk actually does not change the play style at all. Greyhawk is merely a Blackmoor, as is D&D.

Might I suggest a good book for understanding how RPG's work that approaches the problem from a systems perspective, it's called Dave Arneson's True Genius by Rob Kuntz.

My name is Griff

P.S. you also fail to acknowledge Duane Jenkins and his BrownStone RPG - You don't know.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
I cover this in Dave Arneson's True Genius; and NO, I'm not trying to sell you the book! :) But it is covered in full therein. VERY BRIEFLY (consider this a toyish abstract): What we do in RPGs is mostly self-organized imagination, constantly changing except when we need "mechanics" to adjudicate outcomes. Thus Arneson's systems architecture is an interdependent fusing of Conceptual and Mechanical systems, a super system which has no historical antecedent that I have found (to date).
Thanks!

PS- if you don't, then I will


Review here-
 

Rob Kuntz

Adventurer
How do you know?

Sky is Green - I know!

Right from the beginning your arguments are shallow and not very sophisticated.

I would say that you do not know enough about what Braunstein is to really pass judgment on it.

If you did know, you would realize that Braunstein is a kind of role playing game. Having played it and examined what remains from it, I would say that it is in many ways more of a role playing game than D&D because one actually assumes a role.

Arneson's brilliancy was to take Wesely's method and use it in order to create a shared reality. Yet there is a polarity within these designs. As the design moves toward a controlled world experience, then the player to player interaction is diluted.

These are very different Game Engines, yet I don't presume to say one is an RPG, or not. The real issue is to understand what the game is simulating and why. Arneson's game begins as a Braunstein, or at least he calls it that. The play descriptions from both Corner of the Table Top and all of his players support this as fact.

Wesely's invention has its own genius designed into it. One can use Wesely's design to model social interactions between people. It is a profound leap. I would compare it to Machiavelli's, The Prince in game form.

In fact, I would say that under certain circumstances even a D&D game can switch between game engines. You can see a referee employ Blackmoor play methods, then switch to Braunstein style, and then go back to Blackmoor. This is the beauty of these systems, you can easily use all of them without even knowing you are using all of them.

Arneson changes the Blackmoor Game Engine creating something entirely new. The label of Role Playing is to me a misnomer. Wesely's game IS a role playing game. Arneson's game is more about interacting with and altering reality.

The play style for Blackmoor is cycled into all other games that follow. Greyhawk actually does not change the play style at all. Greyhawk is merely a Blackmoor, as is D&D.

Might I suggest a good book for understanding how RPG's work that approaches the problem from a systems perspective, it's called Dave Arneson's True Genius by Rob Kuntz.

My name is Griff

P.S. you also fail to acknowledge Duane Jenkins and his BrownStone RPG - You don't know.
The folks here are not like those on the RPGsite (in the extreme senses of those there that you have battled with as of late). Might I suggest, in the most friendliest of manners, a more educative approach? I know that you've been getting it from all quarters lately, that's all... Always with High Regards, RJK...
 
I cover this in Dave Arneson's True Genius; and NO, I'm not trying to sell you the book! :) But it is covered in full therein. VERY BRIEFLY (consider this a toyish abstract): What we do in RPGs is mostly self-organized imagination, constantly changing except when we need "mechanics" to adjudicate outcomes. Thus Arneson's systems architecture is an interdependent fusing of Conceptual and Mechanical systems, a super system which has no historical antecedent that I have found (to date).
What Rob is describing can also be compared to computer programming.

The Game Engine, or Play Method is the core of this system.

So lets pretend the Game Engine is a computer program and that you are using an object oriented computer language.

You have a Main program module that begins the program.

1. Since we are actually using language as our Programming Language when we play, we are relying on semantics in order to establish what the Game Engine is doing.

2. Also, consider that in a Computer Program one must have error handling. Error Handling is a way to keep a program from Crashing/failing because data that is entered does not match any expected input type.

So when a DM says something as simple as: You walk down a hall and come to a door. This is your Main Program establishing a set of parameters for the situation at hand.

The game engine is the verbal exchange that we use to enter within this play method and is the Role Playing.

In a computer program one is limited to very specific input as a user. Yet with the RPG method, everything is flexible. That is the power of it.

So back to Error Handling. With a Computer if it says Enter: Y/N , if you enter anything else the program has to be able to parse whether you did Y, or N. But what if you enter a number, or symbol? Without error handling the program will crash.

Because Arneson's Game Engine is using language, it is possible to do something different.

Common responses to finding a door are : I listen at the door, I open the door. With Arneson's game you can expand the terms. Lets say a player asks: what is the door made of? The Referee Says: wood.

Now our semantic premise has changed to: You walk down a hall and come to a door it is made of wood.

This is a recursive function within the Arneson Game Engine that comes about because of how flexible it is. A recursion is best described using the Fibonacci sequence. 0 + 1 = 1, 1 + 1 = 2, 1 + 2 = 3. 2 + 3 - 5, etc.

You are using previous data to create new data and growing and expanding what you have as a result.

So long as you are using language to run your game, you don't need any rules.

Object oriented languages use what are called, calls or methods, which are basically rules. If a user inputs something that matches the need for a call, a new program is briefly launched in order to generate a result of some kind. Thus if a player says: I open the door. A call is made for a specific rule. In this case it is the written rule for opening doors. Now we are implementing a rule.

The rule for opening doors is a binary Yes/No result. As a computer program, one would generate a number from 1 to 6 and then if the number was a 1 or 2, the door is open. If the number is 3 to 6 the door is not open. The binary value of Open/Not Open is then returned to the main Game Engine.

Lets say we get a Door Opens value. The Rule has been used, we know a result.

Within the Game Engine our premise is now changed to: You walk down a hall and come to a door it is made of wood the door is open.

What Rob describes in his book is the first time someone has assessed and described this kind of operation within an RPG. His understanding that we have two things: a Game Engine and Rules is a profound conclusion.

Most gamers do not understand what they are doing when they play. They do not understand that the simple little Example of Play is actually the rules for how to use the Game Engine. And that when you use rules, those are entirely separate from the Game Engine and are merely a way of introducing fairness and randomization to what happens when we play the game.

The Game Engine is what Arneson invented. And as Rob has pointed out, you can't play any RPG's without this flexible and simple play method.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
It shouldn't be, maybe it needn't be - but when people treat it like one, it can even become negative-sum.
War, for instance, as negative-sum a game as it gets.
Whaddya talking 'bout?

I can listen to War, and you can listen to War, and we are both enriched thereby!

I mean ....
I seen ya around for a long long time
I really remember you when you drank my wine
Why can't we be friends
Why can't we be friends
Why can't we be friends
Why can't we be friends

;)


EDIT- I should add, joking aside, that honoring people that helped develop the hobby that we love shouldn't be a zero-sum game. There should be enough gratitude to go around for both Gygax AND Arneson, not to mention everyone else, from Kuntz to Kask, from Sutherland to Otus, that shaped the game that we love.

True successes are almost always the result of interplay and collaboration.
 
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Well, Hi Griff! I believe that it's settled down here a bit and we are back to even or at least agree<>disagree parity.

As to, "We tried to reproduce what Arneson had done the next morning, but couldn't," my substantive text in the "Two Daves, Two Gygaxs and Two Kuntzs article which I allowed Kotaku to reference is:

"While back in my home away from home Gary and I convened back at the dining table. He brought forth hex paper (large hexes used for board game designs like his Alexander the Great, Dunkirk, et al) and colored pencils and ink pens. We then talked.

Gary noted that the concept Arneson had unveiled [the night before] could be used for crafting stories--an ongoing story-making factory as I understood him.

This can be construed as Gary seeing the opportunity as suggested--for making stories. That he was disappointed with the two 1 hour sessions we ran through and that he immediately began a communication with Dave and arranged for that trip is of course supportive of your POV. Because Dave had no rules (except in head, with his players and as cues and ready systems already derived through play, i.e., "the notes") was the factor for Gary not fully understanding the concept even after that first session (even though we all played it and enjoyed it with no hitch). That these rules "are strictly fantasy" (EGG, Forward to D&D) also exposes why some organization was not grasped--it was a conceptual system, and every other game preceding D&D of the "tabletop" variety were MATERIAL systems with all of their organizational rules up front and not at all permeable as the Fantasy RPG engine allowed, at least then.
This is something I have been chasing down Rob.

I have records to support that Greg Svenson is the second person to referee an RPG in Blackmoor. This through interviews, and corroboration with Corner of the Table Top.

Then I have that you are most likely the 3rd Referee with your attempt to model what Dave did on a hex sheet.

I am still unclear about Richard Snider and when he begins to referee. Dan Boggs has discovered both the source of BTPBD and a 6 page manuscript that is a variant on Blackmoor by Snider.

There is also John Snider's Sci Fi RPG Campaign which begins in '73.

How long would it be before Gary runs a game?

Are you aware of Gary going to the Twin Cities to watch Dave and his group?

And yes, I do get a bit fiery on T'internets. I see people constantly making what I find to be unfounded and minimizing comments about Arneson while at the same time claiming Gygax did what matters. I am really tired of all the undocumented and un supported claims all over the web regarding Arneson.

Often this is attributed to a belief that Arneson could not organize his thoughts, much less type. Yet I have what is likely the original draft of DGUTS that was typed by Arneson. It's just a few pages something like 12, but it is a complete set of rules and pretty clear for an early draft. FYI he uses Wesely's morale system derived from Totten.

Nothing I have found makes Arneson out to be a nincompoop, in fact most of what I have in my collection is truly amazing.

My name is Griff
 

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