D&D General SPOILERS: Peterson's Game Wizards

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
So I have a full review posted, and after seeing that people are genuinely excited by the book, I thought I'd post a thread for people who have read the book to discuss it!

THIS IS THE SPOILERS THREAD. DO NOT READ THIS THREAD IF YOU HAVEN'T READ THE BOOK!

So, to start the thread off, I thought I'd throw out a few of the general observations I had, and that I've been thinking about, ever since I finished reading the book-

1. I referenced Arneson in the "Stock Down" part of the review. I will elaborate here- I think Arneson has long benefitted from a confluence of factors (and I still think he came up with the core innovations in terms of tabletop roleplaying), but reading this account, in his words, was brutal. Gygax went through his revisionism already, but Arneson flew under the radar.

Reading this, it really hammers home, over and over again, that Arneson couldn't or wouldn't put together rules. Period. That he continually hurt potential business partners by promising things he just wouldn't deliver. And that he made a ton of money off of D&D despite what appears to be ... well, both a minimal contribution in the original rules (as opposed to concept), and an active campaign against D&D for some time.

This doesn't make him a bad person, by the way- just human. As we all are. But I think that the pendulum might have swung too far in that some people began to view Gygax as stealing all of Arneson's idea and just "copyediting them" and then trying to steal all of Arneson's royalties, whereas the book presents a more nuanced picture- it doesn't exonerate Gygax, but it does show that Arneson kept (to use the expression) biting the hand that fed him. He was singularly interested in the credit, but not as interested in the work.

2. People think of TSR as being formed for D&D; it was funny to see how, in the early days, they kept the pipeline going with wargame rules. They genuinely had no idea.

3. We usually think of 2e as the capitulation to the Satanic Panic; but we can see the formation of task groups to "soften" D&D in the early 80s- leading to, inter alia, Legends & Lore.

4. Gygax did an amazing job in the 70s making TSR (and D&D) a success. Really, He might have been kind of a messianic jerk at times, but he worked it. But the accumulation of details about the 80s- all the missed meetings, all the concentration on Hollywood, everything else going on. Not to mention how he would promise things to TSR employees, then disappear when the Blumes hammered them. Also? There was no way he could keep running TSR. None.

5. The Purchasing Department. My ... goodness. If I had to single out one employee that got so screwed (and trust me, there are a lot) ... poor Mike Carr.

6. Seriously, the Blumes. That's all I'll say.


Okay- have at it, with spoilers!
 

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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I just find it hilarious that some people's enjoyment of a history book would be "spoiled" by knowing what happens ahead of time.

Person A: Oh I see you're reading that book on World War II. . .
Person B: DON'T TELL ME WHO WINS!

:p:ROFLMAO:

Two things-

1. I don't know if "spoiled" is the right word, but some people might want to go in fresh? Maybe?

2. Some people have VERY strong opinions about this!

 

HammerMan

Legend
I have not read the book, nor do I know any of the people in it personally. However I am always hesitant to assume any account is unbiased.

Gary Dave (and the rest of TSR) where people they did good and bad things. they both were needed for us to have this game we are still playing and planning on celebrating the 50th anniversary of soon.

I am going to guess based on your review this book is going to kick up a hornets nest of Gary Vs Dave in the fan base...
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I have not read the book, nor do I know any of the people in it personally. However I am always hesitant to assume any account is unbiased.

Gary Dave (and the rest of TSR) where people they did good and bad things. they both were needed for us to have this game we are still playing and planning on celebrating the 50th anniversary of soon.

I am going to guess based on your review this book is going to kick up a hornets nest of Gary Vs Dave in the fan base...

I think the book is as unbiased as it can be- it lets the evidence speak for itself. I do think that anyone that has either Gary or Dave on a pedestal will be sorely disappointed. They were people, like everyone else. As I wrote above, however, I think that for a lot of people, it's more of an eye-opener w/r/t Dave, only because there's been a lot of people taking Gygax down already.

As I wrote before, though, people are what they are. This is great for the history. In the end, the real legacy of both Dave and Gary isn't the lawsuits, or the petty disputes, it's the amazing game (and all the amazing games) that people are still playing, and that have brought so much joy to so many people.

That's a legacy anyone should be proud of!
 



Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
To be fair, you can choose wich evidence to show, and make your biases evident that way. Not that I think this is the case. I'm really curious to read it myself one day.

Yeah, I thought about adding something on those lines, but chose not to.

To put it in simplified terms-

Let's say that there are 10 pieces of evidence that you know about. 3 "pro," 3 "anti," and 4 "neutral." If you simply cite to the 3 "pro" and ignore the 6 other pieces of evidence, then you're letting the evidence speak, but you're putting your thumb on the scale.

That said, I think Peterson strives to present things fairly and accurately, with as little editorializing as possible. For that reason, I'm guessing that a lot of people will take different things from this- for example, I didn't think it was that damning toward Gygax, because I was already aware of most of the negative stuff. But someone else ...

I think the one thing I hope I made clear in the review is that this is really focused on the business of TSR. Which made it fascinating, because the business decisions really illuminated a lot of the other stuff that was going on, and because I don't think we've had that before. But ... it's very much about the business.

(One of the rewards of reading it if you already know some history is that you see a lot of events referenced that make more sense in context now. Seriously, I could have read another 1000 pages!)
 
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Orius

Hero
This doesn't really sound surprising. From what I've read of matters Dave did very poorly at writing rules. His material generally needed a lot of editing to be useable as they generally tended to be rough notes and such without a lot of polish. There was apparently a good deal of conflict between Dave and Tim Kask stemming from Kask's editing work on the Blackmoor supplement. That's not to throw shade on Dave, but the overall impression is that he was an idea guy but not very good at putting the ideas on paper.

Oh yeah early on, they were publishing a lot of wargaming stuff alongside D&D. D&D was just another product in their catalog. I don't think they were really noticing how big it was getting until some time in 1975 or 1976.

And the impact of the Satanic Panic started in the 1e days. Deities and Demigods was rebranded as Legends and Lore because of it. Gary did not approve of that, he had a rant in Dragon Magazine about caving in to people who weren't even buying the game.
 

Marc_C

Solitary Role Playing
The fact the Dave Arneson needed David Ritchie to type up his notes and detailed the DA Blackmoor series of modules (DA1-4) is very telling.

(Sadly, Ritchie died in 2009, age 58).
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
This doesn't really sound surprising. From what I've read of matters Dave did very poorly at writing rules. His material generally needed a lot of editing to be useable as they generally tended to be rough notes and such without a lot of polish. There was apparently a good deal of conflict between Dave and Tim Kask stemming from Kask's editing work on the Blackmoor supplement. That's not to throw shade on Dave, but the overall impression is that he was an idea guy but not very good at putting the ideas on paper.
I'm finally close to finishing the book and OMG is this an understatement. Dave promised rules and supplements SO many times to SO many publishers in the 70s and 80s, and virtually never came through. He demanded as much independence and creative control as he could possibly get, and then continually failed to actually write up usable material or facilitate other people producing such.

He was making money hand over fist from D&D royalties (albeit at the cost of having to fight the Blumes and Gygax in court repeatedly for what he was owed, though he demanded more), and in a golden position to work full time as a designer while completely supported by those royalties (at least once D&D took off in '79), but he just could not get it together and put books out.
 


Retreater

Legend
After reading this book, my opinion of Arneson has dropped; he comes across as whiny, entitled, and lazy - a complete drain and a liability for TSR. He may be considered one of the original "idea men," but the book makes it clear that if it were not for Gygax, D&D (as Arneson presented it) would've died in the Twin Cities. At the very best, Arneson is a consultant - deserving a mention in the "special thanks" paragraph of D&D history.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
After reading this book, my opinion of Arneson has dropped; he comes across as whiny, entitled, and lazy - a complete drain and a liability for TSR. He may be considered one of the original "idea men," but the book makes it clear that if it were not for Gygax, D&D (as Arneson presented it) would've died in the Twin Cities. At the very best, Arneson is a consultant - deserving a mention in the "special thanks" paragraph of D&D history.
I don't know if I'd go that far, but it's pretty rough reading, though Peterson is lighthanded with his reporting.

I think Snarf was right that Arneson's stock suffers more from the book than Gygax's, just because Gary's already been taken down a few pegs in recent years, and I think Dave's still often regarded as having been cheated out of credit in the past, and his own foibles have seen less daylight.

But yeah, it really looks like Dave had a brilliant idea but virtually no ability to propagate or explain it in writing, and Gary turned it into an actual game and thing that could be shared across the country and the world.

There was still plenty of bad stuff about Gary that I hadn't seen in as much detail too, though. From his terrible ego, prickly pride, and unnecessary feuding with parties like GAMA and Origins, to his hands-off deferral of responsibility as President and CEO for years, wasting money and enabling the Blumes to waste still more. And the group of them repeatedly cheating good employees out of promised stock options while letting folks like Jack Sloan rip off the company to an absurd extent.

While both guys had amazing qualities, for those of us who saw them as idols, they certainly turned out to have feet of clay.
 
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Orius

Hero
My impression is that Gary had a stronger work ethic than Dave. Though one should also take into account that Gary was trying to raise a family and was unemployed and doing odd jobs when he started working with Dave, so he had more reasons to want to produce gaming material.

Gary could be rather combative, proud and quick to anger, and that probably didn't help him when his conflict with the Blumes got worse. He did mellow out later, though some hints of his temper still show in some of his posts here, and possibly other things he said online.

I think the success went to both of their heads though, and they both payed for it. Gary ended up losing control of TSR and Dave isn't as well remembered.
 
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Warpiglet-7

Cry havoc! And let slip the pigs of war!
So I have a full review posted, and after seeing that people are genuinely excited by the book, I thought I'd post a thread for people who have read the book to discuss it!

THIS IS THE SPOILERS THREAD. DO NOT READ THIS THREAD IF YOU HAVEN'T READ THE BOOK!

So, to start the thread off, I thought I'd throw out a few of the general observations I had, and that I've been thinking about, ever since I finished reading the book-

1. I referenced Arneson in the "Stock Down" part of the review. I will elaborate here- I think Arneson has long benefitted from a confluence of factors (and I still think he came up with the core innovations in terms of tabletop roleplaying), but reading this account, in his words, was brutal. Gygax went through his revisionism already, but Arneson flew under the radar.

Reading this, it really hammers home, over and over again, that Arneson couldn't or wouldn't put together rules. Period. That he continually hurt potential business partners by promising things he just wouldn't deliver. And that he made a ton of money off of D&D despite what appears to be ... well, both a minimal contribution in the original rules (as opposed to concept), and an active campaign against D&D for some time.

This doesn't make him a bad person, by the way- just human. As we all are. But I think that the pendulum might have swung too far in that some people began to view Gygax as stealing all of Arneson's idea and just "copyediting them" and then trying to steal all of Arneson's royalties, whereas the book presents a more nuanced picture- it doesn't exonerate Gygax, but it does show that Arneson kept (to use the expression) biting the hand that fed him. He was singularly interested in the credit, but not as interested in the work.

2. People think of TSR as being formed for D&D; it was funny to see how, in the early days, they kept the pipeline going with wargame rules. They genuinely had no idea.

3. We usually think of 2e as the capitulation to the Satanic Panic; but we can see the formation of task groups to "soften" D&D in the early 80s- leading to, inter alia, Legends & Lore.

4. Gygax did an amazing job in the 70s making TSR (and D&D) a success. Really, He might have been kind of a messianic jerk at times, but he worked it. But the accumulation of details about the 80s- all the missed meetings, all the concentration on Hollywood, everything else going on. Not to mention how he would promise things to TSR employees, then disappear when the Blumes hammered them. Also? There was no way he could keep running TSR. None.

5. The Purchasing Department. My ... goodness. If I had to single out one employee that got so screwed (and trust me, there are a lot) ... poor Mike Carr.

6. Seriously, the Blumes. That's all I'll say.


Okay- have at it, with spoilers!
This was enjoyable. I have read one biography of his and some other random bits.

Your summary here just rings true from what I have otherwise read.

What I understood in my reading is that Gygax was the hustle…the entrepreneur. If he hadn’t been it would not have happened when it did.

I don’t think this takes away from what he did either…it’s like someone tells me about a new better engine but does not patent it…doesn’t work the kinks out…doesn’t apply for a parent. Someone else does most of that and you still get rich? I don’t think arneson got robbed.

I will have to read this now! And flaws don’t make me like Gygax less…we’re all just people man.

I guess the thing I want to know more about are the characters and monsters and the lore. The cleric, the spell lists, the monsters—-who really injected the weird parts—-he phylacteries, the lich, the nitty gritty details. That to me is a huge…maybe this will flesh that out more for me?
 

TerraDave

5ever, or until 2024
I have also read it, and liked it. Maybe not quite as surprised as some, both from what I knew, but also because I know people aren't perfect.

But they are still the winners out of all this. They could have each walked away with more money, but as the book implies so many other companies also got started out of that first hobby game wave, and many had a much harder time. Very few had principles that would become as well known as Gygax and Arneson.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
This was enjoyable. I have read one biography of his and some other random bits.

Your summary here just rings true from what I have otherwise read.

What I understood in my reading is that Gygax was the hustle…the entrepreneur. If he hadn’t been it would not have happened when it did.

I don’t think this takes away from what he did either…it’s like someone tells me about a new better engine but does not patent it…doesn’t work the kinks out…doesn’t apply for a parent. Someone else does most of that and you still get rich? I don’t think arneson got robbed.

I will have to read this now! And flaws don’t make me like Gygax less…we’re all just people man.
Yup. I finished it last night, and it's definitely an enjoyable read for anyone who's interested in the history, though in parts you want to shake these guys and say "Stop acting like idiots! You've made fortunes on a genius idea! Being jealous, petty egomaniacs does not become you! Hundreds of people came to work for you and deserved better treatment and leadership!"

Gary definitely worked his ass off publicizing the game and turning it into a success. He still did some amazing stuff despite his incompetence as a CEO of a real company.

I guess the thing I want to know more about are the characters and monsters and the lore. The cleric, the spell lists, the monsters—-who really injected the weird parts—-he phylacteries, the lich, the nitty gritty details. That to me is a huge…maybe this will flesh that out more for me?
Most of that kind of stuff is in Playing at the World. Exhaustively tracking down lots of the original influences in fiction and media, the prior history of wargames and weird hybrid simulation games which involved play similar to role-playing, leading up to the development of Dave Wesely's Braunstein, and from that into Dave Arneson's Blackmoor. I believe some is also in Secrets of Blackmoor, the documentary about Dave's original gaming crew.

Game Wizards is more focused on the business side. Peterson dives into the documentary evidence showing who was working on the game when, including at the beginning, and bits of correspondence between Gygax and Arneson, corporate records and meeting minutes, contracts and audit records, internal newsletters, etc. It doesn't get into stuff like "Who came up with the lich?" More "How did they fund and keep the company alive in those first few years when it easily could have failed entirely?" "How much were they actually selling?" "What deals were they making with distributors and publishers?" "How did they use conventions, and why was there such a bloody rivalry between GenCon and Origins that Gary publicly lied about attendance figures?" "How did the fallout between Dave and Gary occur?" "How long did Dave actually work there and what other stuff was he working on?" "What were the main details of the feud and the lawsuits?" "How did the game and company become a huge success, and how did Gary and the Blumes squander that success and waste so much money that they lost control of the company and repeatedly nearly went bankrupt?"
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Reading this, it really hammers home, over and over again, that Arneson couldn't or wouldn't put together rules. Period. That he continually hurt potential business partners by promising things he just wouldn't deliver. And that he made a ton of money off of D&D despite what appears to be ... well, both a minimal contribution in the original rules (as opposed to concept), and an active campaign against D&D for some time.

Hrm. The question that comes to my mind these days is... was that really willful? We will never know, but the results you describe seem consistent with some things that today are recognized, treatable, and manageable in many cases (like ADHD), but that in the early 1970s would have been seen as a personal character flaw.
 

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