TSR The Dueling Essays of Arneson & Gygax

A recent article and documentary about Dave Arneson's involvement in Dungeons & Dragons shares a different perspective on the game's creation, with a particular emphasis on Rob Kuntz's testimony. Some of it contradicts what Gary Gygax positioned as D&D's origins. Fortunately we can read what both designers thoughts in their very own words -- published in the same book.


Alzrius pointed out that both Arneson and Gygax contributed essays to Lawrence Schick's Heroic Worlds. What's startling is how their essays contradict each other just pages apart.

Heroic Worlds, published in 1991, was an attempt to catalog every tabletop role-playing games publication. It was a massive undertaking that was possible only because of the limited scope of the hobby. Thanks to electronic publishing, the Open Game License, and the Internet, tabletop gaming products have exploded -- DriveThruRPG has over 30,000 products alone -- making it impossible to produce a book of this scope ever again. It also provides a snapshot in time of the thoughts of various game designers, including Steve Jackon, Jennell Jaquays, Tom Moldavy, Sandy Petersen, Ken St. Andre, Michael Stackpole, Greg Stafford, Erick Wujcik and more.

Arneson kicks off the D&D controversy on page 131:
My first set of miniatures rules was for fighting out battles with sailing ships. This led me to meet several people, including Gary Gygax, at an early GenCon. These people later participated in a historical campaign I refereed. When I began refereeing what later became D&D in Minnesota, I mentioned it to them. They were interested, and when some of us went down to visit we all played this strange game...the lads in Lake Geneva got turned on to it. Tactical Studies Rules, a Lake Geneva-based game company, was already publishing historical rules and was willing to do D&D.
Gygax follows up on the origins of D&D in a short one-page essay on the very next page:
In the late 1960s a club called the Lake Geneva Tactical Studies Association met weekly at my home for military/naval miniatures gaming. From this activity sprang Chainmail. The D&D game was drawn from its rules, and that is indisputable. Chainmail was the progenitor of D&D, but the child grew to excel its parent.
This point is disputed by RPG archivist, Paul Stromberg, in the Kotaku article, "Dungeons & Deceptions: The First D&D Players Push Back On The Legend Of Gary Gygax":
“People think that Blackmoor arose from Chainmail, and thus Chainmail gave rise to Dungeons & Dragons. That is not correct,” said Stormberg, the RPG historian. While Chainmail, amongst other things, was an influence on Blackmoor, Arneson’s game was “entirely new,” he said. “It’s a game entirely unlike Chainmail. It’s like saying a Rodin uses red and a Picasso uses red so they’re the same style of painting.”
This perspective is shared by Arneson himself in his first essay:
Contrary to rumor, the players and I were all quite in control of our mental processes when D&D was designed. I also hasten to point out hat the Chainmail connection was the use of the Combat Matrix and nothing more. Find a first-edition Chainmail and compare it to a first-edition Original D&D someday and you will see that for yourself: not a hit point, character class, level, or armor class, much less any role-playing aspects in Chainmail.
Arneson's perspective on the game industry comes through in the other essays scattered throughout the book. Here's his version of how Blackmoor came about:
I originally began with a simple dungeon and expanded it into several dungeons loosely organized as a campaign. The rules were not really an organized set, more notes on what I had earlier. Today people expect a lot more detail, coherency, organization, and story.
Here's Arneson's thoughts on writing a scenario:
When I design a scenario, sometimes the plot or situation will come from books I read, and sometimes it just pops into my head...Changes are made, and then the work is sent off to be butchered--er, ah, edited, I mean...The original Blackmoor supplement included what was the very first published scenario. My intention was that it would serve as a guideline for other GMs to design their own. Instead, it spawn an entire "service" industry. Oh, well...
And finally here's what Arneson thought of the game industry:
My serious advice to the would-be role-playing-game author will sound cruel and heartless, and most will be offended and not listen. To would be game designers I say: seek useful employment in another field...play your own house rules with your friends and associates; it will be less painful and far more fun. (On the other hand, frankly, I wouldn't have listened to an old fogey like me.)
Gygax's thoughts on the subject of D&D are well-known; Arneson's less so, and Heroic Worlds is a trove of his perspective on tabletop gaming and publishing, undoubtedly informed by his legal tussles with TSR. The difference between Arenson and Gygax's approach to gaming is starkly illustrated in their essays. And yet, despite their long and sometimes antagonistic history, Gygax ends his essay on a hopeful note:
Dave Arneson and I have spoken frequently since the time we devised D&D. We don't plan to collaborate on another game, but just maybe one day he'll decide to combine talents again.
Did Gygax mean "we'll" instead of "he'll"? Gygax ends the essay with our only answer: Who knows?
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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

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Mind Mage
But what's the source for saying there were game transcripts and/or that they were in the hands of Arneson's lawyers at some point? Is there a record of them being presented? Did the lawyers mention having them? Or is this one of those "somebody who knows somebody who saw them told me about it" things?
There are people who have these transcripts. Also the manuscripts of game designs that Arneson wrote.


There are people who have these transcripts. Also the manuscripts of game designs that Arneson wrote.
Currently? Now? I understand that there might be legal issues involved with making them public, but has someone actually come out and said "I have the documents," or are they just rumored to exist?


I think this thread is done. I've come to peace with never getting my question answered; I'm not losing sleep over it. And I think we've reached the point where people will do things they might regret if it continues.

Sometimes, you gotta let the gnome paladins just charge into the Abyss naked, no matter how many times you try to tell them to put armor on first


The EN World kitten
So if anyone is curious, this is what happened in the lawsuit.

Arneson v. Gygax et al. was filed in state court in Minnesota on February 12, 1979, and removed to federal court a month later on the basis of diversity of citizenship (that's a fancy term for the Plaintiff and Defendant live in different states). The Defendants were Gygax (of course) and TSR.


An interesting question came up with the publication of the MM2 in 1985 (is it core, or a new book) which resulted in another suit, btw.

What's interesting to consider is that, unbeknownst to most people, Dave Arneson apparently filed suit against TSR on two subsequent occasions, once in 1992 (for breach of contract) and again in 1993 (for "constitutionality of state statute(s)"). You can see the dockets for these here:


  • Arneson v. TSR, Inc. 4-92cv383 docket.pdf
    65.1 KB · Views: 141
  • Arneson v. TSR, Inc. 4-93cv426 docket.pdf
    91.1 KB · Views: 147


Mind Mage
And do you have any actual proof.
Hearsay, but yeah. I spoke briefly with someone who spoke with two of Arneson’s lawyers.

At least, I personally am satisfied that the event as I describe them in the post above is moreorless what happened, with the judge requesting to look at the documents and then recommending the case be settled out of court between themselves with their lawyers.

At the same time, I want verification of the event as described. I dont blame anyone who wants to avoid hearsay. Just because I feel I have enough authentic information to assess the situation, doesnt mean that others will. Verification would be nice for everyone.


That's a no then.

Here's the thing though. At least in my opinion. Often, when someone says, "I spoke to direct parties", I tend to give some extra credibility to them. Largely because it's more than I have.


When the same person resorts to ad hominem attacks, making comments that anyone who disagrees is blinded by their diefication of Gygax without any sort of evidence, calls Gary a liar who refused to give credit not only when there was no evidence, but the evidence showed otherwise, then that person loses that benefit of the doubt and credibility. In my eyes anyway. It also just doesn't pass the basic logic test (back to my original question that was never answered)

So if there's a lesson learned here Yaarel, if you want people to give credibility to your anecdotal evidence, you might want to avoid character assassination of the subject, ad hominems, and baseless accusations. And answer questions presented to you to clarify what appear to be contradictory positions you're holding.

Maybe it's just me though.

Here's the thing though. At least in my opinion. Often, when someone says, "I spoke to direct parties", I tend to give some extra credibility to them. Largely because it's more than I have.
They did not do that though. Yaarel said they spoke to someone who said they spoke to direct parties.

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