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?
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad

Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

log in or register to remove this ad


Also, since we beat that other thing to death, why the heck aren't these public records freely available? Pacer remains, to this day, a scam.

At the very least, they should release them without charge after a period of time. I can understand the issues with going back and digitizing older court documents (although there are those ahem Google who would do so) but there is no good reason that they keep all of that behind a difficult-to-use interface that charges per page! Most STATE court systems are more friendly, today, than our federal system.


We switched over (mostly) to Courtlink (by Lexis). It's got it's own issues, but you pay by per user per month and it's a lot less than we were paying pacer per page.


Mind Mage
They did not do that though. Yaarel said they spoke to someone who said they spoke to direct parties.

For clarification, I spoke to someone who spoke to the direct parties.

For me, it is only one person removed.

For those reading this, it is two persons removed (including me).


Mind Mage
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.

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.

Fair enough. Heh, I did accuse you deifying Gygax. I will apologize and retract that accusation. I can see, that bothered you, and you probably are more rational regarding Gygax.

The ‘primacy of Gygax’ is a thing, and I am sorry I included you in that group.

At the same time, I myself have endured occasionally vicious character assassination here in this thread.

If there is a specific question that you asked me, that I didnt answer. Remind me, and I will answer as honestly as possible.


Mind Mage
Cool. New information.

The discovery phase of the court case did happen. This is when the judge looked the evidentiary documents and recommended that Arneson and Gygax settle out of court.

Arneson’s claim on D&D 1e (as well as D&D 0e) is strong.

The out of court settlement in favor of Arneson appears to be in the order of 3 million dollars.

I am posting this information, not to ‘prove’ anything, but I care about accurate history. For those who care about accurate history, consider these ‘leads’ to follow up on.


Kobold Enthusiast
At the very least, they should release them without charge after a period of time. I can understand the issues with going back and digitizing older court documents (although there are those ahem Google who would do so) but there is no good reason that they keep all of that behind a difficult-to-use interface that charges per page! Most STATE court systems are more friendly, today, than our federal system.

If you think public facing systems are bad, try working with internal ones. Let's not forget invitations to visit "our public reading room [locating in DC, maybe, if they still have it]."


Mod Squad
Staff member

Okay... that's enough. I think you've laid out the the facts and logic as currently known. Folks should not attack the person of the poster over it, please and thanks.


Arnesons group invented D&D.

The wife of one of the players of Arnesons game typed out the transcripts of the sessions of this game.

They mailed these transcripts to Gygax.

Gygax struggled to figure out the rules of the game that are implied in these transcripts.

TSR published this codification of Arnesons game as ‘Dungeons & Dragons’.

Arneson − along with his players − invented it.

No they didn't. Arnesons group originated fantasy role play gaming in the United States. True.

Mrs. Gaylord did type manuscripts of some of their various games, including retyping a draft of D&D by Gygax which incorporated some of their notes.

It would be accurate to say "they invented the core concepts of D&D", that;s true.

But those core concepts have been used in many games that aren't "D&D", for example, RoleMaster, Warhammer, Pendragon - you name it. Obviously, Dave Arneson didn't invent Warhammer.

So to say they, by themselves "invented D&D" is simply inaccurate, because D&D is a specific product for which Gygax was the rules editor, primary writer, and publisher.


It is an academic error to ignore the Arneson transcripts.

Gygax is reading these transcripts with great attention.

Gygax himself knows Megarry invented the Thief character.

Whether TSR publishes rules for Thief early or late is irrelevant.

David Megarry does not claim to have invented the thief character class. He says he played the first thief character.

You are conflating two different things and it is going to simply confuse any uniformed readers. In the Blackmoor campaign, the players took on roles. They could be a wizard, and there were rules for how wizards advance in various levels - up to twelve that we know of. Or they could be a non-wizard - basically a fighter who could go from Flunky to Hero to Superhero to Lord.

These non-wizards could play any type of profession they liked - what in todays 5e world would be called a character Background. So, there was an inspector general (John Snider), a Dwarf (Ross Maker), a Merchant (Dan Nicholson) and yes a thief to thwart the merchant played by Megarry.

These "backgrounds" eventually became codified as classes in D&D, but in Blackmoor they were mechanically all the same. The thief class as an actually class with its own rules was invented by Daniel Wagoner in Aero hobbies as has been pointed out already.

Oh, one other thing, "Arneson transcripts" is simply confusing. There are a lot of various materials, like the Corner of the Table fanzine, letters, or the character sheets I've shown on my blog, which is I guess what you mean, but there is no unified body of transcripts per se.
Last edited:


I'll also posit this: no one invented the concept of the thief class. Every player who played their PC to be sneaky and steal stuff was a thief. The thief concept has been established since the beginning of time, all throughout literary history. It's probably the second most common archetype right after the warrior. Whoever created the class as a standalone class with unique skills and/or attributes gets credit. And that seems to be Gary Switzer. Notes saying "so and so played their character really sneaky like a thief" doesn't cut it because that concept has been around for ages.

Daniel Wagoner, actually. Switzer as the one who made the phone call. You can read about it Here on ODD74


I don't know what Yaarel is smoking, but at a later date Arneson claimed that he sent more notes to Gygax than the fabled "16 pages" that everyone talks about.

He Did. Dave Arneson told me directly that he had done so, He sent his additional design notes for D&D that were not included in the first printing before the publication of D&D, and that Gary moved up the publication of 0D&D and did not inform Dave in a timely manner. Dave told me that, looking back, he thinks that was the first omen or sign of things to come in what their long term relationship and business arrangement would become, and that he should have paid more attention to that.

Various accounts (IIRC, I'm winging this from pure memory because I've already spent way too much time on this stupidity) are that Arneson was unhappy because he felt that Gygax rushed OD&D to publication without telling him (that's why the additional notes aren't used) in order to freeze him out. Or because he was a slow typist. I don't know.

Anyway, there is no evidence of these additional notes; various accounts (again IIRC) are that they were in a safe at TSR, but Arneson (again, maybe?) claimed that they might have been destroyed by Gygax during litigation, or perhaps by TSR after ousting Gygax. Who knows. I don't.

(If someone has additional information on this aspect, I wouldn't mind being corrected, because I'm going off dim recollections because I don't feel like looking it up ... I could be mistaken)

Okay I will provide some additional insight for you, but only because Dave asked me to tell everyone, including you, because he knew you would ask. He knew this back in 2004, when I sat down with him, and we talked about the original publication of D&D for awhile. When he recounted his experience with me; He saw the first printing of D&D only after TSR mailed him his designer comped boxed set, and was upset that none of these additional notes you speak of were included. He immediately called Gary via telephone to find out why Gary had not included his additional notes. As it turned out Gary had sent what they already had layed out to the printers, and Dave's notes arrived eighteen days after Original D&D went to the printers. By that time the printers had already photographed all the page layouts and created the metal printing plates for the first print run using the common and very expensive photo-chemical engraving process that offset printers used at that time. In short, Gary could have recalled the first set of printing plates and had a new set created after updating the layouts but chose not to do so, according to Dave, for two reasons;

1) TSR was very concerned someone else would publish a Fantasy RPG and bring it to market first, and...

2) The cost to have another set of printing plates manufactured by the printer was prohibitively high
and it probably would have rendered the first print run much less profitable.

I was floored when Dave told me this and asked him "You mean there is another significantly different version of OD&D that I have never seen before?"

...and he was like "Yes."

So I asked him what happened to his notes, they included additional rules, charts, and tables with some emphasis on using percentile dice as well as the other polyhedrals instead of d6's to work out random game events, and results. and he said;

"Some of the new rules, of course were published later in the Blackmoor supplement under an agreement we came to shortly after the publication of D&D, but only after the Greyhawk supplement was published, and the remainder of what I contributed ended up in Gary's game design file cabinet, which was a locking cabinet that he kept in his offices at TSR."

I was like, "Do you know what happened to your original notes, though, because I sure would like to see them?!"

He said. "Well, my guess is, after I sued TSR, they tossed them, because it would not do, if during trial discovery, it came out that I had made signifcant contributions to D&D and TSR actually had original dated documents in its possession confirming that. It was put into file 13. It is what I would do if I were them."

I was incredulous. "You mean they ( They being Gary @ TSR at the recommendation of his legal counsel) threw them away?"

He was sad, and said, "Yep, The first place I would look for them, if they still even existed, would be the Lake Geneva landfill, and if not there, If he kept anything then Gary kept them locked up in his file cabinet."

"I'm like, okay, so what happened to that, then... All of Garys' design notes? The ones that were locked in his file cabinet?"

He told me back then, long before I ever heard from Jon Peterson, that Gary was thrown out of TSR in 1985, and that some of the other TSR employees who were in Lake Geneva at the time, said that the other TSR executives there had went through that cabinet and removed anything that Gary could use to make a claim against TSR, that would be admissible in court.

So I'm like "File 13?" and Dave laughed sadly then and said "Yep, File 13."

That was the end of our discussion concerning that.
Last edited:


Also, since we beat that other thing to death, why the heck aren't these public records freely available? Pacer remains, to this day, a scam.

At the very least, they should release them without charge after a period of time. I can understand the issues with going back and digitizing older court documents (although there are those ahem Google who would do so) but there is no good reason that they keep all of that behind a difficult-to-use interface that charges per page! Most STATE court systems are more friendly, today, than our federal system.

Because part of the original settlement agreement included a nondisclosure agreement where both parties were prohibited from discussing details of the trial and the final settlement agreement. That gag order was put into the original settlement by, you guessed it. TSR. Dave told me though anyway because he wanted everyone to know what really happened. While he was alive, out of courtesy to him, and to avoid any undue legal complications for him, I remained silent on this subject. He is dead now, and I'm not a party to any of their agreements. The court record details were sealed as part of the settlement.

Dave did very well financially speaking from the first trial settlement. I asked him why he sued them repeatedly, and he told me "Because they did not keep to their original agreement. That's one of the reasons why Gary came out with AD&D. TSR refused to pay me royalties from anything from AD&D until after I sued them again. etc. et. al."
Last edited:

Visit Our Sponsor

Latest threads

An Advertisement