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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...

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.

heroicworlds.jpg

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

Arnwolf666

Adventurer
I don't know that it's stripping him of his legacy, but it is a bit like Lennon/McCartney. Gygax was important and even responsible for D&D as we have it today, but Arneson was the original creator of "roleplaying" as we know it.
Boy do I disagree. I thing Gygax was equally creative in forming the game if not more so. But I see Gary as the personification that arnedon was not capable of doing. And very few people can do that kind of perspiration. I know I couldn’t even if I had a few good ideas.
 

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Kind of a Jobs/Woz sort of thing. IMO.

I was just thinking about how so many creative endeavors start with a pair of equals, but often the more charismatic and/or business minded one winds up being remembered as the central creator.

Gygax & Arneson, Jobs & Woz, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, Bill Gates & Paul Allen, etc. (and I'm sure many more I can't think of at the moment)

Just seems like an interesting pattern that crops up a lot with this small endeavors that become so successful they impact the culture.
 


Prakriti

Hi, I'm a Mindflayer, but don't let that worry you
I am curious what is driving the current trend to attempt to strip Gygax of his legacy. It seems mean spirited at best, and outright vindictive at worst. As far as I know, no one has ever suggested Arneson was not half of the team that ultimately developed the earliest version of D&D, but it seems like people want to elevate Arneson at the expense of Gygax.
It's just a sad element of human nature. People get a kick out of diminishing others and their great accomplishments. And iconoclasm is all the rage right now, so anything challenging accepted norms gets automatic attention and approval. We've seen it all before:

Shakespeare didn't write his own plays.
Thomas Edison stole his ideas from Nikola Tesla.
Harper Lee couldn't write To Kill a Mockingbird without Truman Capote's help.

And on and on. Now it's Gygax's turn, I guess.
 

Celebrim

Legend
While I agree with Arneson that based on the evidence, the game being played at his table was only partially inspired by Chainmail and had largely departed from the Chainmail rules, the truth is that that game that he was playing was, while it was recognizable as an RPG, was probably not D&D either. Indeed, attempts to reconstruct exactly what was being played and what it's rules actually were have been extremely difficult, and it seems likely that the rules were very fluid and quite possibly based partially on Strategos N. Regardless, Arneson never published the not-D&D game that was being played before D&D existed, and we only have weird references to it in some of the language that Arneson uses to describe the rules that suggest he's thinking about them in ways that have nothing to do with D&D or Chainmail.

Why does Gygax think that Chainmail was central to the creation of D&D? Well, aside from the self-serving reason, I suspect that the Blackmoor game was demo'd to him using Chainmail based rules, so naturally he will think that this is largely an extension of Chainmail. It's unclear if Gygax ever really saw the Strategos N based game that Arneson thought of as the Blackmoor game, and as no one was able to understand Arneson's notes on that game, I don't really know how many people have ever played it.

Personally, I don't think that you can ever disentangle this. They are both critical to the development of RPGs and I don't see how you can say one or the other created the RPG. Arneson clearly played the first one that was ever played, but to this day we know almost nothing about that table, and my perception of it is that Arneson primarily wanted to run a fantasy domain management game, partially using Strategos N, wildly at variance with the experience of what we think of as an RPG and more in common perhaps with those play by mail wargames whose scale was overly ambitious for anything prior to the development of home computing.

The only way I would see Gygax as unfairly receiving joint credit is that Arneson had been able at some point been able to independently bring the larger community the Blackmoor game that owed almost nothing to Gary's Greyhawk game that became the basis for D&D. But since he was not able to do that, and as far as I know never tried to do that ever after leaving TSR, I think that they both have to share equal credit, and if Gygax is the more famous of the two, then it shouldn't be surprising given how much more stuff his name was on compared to his less prolific partner and frenemy(?).
 

Boy do I disagree. I thing Gygax was equally creative in forming the game if not more so. But I see Gary as the personification that arnedon was not capable of doing. And very few people can do that kind of perspiration. I know I couldn’t even if I had a few good ideas.

Sure, though I think the narrative has been, for a long time, that Gary "did it all." I agree 100% he really did the hard work of codifiying the rules, bringing forward the gameplay, and marketing the game. I think what this is all about, is the pre-Gary creativity that often gets left out. Arneson saw the connection to playing out a role with an individual character and played this in a free-wheeling manner long before Gygax got involved. Gary married the wargaming rules (Chainmail) with the individual play once he saw what Arneson was doing. That Arneson didn't gamify and market his idea might have been more his personality than anything, but he did have the original idea. I think the Woz/Jobs comparison is apt.
 


Alzrius

The EN World kitten

I purchased the first two dozen issues or so of A&E a little while back, and it might just be me but I found them very hard to read. It wasn't an issue of anyone's writing, but rather the format of the PDFs. The old scans of low-quality typeface, no real table of contents or index, and issues that ran for substantial numbers of pages meant that you really had to dig through them in order to absorb what was there.
 
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Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
I purchased the first two dozen issues or so of A&E a little while back, and it might just be me but I found them very hard to read. It wasn't an issue of anyone's writing, but rather the format of the PDFs. The old scans of low-quality typeface, no real table of contents or index, and issues that ran for substantial numbers of pages meant that it you really had to dig through them in order to absorb what was there.
I haven't seen the pdfs just the originals (some of the writing wast necessarily pretty then either) ... I do not remember exactly when I subscribed but in the early hundreds I contributed a cover shot with a Dragon in a Nuclear mushroom cloud. I think it gives some very interesting gist about what was happening in rpg design at the time.
 


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