• Resources are back! Use the menu in the main navbar. If you own a resource, please check it for formatting, icons, etc.

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.

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?
 
Last edited:
Michael Tresca

Comments

Panda-s1

Explorer
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.
I mean there's the general need to give credit where credit is due, and Arneson has a lot of unpaid credit. I remember the day it was announced he passed away. I was working at a game store at the time, and a year earlier Gygax died and everyone was at least a little sad. When I told my coworker about Arneson passing away he just looked at me and said "Who's that?"

There's also the resurgence of D&D in the past 5 years, and that means Gygax's name has been coming up again, even with WotC barely mentioning his name in 5e material. This in turn means he's getting a lot of praise again and the people who know about Arneson's involvement in the creation of D&D are getting upset. IIRC there was that graphic novel from a year or two ago about Gary creating D&D that basically made him out to be this genius and counter backlash against the book's critics was definitely something.

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:
OR MAYBE, just maybe people know that Arneson deserves at least as much praise as Gygax for the creation of D&D. Alternatively, maybe Gygax shouldn't be deified the way he is for creating the roleplaying game genre when he had a ton of help and didn't even come up with idea in the first place.
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.
These aren't even comparable scenarios. Between Gygax and Arneson there's a long, well documented history of disagreements and court battles. This isn't people looking at Shakespeare's writing and comparing it to others' hundreds of years after the fact, this is people looking at solid written evidence and the testimonies of living people. I've known about Dave Arneson and what he did for over a decade now, and it's sad to see newer players not even know he has credit for creating Dungeons & Dragons.
 

jayoungr

Explorer
Sure, though I think the narrative has been, for a long time, that Gary "did it all."
I dunno about that. It's true that Gygax was the name I heard casually before I got into gaming, but once I actually did any rudimentary reading about the game, Dave Arneson's name always featured prominently.
 

lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
These aren't even comparable scenarios. Between Gygax and Arneson there's a long, well documented history of disagreements and court battles. This isn't people looking at Shakespeare's writing and comparing it to others' hundreds of years after the fact, this is people looking at solid written evidence and the testimonies of living people. I've known about Dave Arneson and what he did for over a decade now, and it's sad to see newer players not even know he has credit for creating Dungeons & Dragons.
FYI, here's the court battle. Arneson v. Gygax et al., 473 F. Supp. 759 (D. Minn. 1979).


It's a bog-standard motion to dismiss (personal jurisdiction). That said, it identifies correctly the salient facts that would later be relevant (although you can accept this with a grain of salt, if you want, given the procedural posture of the action):

1. Gygax and Arneson collaborated on the authorship. Id. at 761.
2. Gygax and Arneson agreed on a contract for royalties with TSR. Id.
3. Arneson was paid his royalties until "mid-1977." Id.
4. Arneson received decreasing royalties after mid-1977. Id.
5. The decrease in royalties coincides with AD&D. Id.
6. Gygax claimed that AD&D is an "independent creation{} developed and produced by expenditure of literally thousands of hours of his time and the time of the TSR ... staff." Id.

Of course, this was just about personal jurisdiction; the parties later settled the issue (leading to the AD&D / BECMI split) and providing Arneson with significant, six-figure, royalties each year during the 80s, in addition to whatever amount was decided upon for settlement.

This is completely standard; two people work on something, one person feels that they are working a lot more on it (or taking it more seriously) and therefore "deserve" more. Business, family law ... you name it. Doesn't make it right, but does it make it common.
 

unknowable

Explorer
Inventing the concept of roleplaying is a bit of a stretch... We had boxed and sold murder mystery roleplay games since the 30s.

There is credit to give, but less (imo) than an equal split.
 

Panda-s1

Explorer
I dunno about that. It's true that Gygax was the name I heard casually before I got into gaming, but once I actually did any rudimentary reading about the game, Dave Arneson's name always featured prominently.
I think that's part of the problem here, like Gygax is so synonymous with D&D that even those who haven't touched tabletop games have heard of him. I first learned about Gary Gygax from his guest appearance on Futurama way back in 2000. That was well before I really understood what tabletop RPGs were and years before I would even get to play in a campaign. Meanwhile, even with clear prominent credit for the creation of D&D at this point in history there are a lot of gamers who don't even know about Dave Arneson.

Now granted, it's also a case of personality; Gygax loved to flaunt what fame he had, while I'm sure even if Arneson had that level of reverence in the late 90's he'd probably turn down that guest spot alongside Gygax. I'm sure if Arneson wanted the spotlight he wouldn't be this obscure, but that doesn't excuse the lack of credit he gets.
Of course, this was just about personal jurisdiction; the parties later settled the issue (leading to the AD&D / BECMI split) and providing Arneson with significant, six-figure, royalties each year during the 80s, in addition to whatever amount was decided upon for settlement.

This is completely standard; two people work on something, one person feels that they are working a lot more on it (or taking it more seriously) and therefore "deserve" more. Business, family law ... you name it. Doesn't make it right, but does it make it common.
Man, I dunno if it's easy to dismiss as one "deserving" more credit than the other when Arneson was set to receive no credit at all. Like good for him for getting significant royalties for a decade, he probably actually deserves it? Not to mention I'm sure Gygax was poised to make way more by trying to sell the D&D IP to Hollywood and the like, even if it didn't work out in his favor.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Inventing the concept of roleplaying is a bit of a stretch... We had boxed and sold murder mystery roleplay games since the 30s.
And games driven by dice checks in ancient Rome (possibly even war games) so I am with you on this one. So are the courts every time someone has tried to claim patents and the like.
 

jayoungr

Explorer
I think that's part of the problem here, like Gygax is so synonymous with D&D that even those who haven't touched tabletop games have heard of him.
Okay, but people outside of any field (not just gaming) are lucky if they know one name attached to the thing they're not interested in. If the goal here is to make it so that people who don't game and don't care about D&D give credit to Dave Arneson ... I'm sorry, but I think that's not only a losing battle but one that's not really worth fighting.

And our experience clearly differs on how obscure Dave Arneson is to people who do game and who put even a modicum of effort into finding out about the history of D&D.
 

lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
Man, I dunno if it's easy to dismiss as one "deserving" more credit than the other when Arneson was set to receive no credit at all. Like good for him for getting significant royalties for a decade, he probably actually deserves it? Not to mention I'm sure Gygax was poised to make way more by trying to sell the D&D IP to Hollywood and the like, even if it didn't work out in his favor.
I don't think you understood what I wrote? Perhaps you skipped over the part where I said, "Doesn't make it right, but does it make it common."

So, yeah. Whatever.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
It's a great book. Lots of great essays plus wonderful snippets on early RPG products.

As far as Arneson/Gygax, I think Arneson must be given credit for creating the idea of roleplaying,
Arneson, or Wesely?

From what I can tell, Wesely created or very much refined the idea of quasi-fantasy roleplaying (as we know it) via Braunstein - though Braunstein is more than halfway to in fact being a LARP.

What Arneson did - and it's an undeniably huge step for which he deserves more credit than he generally gets - is take live-action out of it and replace it with purely imaginary characters whose actions can (sometimes!) be represented numerically by dice or charts and spatially on a tabletop via use of tokens or minis.
 

AriochQ

Explorer
Gygax had to be sued by Arneson to receive any credit. I don't care if Gygax's name loses some of its prestige; he deserves to lose prestige for trying to write Arneson out of history.
The lawsuit was about money, not credit.

Honestly, I can understand (but not necessarily agree with) Gygax not putting Arneson's name on AD&D. If you compare AD&D to ODD, there is a ton of difference in the amount of content and substantial changes to the ruleset.
 

Panda-s1

Explorer
Okay, but people outside of any field (not just gaming) are lucky if they know one name attached to the thing they're not interested in. If the goal here is to make it so that people who don't game and don't care about D&D give credit to Dave Arneson ... I'm sorry, but I think that's not only a losing battle but one that's not really worth fighting.

And our experience clearly differs on how obscure Dave Arneson is to people who do game and who put even a modicum of effort into finding out about the history of D&D.
I think you severely underestimate how much people look into the history of things they enjoy. The bigger point is up until recently you had to dig around a little bit to figure out who Dave Arneson even is, and at that your average gamer isn't even entirely sure what role he played in making D&D.

On the other hand learning that Gary Gygax invented D&D requires you to watch a goddamn cartoon.
That's ... not what happened.
Except it literally was? He got no credit for AD&D even though it was entirely based on a thing he helped create? I feel like he wouldn't have gotten credit in BECMI if he didn't bring a lawsuit to TSR.
The lawsuit was about money, not credit.

Honestly, I can understand (but not necessarily agree with) Gygax not putting Arneson's name on AD&D. If you compare AD&D to ODD, there is a ton of difference in the amount of content and substantial changes to the ruleset.
And yet, somehow, Gary's still getting credit in 5e for creating D&D. As does Arneson, but again if he didn't pursue legal action he probably wouldn't have that credit today.
 

jayoungr

Explorer
I think you severely underestimate how much people look into the history of things they enjoy.
Now I'm confused, because I thought I was the one saying that people who are into D&D do tend to look into its history. But people who aren't into it probably won't.

The bigger point is up until recently you had to dig around a little bit to figure out who Dave Arneson even is,
This is where my experience doesn't chime with your perception of things. I got into gaming as a serious pastime about 12-15 years ago, and I don't recall having to dig for Dave Arneson's name at all. He was mentioned even in the most basic overviews of the game's development.

and at that your average gamer isn't even entirely sure what role he played in making D&D.
Is this an "average gamer" who does or doesn't look into the history of the things he/she enjoys?
 
Last edited:

lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
Except it literally was? He got no credit for AD&D even though it was entirely based on a thing he helped create? I feel like he wouldn't have gotten credit in BECMI if he didn't bring a lawsuit to TSR.
Nope. I just explained this. Here, this is what I responded to:
"Gygax had to be sued by Arneson to receive any credit. I don't care if Gygax's name loses some of its prestige; he deserves to lose prestige for trying to write Arneson out of history. "

Let's examine, in excruciating detail, why it's wrong.

1. Gygax had to be sued by Arneson to receive any credit.

No. The issue of Gygax being sued (which was for various tort claims in an individual capacity) was really about leverage; Gygax did not, in fact have to be sued. TSR had to be sued.

Second no. This wasn't about "credit," this was about royalties. Specifically, construing the original agreement that was entered into between Gygax and Arneson and was an obligation of TSR.

2. I don't care if Gygax's name loses some of its prestige.

No. See the following statement.


3. {Gygax} deserves to lose prestige for trying to write Arneson out of history.

Apparently, this person does care and does want Gygax to "lose prestige{.}" Unfortunately for this individual, Gygax did not try to write Arneson out of history, but did try to increase the amount of money going to TSR (and to himself) through the application of the royalty agreement, to which there was a colorable argument; given the eventual settlement on terms that were less favorable than the original royalty agreement, it would seem everyone agreed to compromise.

Better?
 

Arnwolf666

Explorer
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.
I am in no way saying that Dave Arneson did not contribute immensely to the game. I think both were very much creative innovators. Not just one or the other.
 

Panda-s1

Explorer
Now I'm confused, because I thought I was the one saying that people who are into D&D do tend to look into its history. But people who aren't into it probably won't.


This is where my experience doesn't chime with your perception of things. I got into gaming as a serious pastime about 12-15 years ago, and I don't recall having to dig for Dave Arneson's name at all. He was mentioned even in the most basic overviews of the game's development.


Is this an "average gamer" who does or doesn't look into the history of the things he/she enjoys?
I'm saying you're overestimating how much people who play D&D will look into its history. The people who do look into the history of D&D almost always themselves play D&D, but not everyone who plays D&D looks into its history. I don't understand how this is confusing.

Also, just because Arneson's name comes up in the history of D&D doesn't mean people understand what he did. Again you only need to pay attention to pop culture to be told that Gary Gygax invented D&D.

Nope. I just explained this. Here, this is what I responded to:
"Gygax had to be sued by Arneson to receive any credit. I don't care if Gygax's name loses some of its prestige; he deserves to lose prestige for trying to write Arneson out of history. "

Let's examine, in excruciating detail, why it's wrong.

1. Gygax had to be sued by Arneson to receive any credit.

No. The issue of Gygax being sued (which was for various tort claims in an individual capacity) was really about leverage; Gygax did not, in fact have to be sued. TSR had to be sued.

Second no. This wasn't about "credit," this was about royalties. Specifically, construing the original agreement that was entered into between Gygax and Arneson and was an obligation of TSR.

2. I don't care if Gygax's name loses some of its prestige.

No. See the following statement.


3. {Gygax} deserves to lose prestige for trying to write Arneson out of history.

Apparently, this person does care and does want Gygax to "lose prestige{.}" Unfortunately for this individual, Gygax did not try to write Arneson out of history, but did try to increase the amount of money going to TSR (and to himself) through the application of the royalty agreement, to which there was a colorable argument; given the eventual settlement on terms that were less favorable than the original royalty agreement, it would seem everyone agreed to compromise.

Better?
Not really, I mean you're basically saying the only reason Gygax didn't credit Arneson was to get more money, which to be fair is consistent with his business model, but also belies his history of not giving credit to the people whose ideas he used in D&D. This happens a lot, but the fact he made an entirely new version of D&D that was "so different" that he didn't feel the need to credit its one other sole creator but still call it Dungeons & Dragons is still pretty bad.
 

lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
Not really, I mean you're basically saying the only reason Gygax didn't credit Arneson was to get more money, which to be fair is consistent with his business model, but also belies his history of not giving credit to the people whose ideas he used in D&D. This happens a lot, but the fact he made an entirely new version of D&D that was "so different" that he didn't feel the need to credit its one other sole creator but still call it Dungeons & Dragons is still pretty bad.
No, that's not "pretty bad."

Imagine you have a royalty agreement. It can be well-written, or poorly written, with someone. Imagine further that the agreement specifies:
"...a royalty of 10% of the cover price of the game rules or game on each and every copy sold..."

Wait, that IS the agreement. Now, you have given full "credit" (that is to say the "name" or whatever) as required. But now you have to look at two separate issues:

1. First, the issue or what "game rules or game" means. What about ... dice sold separately? What about Metamorphosis Alpha? What about modules? This was an issue! Arneson wanted royalties on, inter alia, dungeon geomorphs, dice, everything. 5% (his equal share of the 10%) adds up pretty quickly.

2. Then, what happens if you release a new version? How new? As it turned out, the answer (after negotiation) is 2.5%. Split the baby, everyone is a little unhappy.


You're acting like it's some nefarious evildoing, as opposed to normal business. Now, I would say that in an ideal world, this would have been discussed between friends as opposed to litigating. But this isn't either evil or some sort of "denying credit."
 
Last edited:

Advertisement

Advertisement

Top