• 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

Count_Zero

Explorer
The thing is about Gygax and Arneson, going from Playing At The World, is that Arneson, from the sounds of things, really didn't have reproducible, standard rules. He had a whole bunch of notes that he could make heads or tails of, and which Gygax was able to organize, edit, and polish while writing D&D.

However, if D&D didn't exist, and we were solely relying on Arneson - fantasy roleplaying probably wouldn't exist now. You wanted to learn how to roleplay, you'd have to know someone in Arneson's group, or someone who knew someone in Arneson's group, in order to basically be inducted into the mysteries of Roleplaying. And if for some reason you didn't get along with that person, then you're out of luck. Similarly, under this scenario, if the members of Arneson's groups (or the members of their groups) didn't teach or share the rules - or Arneson didn't decide to induct them in the first place, then the knowledge would be lost.

Gygax compiling, editing, and putting his own spin on Arneson's work with D&D allowed fantasy roleplaying to exist in a form outside of the Great Lakes area. As someone who backed the Secrets of Blackmoor documentary, I'm glad to hear more about Arneson's game. However, going by what I know at the present, before the documentary has come out, Dave Arneson is a person who, if Gary had not presented the idea to him, had no intention of editing his rules into a form fit for publication, never mind sharing them outside his circle of friends. Even Braunstein was a relatively local thing, and probably wouldn't have caught on to the same extent.

We would not be having this conversation because this forum wouldn't exist, or if it did, we'd be talking about miniatures wargaming. Gary Gygax deserves all the credit he has received, and I'm frankly very annoyed with Kotaku's article on the topic.
 

dagger

Explorer
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 there 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."
Thank you for using logic. Most people don’t understand how business, litigation, accounting, taxes and a whole host of things actually are in the real world.
 

JohnLynch

Explorer
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.
Another way to look at it is that Gary Gygax tried to pull a Bob Kane. Even going so far as to rebrand D&D as AD&D to remove all credit (and stop all contractually required payments) from Dave Arneson. After all, Dave Arneson has never had an appearance on Futurama. Just like most people dont know who Bill Finger is.

When two people are involved in the birth of something, and one of those people tries to erase the other one from history, it's easy for that person to be vilified sooner or later.

Now to Gary's credit he didnt go QUITE as far as Bob Kane. How much he fell short though is up to historians to determine. I expect someone's perspective on how far he went will certainly colour their perspective of the man though.
 

jayoungr

Explorer
I'm saying you're overestimating how much people who play D&D will look into its history... I don't understand how this is confusing.
Mainly the part where you wrote "underestimating" instead of "overestimating."

Again you only need to pay attention to pop culture to be told that Gary Gygax invented D&D.
(Shrug) I still think setting out to change pop culture is going to be a losing battle and probably not going to yield enough result to be worth the hassle. But if you feel that it's important, by all means, go for it.
 

teitan

Explorer
Here is how I look at it, without Gygax we honestly wouldn't have D&D. Gary created D&D, Arneson created role playing with his Blackmoor game. He contributed to D&D for a short period of time in the early days but D&D would NOT be what it is today without Gary.

Gary created a lot of the lore of D&D and moreso than the rules the lore is what defines Dungeons & Dragons. As much as we love those early games it was the discovery of a new world, our first encounter with a Drow, the moat house, the Keep on the Borderlands, the world of Greyhawk. These are the things that defined what would become a phenomenon in the 80s, that and the Satanic Panic.

The rules? Dude they are wonky as hell! I still scratch my head trying to figure out what's being said. The rules we argue about incessantly, obsessively. So much so that most pre-3e games are heavily house ruled to simplify playing and reduce arguments! God bless Dave "Zeb" Cook for simplifying initiative.

No it was Gygax's imagination that provided the foundation that the worlds of D&D were built upon. He created a brilliant mashing together of Moorecock, Tolkien, Howard, Dunsany & Vance that for all intents and purposes should have failed and he made it work.

In that context, that Gary created a world, redefining a genre, with these weird and confusing, inconsistent rules, that would be as successful as it was/is... is mind blowing.

Arneson deserves credit for creating roleplaying games. Hell he may have had a greater hand in the rules than we know but this isn't a Stan Lee and Jack Kirby scenario. It's the reverse. Stan provided structure to Jack's big ideas. He gave a mean to Jack's bombast. Here... Gary was the big ideas and the bombast. He was the explosions and the crackle. Arneson provided a rudimentary structure that Gary built on and eventually it bore little resemblance to the Blackmoor game. Give Arneson credit for inventing the idea of RPGs for sure, but Gygax created a world. In D&D terms, Arneson created a campaign setting. Honestly the only other person who has come close to defining D&D as much as Gary is Ed Greenwood.
 

jsaving

Explorer
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.
Everyone agrees that they were both on the team, but there is strong disagreement over whether Arneson played a key role or was merely a bit player. In Gygax's telling, he developed D&D from Chainmail after participating in a Chainmail session called "Blackmoor" and realizing how Chainmail could be expanded into what we now know as D&D. Arneson replied that while Gygax had indisputably come up with a way to systematize and mass-market the largely improvised RPG elements Arneson had created in Blackmoor, Blackmoor itself hadn't originated in Chainmail and the two games actually had little in common except for the shared coincidence of both having fantasy elements to them.

This dispute matters because the Blackmoor campaign was the first time fantasy players sat around a gaming table and free-formed actions that were adjudicated by a DM, which Gygax and Arneson both say marked the intellectual genesis of D&D. The question is whether Arneson was simply DMing a slightly houseruled version of Gygax's Chainmail ruleset, in which case Gygax would deserve nearly all the credit for D&D, or whether Arneson was DMing his own creation which was then converted into a mass-market game by Gygax, which would say each person played a different but essential role in getting D&D into our hands today.
 
This dispute matters because the Blackmoor campaign was the first time fantasy players sat around a gaming table and free-formed actions that were adjudicated by a DM, which Gygax and Arneson both say marked the intellectual genesis of D&D. The question is whether Arneson was simply DMing a slightly houseruled version of Gygax's Chainmail ruleset, in which case Gygax would deserve nearly all the credit for D&D, or whether Arneson was DMing his own creation which was then converted into a mass-market game by Gygax, which would say each person played a different but essential role in getting D&D into our hands today.
First of all, I am highly suspicious of the claim that Blackmoor was the first time folks played something we might recognize as a roleplaying game. Parlour games were a thing for a hundred years or more. Murder mysteries were a thing. Shared storytelling was a thing.

As it relates to the development of tabletop RPGs as we know them today, really the only thing that does matter is how it went from a single table to a widely followed hobby, and that is undisputed Gygax's involvement.

I also don't think this situation is too much like Lee/Kirby because Jack was there for the long haul, doing intense work and creating tangible reality out of random sentences coming off of Lee's pen. Kirby was at least as responsible for the success of those Marvel comics over time as Lee was, whereas Arneson was not a major player in turning the game into a commercial success and ultimately cultural phenomenon, as far as I understand it.
 

Frankie1969

Explorer
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,
Many people do indeed try to suggest that Gary Gygax was the primary person who created D&D:
Gygax was a more colorful character than Arneson, so it's natural for pop culture to focus on his role more. Those of us who know better need to continue being vocal about it as a counterweight.
 
You're acting like it's some nefarious evildoing, as opposed to normal business.
"...as opposed to?"

God bless Dave "Zeb" Cook for simplifying initiative.
Or Len Lakofka.

No it was Gygax's imagination that provided the foundation that the worlds of D&D were built upon. He created a brilliant mashing together of Moorecock, Tolkien, Howard, Dunsany & Vance that for all intents and purposes should have failed and he made it work.
That's awfully syncretic. Don't forget Borges "Imaginary Beings," either, the odd takes of a variety of D&D monsters were lifted directly.

In that context, that Gary created a world, redefining a genre, with these weird and confusing, inconsistent rules, that would be as successful as it was/is... is mind blowing.
Not really. Success is random and fickle - fads, in particular, owe little the qualities of their object of obsession.

If D&D had been doomed, like most games, to live or die by it's merits, it'd've died, no question. It's a really quite terrible game, looked at objectively. But, it was in the right place at the right time being decried by the right lunatics, and it not only took off, it's failings became sacred to its fans.

Arneson deserves credit for creating roleplaying games.
True. But, RPGs other than D&D? Not that big a splash, really.
 
Last edited:

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
@Tony Vargas
It looks like you're quoting and responding to my quotes- other than the very first sentence, that's not me that you're quoting. :)
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
First of all, I am highly suspicious of the claim that Blackmoor was the first time folks played something we might recognize as a roleplaying game. Parlour games were a thing for a hundred years or more. Murder mysteries were a thing. Shared storytelling was a thing.
There was a little more to it than that. Arneson's Blackmoor game was, by all accounts, the first time that a game featured a combination of all of the following elements: 1) players played a specific individual, 2) wherein anything could be attempted, and 3) the game had a referee, along with 4) characters had statistical measurements of their abilities, and 5) those same characters were used in subsequent sessions, along with 6) the characters were able to improve their abilities across those sessions, with those improvements being represented via the game mechanics.

That all of those were featured together was the key. The first four were certainly featured in various other games prior to the invention of the role-playing game, but the fifth one was far more rare (and I'm not even sure any other formal or commercial games had it), and none utilized the sixth until Blackmoor. All of those together were what let you summon Captain RPG we'd now recognize as a role-playing game.
 
Last edited:
There was a little more to it than that. Arneson's Blackmoor game was, by all accounts, the first time that a game featured a combination of all of the following elements: 1) players played a specific individual, 2) wherein anything could be attempted, and 3) the game had a referee, along with 4) characters had statistical measurements of their abilities, and 5) those same characters were used in subsequent sessions, along with 6) the characters were able to improve their abilities across those sessions, with those improvements being represented via the game mechanics.

That all of those were featured together was the key. The first four were certainly featured in various other games prior to the invention of the role-playing game, but the fifth one was far more rare (and I'm not even sure any other formal or commercial games had it), and none utilized the sixth until Blackmoor. All of those together were what let you summon Captain RPG we'd now recognize as a role-playing game.
Interesting.

I'd like to know more about the original Blackmoor campaign prior to Gygax's involvement.
 

Yaarel

Explorer
I see no contradictions between the perspectives of Arneson and Gygax.

I feel Arneson deserves credit for the lightning-flash inspiration that caused D&D to come into existence: a narrative roleplaying game.

However, the technical mechanics were minimal and inconsistent for his freeform shared imagination.

Gygax embraced Arneson’s concept of narrative imagination as a game. But Gygax developed more rigorous mechanics for this game.

Collaborating together, the Chainmail of Gygax (completely) outgrew its original mechanics via adopting the vision of Blackmoor, and the Blackmoor of Arneson crystallized a more objective gaming mechanical structure.

Together, Arneson and Gygax seem like a dynamic Yang-and-Yin, where the Yang compelling idea of Arneson conflicts with the Yin mechanical details of Gygax. The birth of D&D is the Dao. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
 

Yaarel

Explorer
I stop short of saying any one ‘systematized’ the rules for Original D&D.

Even D&D 1e is an ad-hoc primordial soup of ad hoc, incomplete, inconsistent, and often unusable rules.

But in the rawness of D&D 0e and 1e, one can perhaps indirectly glimpse the excitement and wonder of the paradigm shift taking place.

This new ‘game’ was in effect teaching its players how reality works − and how to reinvent a new reality.

Make a better reality. Imagine a better reality. Figure out what it takes to make it function.
 

Yaarel

Explorer
As far as Arneson/Gygax, I think Arneson must be given credit for creating the idea of roleplaying, but Gygax must be given credit for editing and publishing it and making the game we all know and play possible.
Yeah, that is my perception too.

We must give Arneson the credit for inventing roleplaying games. The very concept. It is a watershed moment in human history.



From that moment on, we have popular ways to rethink reality, rethink religions, (which is why it was so threatening in its day), not just by telling stories, but the ways to implement the invented reality and participate in it. And today, we have videogames, virtual reality, and we literally cannot even imagine how humanity will be 100 years from now.
 
I stop short of saying any one ‘systematized’ the rules for Original D&D.

Even D&D 1e is an ad-hoc primordial soup of ad hoc, incomplete, inconsistent, and often unusable rules.

But in the rawness of D&D 0e and 1e, one can perhaps indirectly glimpse the excitement and wonder of the paradigm shift taking place.

This new ‘game’ was in effect teaching its players how reality works − and how to reinvent a new reality.

Make a better reality. Imagine a better reality. Figure out what it takes to make it function.
By the time of AD&D, it was highly systemetized. You may not like the systems in place, but they were entirely intentional and purposefully designed. Really, only the little brown books had that sense of incompleteness, based largely on those books requiring Chainmail to use (my presumption has always been that D&D was designed to sell Chainmail at first, but I don't know for sure).
 

Yaarel

Explorer
By the time of AD&D, it was highly systemetized. You may not like the systems in place, but they were entirely intentional and purposefully designed.
Heh, your perspective might vary. But I consider Advanced D&D 1e and 2e to be the Cambrian Explosion of the primordial Cambrian Period of roleplaying life.

Roleplaying evolved much since then.

I credit 3e for systematizing D&D, and 4e for understanding the mechanics − its machinery, math, and balance.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Heh, your perspective might vary. But I consider Advanced D&D 1e and 2e to be the Cambrian Explosion of the primordial Cambrian Period of roleplaying life.

Roleplaying evolved much since then.

I credit 3e for systematizing D&D, and 4e for understanding the mechanics − its machinery, math, and balance.
You wouldnt happen to be an Engineer? ;)
 

Yaarel

Explorer
Gary Gygax sometimes claims more credit than due, even claiming intellectual credit for the I-can’t-believe-it’s-not Lord of the Rings tropes.

So, when a historian seeks to accurately reconstruct earlier events of the origins of the D&D, one must take the overestimation by Gygax himself with a grain of salt.

Part of the obfuscation of credit comes from the legal lawsuits, which disincentivized honesty about where credit is due.

The historian must honestly take all of these evidences into account.
 

Advertisement

Latest threads

Advertisement

Top