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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


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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

Adventurer
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

Scruffy and Determined
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

Legend
Supporter
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?
 
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Arnwolf666

Adventurer
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

Scruffy and Determined
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.
 


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