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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

Yaarel

Explorer
One thing that I feel Gygax truly invented is the Drow.

Gygax borrows concepts from Scottish faerie tales about the Drow, Norse spiritual traditions about the Dark Elf (namely Dvergr), Norwegian folk belief crediting Jewish midrash about Lilith for being the biblical mother of trolls and elves thus harmonizing Norse and biblical worldviews, Greek traditions about Arachne, ... and so on.

But Gygax reinvents all of this in a new unique creation. His Drow became a modern archetype that tapped into contemporary popculture.

Those who credit Gygax as a gifted worldbuilder seem accurate to me.
 
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.
I'm not saying there hasn't been evolution, only that 1e was itself a highly engineered system, not the random results of experimentation that is OD&D.

Relatedly, discrete subsystems are not necessarily indicative of bad or less evolved design. Strong core mechanics have their place, but so does modularity.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
These are often exactly the same thing.
Eh. Not really.

People often confuse the two. But there is "standard business evil" (for lack of a better word) and "evil evil."

The trouble comes when some people to label normal business activity as "evil" (it's not), or, conversely, when businesses try to justify "evil evil" behavior as a standard business practice (it's not).

Given the sloppiness of the original royalty agreement, there would have been an issue. Good fences make good neighbors, and good contracts make for good relations.
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
Interesting.

I'd like to know more about the original Blackmoor campaign prior to Gygax's involvement.
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.
There is an active thread on the first page by Rob Kuntz that directly answers much of this (and contradicts your assumptions Yaarel)



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.
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.
This is not true. As @Reynard said, 1e was a complete systematic game. I've continued to play 1e all the way up to 2012, and nothing was "incomplete, inconsistent, and unusable". I think you're confusing people ignoring some rules based on preferred style of play with unusable. Also, 2e came out in 1989. By then, there was 15 years of roleplaying games, with hundreds of different role paying games out there with dozens of different systems. That was the golden age of RPGs, hardly a "primoridal Cambrian period".

Roleplaying evolved much since then.
Some, like me, would say it devolved since then. Reliance on mechanics that stifled the point of the game: pretending to be elves. I.e., the game philosophy changed from "whatever isn't prohibited can be attempted" to "if it's not expressively on your character sheet as a rule, you can't do it." IMO, that handcuffing of creativity was one of the worst things to happen to the hobby. And I certainly don't consider 4e to be an evolving of D&D. Personal opinion, sure. But I think that even though it was a good stand alone game, for D&D it was a mistake.
 

havard

Explorer
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.
This sums up the situation very well IMO.

add to 3) The Refree known from wargaming swtiched to something we would recognize as a DM/GM

Also things like Dungeon Exploration, Wilderness Exploration, Roleplaying your character etc were in place in Arneson's gae.

But yes, it was the combination of all of these things that was Dave Arneson's contribution.

That's not to say Gary wasn't important, but Dave did much more than contribute a simple idea.

-Havard
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
These are often exactly the same thing.
Tony implied that first but you and I got more blatant ;)
Eh. Not really.

People often confuse the two. But there is "standard business evil" (for lack of a better word) and "evil evil."
Hiring immigrants to help tear down one of your towers and paying them far sub minimum wage under the table AND then not providing them any safety equipment is the latter....

Where as considering your new product not to owe much to the product it was derived of and obfuscating credit to even earlier sources just doesnt seem to compare.
 

havard

Explorer
Interesting.

I'd like to know more about the original Blackmoor campaign prior to Gygax's involvement.
My friends and I have three websites dedicated to this, including a forum where several of Dave's old players talk about their memories:

The forum:

The website:

The blog:

Feel free to drop by :)

-Havard
 

clearstream

Explorer
Arneson kicks off the D&D controversy on page 131:

Gygax follows up on the origins of D&D in a short one-page essay on the very next page:

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":

This perspective is shared by Arneson himself in his first essay:

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:

Here's Arneson's thoughts on writing a scenario:

And finally here's what Arneson thought of the game industry:

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:

Did Gygax mean "we'll" instead of "he'll"? Gygax ends the essay with our only answer: Who knows?
I've often wondered if (and strongly suspect that) both drew inspiration from free kriegsspiel, which predates them by more than a century. The fact is, pen and paper, combat-focused rp was invented in Europe.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I've often wondered if (and strongly suspect that) both drew inspiration from free kriegsspiel, which predates them by more than a century. The fact is, pen and paper, combat-focused rp was invented in Europe.
Well, we know for certain that Arneson used Strategos, the American wargame written by Charles Totten, which was (I believe) inspired by Kriegsspiel, which you can still get today. (You can also get Strategos as well, but I've recently purchased a copy and I have to say that it's not an easy read.)
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Well, we know for certain that Arneson used Strategos, the American wargame written by Charles Totten, which was (I believe) inspired by Kriegsspiel, which you can still get today. (You can also get Strategos as well, but I've recently purchased a copy and I have to say that it's not an easy read.)
Every time I see Strategos written about, I think Stratego.

Played many a Stratego game in the bumper pool room.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
My cousin had Stratego.
I had to learn the socio politics of pretending not to be the best at strategic choices in Risk.... it just didnt last long if you took over the world several times in a row so playing to win meant you were ahem fighting more than one adversary. (from the beginning frame)
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
I had to learn the socio politics of pretending not to be the best at strategic choices in Risk.... it just didnt last long if you took over the world several times in a row so playing to win meant you were ahem fighting more than one adversary. (from the beginning frame)
Weirdly, I don't think I ever played Risk as a board game when I was growing up. The first time I played it was the B&W version for the old mac (I wanna say the Fat Mac).
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Weirdly, I don't think I ever played Risk as a board game when I was growing up. The first time I played it was the B&W version for the old mac (I wanna say the Fat Mac).
I do not think I've ever played Risk in digital format. Risk was my go to game growing up and I had almost entirely forgotten about it but now the nostalgia is really hitting me. Chess was another board game on my list but it was only two player and less appealing in that regards.
 

jgsugden

Explorer
Geez.

D&D is equal parts storytelling and strategy game. Storytelling has been around a loooooooong time and the strategy game, as we know it, evolved so much between 2E and 3E that I consider Andy Collins and that group to be as much the 'parents' of the game as Arneson or Gygax.

I am grateful to both of those gentlemen for their roles in RPG history - but geez. Both have received more recogniztion than either deserve.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
I do not think I've ever played Risk in digital format. Risk was my go to game growing up and I had almost entirely forgotten about it but now the nostalgia is really hitting me. Chess was another board game on my list but it was only two player and less appealing in that regards.
Nostalgia is a heckuva thing! I hadn't even thought about Stratego until reading back through this, and, of course, now I'm thinking about bumper pool!
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Nostalgia is a heckuva thing! I hadn't even thought about Stratego until reading back through this, and, of course, now I'm thinking about bumper pool!
While I recall playing Stratego for some reason it didnt make it to my list. Strategos now has me curious though.
 

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