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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?
 
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Michael Tresca

Comments

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
While I recall playing Stratego for some reason it didnt make it to my list. Strategos now has me curious though.
I had a time where I was going through all the seminal games; Kriegspiel, Diplomacy, Strategos, and so on.

When they say the instructions for Strategos (Totten) are challenging, they aren't kidding. It was written in 1880, so ... yeah, not exactly modern game design. ;)
 

Yaarel

Explorer
This is an awesome video (about 8 minutes), emphasizing the gaming group that Arneson was part of, as the co-inventors of much of what we consider a roleplaying game.

Arneson is the one who first conceived of what we would recognize as a D&D adventure.

But nothing happens in a vacuum. The group together are part of the creative process and bouncing ideas off of each other

 

Yaarel

Explorer
Arneson is clearly the idea guy via Blackmoor. Arneson and Gygax collaborate together to create Original D&D. D&D 1e is Gygax elaborating his own version of it.
 
Arneson is clearly the idea guy via Blackmoor. Arneson and Gygax collaborate together to create Original D&D. D&D 1e is Gygax elaborating his own version of it.
Do we know why Arneson did not do similarly? Or did he try and not succeed as well as Gygax?
 
All these interviews talk about Gygax being a pretty abusive boss. Maybe Arneson just didn't have it in him to go on with this kinda' stuff after dealing w/ Gygax?
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Yeh I think the courts agreed.
No. I went through this above, but this was a dispute over royalties. There was a contractual arrangement wherein Gygax and Arneson assigned their rights to the corporate entity in exchange for a royalty amount; the specific clause that engendered so many disputes later was:

"...a royalty of 10% of the cover price of the game rules or game on each and every copy sold... "

Arneson believed that this included pretty much everything, from Dungeon Geomorphs to dice sold separately that TSR put out; TSR did not. The more salient question is what constituted the "game rules or game" in terms of newer editions and/or modifications to the original game (AD&D).

This is, in fact, not immediately obvious from the contract (IMO, based on what I've seen). The courts did not definitively rule on that issue from what I've seen, instead the parties settled.
 

Yaarel

Explorer
All these interviews talk about Gygax being a pretty abusive boss. Maybe Arneson just didn't have it in him to go on with this kinda' stuff after dealing w/ Gygax?
I feel part of the difficulty was physical distance. They lived in separate towns and had separate lives.

They collaborated with each other, mutually adopting each others ideas to create the original D&D 0e. But it was a long distance relationship, much of it via postal mail and deciphering transcripts of the games that the group with Arneson played.

At some point, Arnesons group seem to have adopted Chainmail, so Gygax is contributing to the innovation too. But for the most part, it is Arneson and his group who are making almost all of the formative innovations.

Meanwhile, Gygax is struggling to put down on paper − to codify − what it is exactly Arnesons group is doing. Whence original D&D 0e.

I am now in the camp that feels it is right to credit Arneson as the inventor of D&D, moreso than Gygax.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
I am now in the camp that feels it is right to credit Arneson as the inventor of D&D, moreso than Gygax.
I have two opinions-

First, that Arneson was absolutely crucial to the development of RPGs, and to D&D, but that Gygax is "moreso" the inventor of "D&D."

Second, that it does no good rehashing the dispute that the two of them put behind them, and that it is enough to remember both of them.
 
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Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
The courts did not definitively rule on that issue from what I've seen, instead the parties settled.
Ah that is distinct from agreeing so was the aforementioned evidence of contribution (in the video actually pertinent? or just a reminder why that 10 percent was agreed on in the first place?)
 

Yaarel

Explorer
I have two opinions-

First, that Arneson was absolutely crucial to the development of RPGs, and to D&D, but that Gygax is "moreso" the inventor of "D&D."

Second, that it does no good rehashing the dispute that the two of them put behind them, and that it is enough to remember both of them.
I think is fair to associate Gygax with D&D 1e. This is no small thing, since this is the version that gained popularity.

Arneson invented Dungeons & Dragons (0e).

For 0e, Gygax is more a popularizer for what Arneson and his group are doing.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
I think is fair to associate Gygax with D&D 1e. This is no small thing, since this is the version that gained popularity.

Arneson invented Dungeons & Dragons (0e).

For 0e, Gygax is more a popularizer for what Arneson and his group are doing.
I don't think that this is fully accurate. Or close to it.

If you look at OD&D (as you call it, 0e), Arneson's notes are the genesis of Men & Magic. And Arneson (obviously) contributed to Blackmoor (the book, not the campaign!), although the amount he contributed is, well, an issue of dispute.

But everything "around" OD&D- from Strategic Review/Dragon Magazine, to bringing in additional collaborators, to funding and creating a company to publish it, to writing more material and organizing it, to stealing when necessary (the thief class) to creating the entirety of what we mostly think of as D&D- that's Gygax.

Even the name (D&D)- that's Gygax.

So, no. Saying Arneson invented D&D is just wrong. It's perfectly acceptable to say that they are both amazing and were crucial to the development of this hobby.
 

Yaarel

Explorer
Arnesons group invented D&D.

The wife of one of the players of Arnesons game typed out the transcripts of the sessions of this game.

They mailed these transcripts to Gygax.

Gygax struggled to figure out the rules of the game that are implied in these transcripts.

TSR published this codification of Arnesons game as ‘Dungeons & Dragons’.

Arneson − along with his players − invented it.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Arnesons group invented D&D.

The wife of one of the players of Arnesons game typed out the transcripts of the sessions of this game.

They mailed these transcripts to Gygax.

Gygax struggled to figure out the rules of the game that are implied in these transcripts.

TSR published this codification of Arnesons game as ‘Dungeons & Dragons’.

Arneson invented it.
No.
 
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Yaarel

Explorer
For example, the concept of a ‘Wizard’ was INVENTED by one of Arnesons players, Gaylord, who wanted his adventurer character to be a Wizard. And Arneson figured how to make it happen.

It is Arnesons group who invent almost every aspect that we recognize as D&D.
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
There is an active thread on the first page by Rob Kuntz that directly answers much of this (and contradicts your assumptions Yaarel)
I think is fair to associate Gygax with D&D 1e. This is no small thing, since this is the version that gained popularity.

Arneson invented Dungeons & Dragons (0e).

For 0e, Gygax is more a popularizer for what Arneson and his group are doing.
Arnesons group invented D&D.

The wife of one of the players of Arnesons game typed out the transcripts of the sessions of this game.

They mailed these transcripts to Gygax.

Gygax struggled to figure out the rules of the game that are implied in these transcripts.

TSR published this codification of Arnesons game as ‘Dungeons & Dragons’.

Arneson − along with his players − invented it.
Yaarel, I'm only assuming you did not read my post earlier. Seriously, Rob Kuntz addresses many of these things you're claiming in the other thread. You need to go read it before repeating inaccurate assumptions.
 

clearstream

Explorer
I had a time where I was going through all the seminal games; Kriegspiel, Diplomacy, Strategos, and so on.

When they say the instructions for Strategos (Totten) are challenging, they aren't kidding. It was written in 1880, so ... yeah, not exactly modern game design. ;)
Just to say I meant "free kriegsspiel" not kriegspiel.
 

Yaarel

Explorer
Regarding the Kuntz thread. It is a great thread and like what Kunts says.

If there is a particular thing he said, feel free to cite it in detail.
 

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