D&D General When D&D Co-Creator Dave Arneson Asked WotC For A Job!

Back in 1997, after WotC had purchased the failing TSR (and D&D), and just prior to the launch of D&D 3E, Dave Arneson -- who co-created D&D in the 1970s along with Gary Gygax -- wrote to WotC president Peter Adkison asking to be put in charge of TSR.

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Ben Riggs -- author of Slaying the Dragon -- discovered Arneson's letter to Adkison while researching his history of D&D.


The letter was full of typos -- Arneson even got Adkison's name wrong! According to Riggs, Adkison did not reply, and Arneson wrote to him a second time.
 

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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

The vitriol in this thread, surprising. To say the least.

Now, let's sort this out: The letter, bizarre, but... Remember the times, folks. 1997 was well before LinkedIn. Arneson was handing in an unsolicited application, sure, and a pretty bizarre one, on top of that. But was he wrong to do so? Like, completely out of line? The last person in the entire world that should have considered sending in an application? - Probably not, or not entirely.

Like, Arneson, compared to the other first-hour D&D pioneers, has one of the more respected overall careers. After TSR, he worked on selected projects that he liked, including running what might qualify as "Tekumel 2e", and later became a teacher for game design at one of the first universities that taught the subject. - And as to his skill as a manager of traditional RPG brands, well, in the 2000s, he oversaw the Blackmoor d20 line - ten-something books, and a RPGA-style campaign with 100-something episodes. So, it's probably not like he didn't know at all what he was doing, or ordering others to do. - Does that make him a likely candidate to run a billion-dollar company. Naaah. Is he anything worse than a fool, here, though? Probably not. Not more than when Frank Mentzer did his Kickstarter, for example.

Which brings me to the next point: Whom are we comparing Arneson to? MAR "I did nazi that coming" Barker? Rob "Technically, I didn't breach the contract" Kuntz? Gary "Castle Zagyg will release in 2005" Gygax?

This idea to paint Arneson as an imbecile, it's not just insulting, it's factually wrong. The difference between Arneson and, lamentably, most of the other older first-hour TSR folks is, simply, he wasn't an ever-raging sellout with all the traits of a narcissistic personality disorder. After his time in the gaming industry, he retired to work as a church minister, IIRC. He didn't move to Cali, leave his wife and kids, and engage on a years-long hookers-coke-binge like a certain Mr Gygax did. (As per the Gygax biography, "Empire of the Imagination".) - Just asking, how is he possibly, imaginably the bad one in the story of TSR, at least to some?

And as to the inevitable, "bUt hE wOn tHe LaWsUiT" - yeah, some freelance nobody had to trade legal blows with the fastest rising company in the entire world of the year 1981. And he still won - no "settlement", he won, with the mall lawyers he could afford. Legal papers available online to this day, by the way, for those who fancy a read. So, who is he - an imbecile who couldn't even type right, OR a weasel who played 4D chess? Like, is he the Joker AND the Riddler?

What a sad conversation to have, in the first place.
 

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Thing is, if he'd done a basic amount of research, used spell check and got people's names right, then he probably could have gotten a gig at Wizards in the early days as some sort of creative consultant or whatever. Probably with a degree of caution, because WotC were all about making it be seen they were in touch with the hobby's history so they wouldn't have wanted to alienate Gygax, but they'd have found SOMETHING for Arneson along the lines of what Greenwood does these days. At least until he failed to meet deadlines too many times, i guess. Say what you like about Ed Greenwood, but the guy reliably churns out material.

But he had to go in and ask to run the whole shebang. Not just a creative gig, not just a historical consultant or elder statesman, he wanted the big chair. Was never, ever, ever going to happen, under a regime that only even bought D&D/TSR because it'd fallen apart due to amateurish management and was really leery about seeing it happen again. Anyone could have told him so.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
And as to the inevitable, "bUt hE wOn tHe LaWsUiT" - yeah, some freelance nobody had to trade legal blows with the fastest rising company in the entire world of the year 1981. And he still won - no "settlement", he won, with the mall lawyers he could afford. Legal papers available online to this day, by the way, for those who fancy a read. So, who is he - an imbecile who couldn't even type right, OR a weasel who played 4D chess? Like, is he the Joker AND the Riddler?
.

The remainder of your post is a diatribe in search of a thesis. This, however, is just factually wrong.

He did not win the lawsuit. It was settled. As has been extensively documented. And the reason it was settled was not due to the strength of his legal position, but instead due to the position of TSR in 1981 and a desire to decrease uncertainty.
 

Insulting other members
The remainder of your post is a diatribe in search of a thesis. This, however, is just factually wrong.

Nice. Did your mom say this to you after you tried to write her a birthday card?

He did not win the lawsuit. It was settled. As has been extensively documented. And the reason it was settled was not due to the strength of his legal position, but instead due to the position of TSR in 1981 and a desire to decrease uncertainty.

Wait. Wait. Wait. As in, "you've read the documents", or, "you're quoting some secondary source that you think is sufficiently credible"?

See, "settlement" usually implies "out of court settlement". (Unless your alternative is "trial by combat", all court cases, are, well, "settled in court".) "Out of court settlement" wasn't the case here. TSR didn't, whatever, "generously reach out to Arneson behind the scenes, to mend possible past wrongs". This was settled in court. TSR disputed Arneson's claims, Arneson proved his claims, and, wait for it, settled for an adequate compensation. Hence, me saying that Arneson won.
 
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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
See, "settlement" usually implies "out of court settlement". (Unless your alternative is "trial by combat", all court cases, are, well, "settled in court".) "Out of court settlement" wasn't the case here. TSR didn't, whatever, "generously reach out to Arneson behind the scenes, to mend possible past wrongs". This was settled in court. TSR disputed Arneson's claims, Arneson proved his claims, and, wait for it, settled for an adequate compensation. Hence, me saying that Arneson won.

The settlement:

1. Fact- Arneson demanded hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.
Reality- The settlement provided that the 56 shares that Arneson owned of TSR would be bought for $56 a share. This was the valuation of the time.

2. Fact- Arneson demanded full authorship credit.
Reality- The settlement did not provide authorship credit.

3. Fact- Arneson sought 5% royalties on all AD&D products.
Reality- Arneson received a 2.5% royalty AD&D products; with a lifetime cap.

4. Finally, you asserted that Arneson "proved" his claims. The case never reached a stage where there was "proof." There was never a trial.

You stated that (1) Arneson "won" the case. That is incorrect legally. The case resulted in a settlement. You also stated that (2) the case was "settled in court." I have no idea what you mean by this. It settled, by agreement of the parties through counsel, prior to trial.

Do you have anything else you wish to add, or are we done? As entertaining as it might be to see you try to explain the legal nuances of this to me, I would recommend maybe not?
 

Do you have anything else you wish to add, or are we done? As entertaining as it might be to see you try to explain the legal nuances of this to me, I would recommend maybe not?

Of course I'm not finished!

Your sources for those oddly specific numbers, please, if you don't mind. Because then we can debate them, and not your way of reading them. Weren't there a few pretty high-profile publications on this, recently? And aren't the actual legal docs still available online, perhaps even through some archive page? Like, of all look-up-able things, that's one that you can look up most easily.

And what are we trying to debate through this, precisely? Because I'm certainly not "camp Arneson", or "camp Gygax" in this; that'd be "very 2005", I think. Like the first announcement that Castle Zagyg was "completed and would start shipping out in months", by the way. But you are a "camp Gygax", right? I'm usually not much of a detective, but your screen name kind of took away the mystery for me, there.

This article gets published, and good part of the posters here - you, in particular - immediately start pooping on old Dave Arneson as if he had broken into your harem, and impregnated your many wives. - And I just wonder why:

Arneson, for all we know, became a man of a certain spirituality, and went on to teach folks who then went out and did the thing.

In contrast, the guys who still promote negative opinions about him to this very day - what did they do, specifically? Oh, yeah, they went on to become convention-touring micro-publishers, often not much better than the drunk old vet from "Jarhead": "Pay me a drink, and I'll tell you how I won the war." Or, well, rather something like: "I'll tell you how I sometimes was in the building where the cool stuff sometimes happened in the other room." - And made headlines as notorious vaporware sellers; let's not forget that, either.

My "thesis" which you astutely anticipated earlier, is: Arneson, half-retired from the gaming industry as he was, was still a better ambassador for the hobby than most of the other vets, alive or dead.
 


Warpiglet-7

Cry havoc! And let slip the pigs of war!
Of course I'm not finished!

Your sources for those oddly specific numbers, please, if you don't mind. Because then we can debate them, and not your way of reading them. Weren't there a few pretty high-profile publications on this, recently? And aren't the actual legal docs still available online, perhaps even through some archive page? Like, of all look-up-able things, that's one that you can look up most easily.

And what are we trying to debate through this, precisely? Because I'm certainly not "camp Arneson", or "camp Gygax" in this; that'd be "very 2005", I think. Like the first announcement that Castle Zagyg was "completed and would start shipping out in months", by the way. But you are a "camp Gygax", right? I'm usually not much of a detective, but your screen name kind of took away the mystery for me, there.

This article gets published, and good part of the posters here - you, in particular - immediately start pooping on old Dave Arneson as if he had broken into your harem, and impregnated your many wives. - And I just wonder why:

Arneson, for all we know, became a man of a certain spirituality, and went on to teach folks who then went out and did the thing.

In contrast, the guys who still promote negative opinions about him to this very day - what did they do, specifically? Oh, yeah, they went on to become convention-touring micro-publishers, often not much better than the drunk old vet from "Jarhead": "Pay me a drink, and I'll tell you how I won the war." Or, well, rather something like: "I'll tell you how I sometimes was in the building where the cool stuff sometimes happened in the other room." - And made headlines as notorious vaporware sellers; let's not forget that, either.

My "thesis" which you astutely anticipated earlier, is: Arneson, half-retired from the gaming industry as he was, was still a better ambassador for the hobby than most of the other vets, alive or dead.
I am not a big fan of digging up dirt and tearing people down. It has reached new lows in our culture.

However, I am incredulous that folks don’t know why this is a discussion. There have been a lot of books about the origins of the game released as of late. In that context we also have a source document that gets at the writing skill and social acumen of one of the main subjects!

That is surely worthy of discussion for interested parties.

If you have trouble writing and getting along with others and have very little self awareness, it doesn’t mean you’re a garbage person to be forgotten.

It means without the co designer you probably weren’t taking the game beyond your basement.

Very relevant to recent books and discusssions…
 


Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Of course I'm not finished!

Your sources for those oddly specific numbers, please, if you don't mind.

To quote something I found very helpful recently:

Dude, I've known u for ten seconds & enjoyed none of them. I'm not taking homework assignments from you.

I've now corrected you twice on your error. If you wish to educate yourself, it's not hard. It's not my job to teach you how the law works, or how to find the materials to educate yourself, or why you might want to avoid aggressively attacking people when you're wrong.

(For everyone else, it's around p. 200 and cites the source.)
 


Alzrius

The EN World kitten
To quote something I found very helpful recently:

Dude, I've known u for ten seconds & enjoyed none of them. I'm not taking homework assignments from you.

I've now corrected you twice on your error. If you wish to educate yourself, it's not hard. It's not my job to teach you how the law works, or how to find the materials to educate yourself, or why you might want to avoid aggressively attacking people when you're wrong.

(For everyone else, it's around p. 200 and cites the source.)
Here's a link to the Google Books preview for those interested.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Arneson was finishing up his history degree at the University of Minnesota when MAR Barker became chair of the Department of South Asian studies. They likely bonded over history and fantasy literature. I don't know how close the two were. I don't know if MAR Barker would have been comfortable sharing his neo-nazi sympathies with the son of decorated WWII marine who actually fought actual Nazis. Unless evidence surfaces to show that Arneson was aware of MAR Barker's support for neo-nazism and looked the other way, I'm not willing to tar and feather him postmortem.

To be clear, I agree with this, but they were closer. Arneson was a regular in MAR Barker's gaming circle in the 70s, and one of his long-running and favorite experiences as a player was in a Barker Tekumel campaign; so much so that Barker named a recurring character in his Tekumel novels after Arneson's character. But there is no reason to think Arneson knew any more than the thousands of other people who knew, or played with, Barker over the years.

I was thinking more about how my thoughts vis-a-vis Barker have changed since the initial shock. When the announcement first came out, and for some time thereafter, I kind of assumed that he was this Jekyll/Hyde character, with the Hyde part coming out when no one was watching. Of course, that is rarely true in real life ... and it wasn't true with Barker. Over the last few months, we have seen that people have uncovered that it wasn't exactly ... hidden. That there were whispers about Barker prior to this. And I've been reflecting on how, in wargaming culture, for various reasons, it's probably a little easier to "hide in plain sight." I think that @MGibster touched on this. But it's the usual- fetishization for tactics, or so-called "superweapons," or the aesthetics, or the love of alternate history (it's hard to do much with alternate history with the Allies, after all). Something I think is probably worthy of discussion, but would generate far more heat than light.
 

Retreater

Legend
But it's the usual- fetishization for tactics, or so-called "superweapons," or the aesthetics, or the love of alternate history (it's hard to do much with alternate history with the Allies, after all). Something I think is probably worthy of discussion, but would generate far more heat than light.
I was just talking to my nephew about this yesterday. He was asking me how I had become friends with someone who has ended up with some rather extreme and unfortunate opinions - which has led to me cutting ties with him.
It became like Obi-Wan telling the story of Anakin Skywalker's turn to the Dark Side. And recounting the story I did feel a true sense of loss for what my friend used to be.
And in that discussion with my nephew, we talked about my friend's love of history, alternate and revisionist history, the tactical genius of certain groups and leaders. We met through wargames, miniatures, and RPGs, and that hobby certainly fueled his very disturbed worldview.
I do think it's something that should be discussed in our hobby and something that we all need to come to terms with - especially as new generations are discovering the hobby. But the topic is verboten on these boards.
 

(it's hard to do much with alternate history with the Allies, after all).
Off-topic, but my favourite out-there alternate WWII history: in 1940 the BEF gets cut off before Dunkirk and surrenders en masse. With the heart torn out of the british army, Churchill is forced to rely much more on Imperial troops. By far the biggest pool of manpower in the British Empire is India. Hundreds of thousands of Indian troops arrive in Britain to help ward off invasion. In 1942, before Americans arrive in the UK in large numbers, resentment over the callous and ineffective handling of the Bengal famine leads these troops to mutiny - successfully, as the majority of available British troops are fighting in the North African theatre. 1943 arrives. Britain is now a colony of India.
 

Nikosandros

Golden Procrastinator
The ideas that interest in WWII wargames and history can make someone a pro-nazi it really wild to me. Back in my wargaming days, I played German forces plenty of time at the tactical, operational and strategic levels. I've read books by Guderian and Von Manstein. I've always been a nazi hater. The same is true of all the people that were in gaming circle.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Nice. Did your mom say this to you after you tried to write her a birthday card?

Mod Note:
And if I asked if your mom taught you those manners? You'd probably not like it.

We require a higher level of basic respect than you are showing here. Please refrain from insulting people.

You are done in this discussion.
 

MGibster

Legend
The ideas that interest in WWII wargames and history can make someone a pro-nazi it really wild to me. Back in my wargaming days, I played German forces plenty of time at the tactical, operational and strategic levels. I've read books by Guderian and Von Manstein. I've always been a nazi hater. The same is true of all the people that were in gaming circle.
When I was a graduate student, people would find out one of my areas of research was prohibition and they would assume I was a teetotaler myself. It was bizarre going to social situations where the alcohol was flowing and nobody would offer me a drink for fear of offending me. I also had a friend who was a graduate student in anthropology studying white supremacist. She was frequently told she shouldn't be studying "those people" or shockingly asked why she would study them.
 

Retreater

Legend
The ideas that interest in WWII wargames and history can make someone a pro-nazi it really wild to me. Back in my wargaming days, I played German forces plenty of time at the tactical, operational and strategic levels. I've read books by Guderian and Von Manstein. I've always been a nazi hater. The same is true of all the people that were in gaming circle.
Certainly not everyone who loves wargames and history gets attracted to harmful ideologies. But some do. Just like in my part of the country not everyone who participates in a Civil War reenactment on the side of the Confederacy has those beliefs. But some do.
What comes first - the chicken or the egg? Do some of these hobbies attract people with problematic ideologies? Do they encourage people to develop more of these thoughts?
And if I'm going to play a game of Axis & Allies, someone has to play Axis, and it could be me. Without that side, it's just Allies & Allies, which isn't a great wargame.
But when a guy (like my former friend) gets excited to play Germany every time, showing much respect for their tactics, etc., that's when there are red flags (for me).
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
The ideas that interest in WWII wargames and history can make someone a pro-nazi it really wild to me. Back in my wargaming days, I played German forces plenty of time at the tactical, operational and strategic levels. I've read books by Guderian and Von Manstein. I've always been a nazi hater. The same is true of all the people that were in gaming circle.
A lot of people gloss over the moral implications of the German war machine when looking at it, playing it via war games, or even being fascinated/impressed by some aspects of it - like the training of officers that valued taking initiative, etc. Because it was very good at what it was designed to do - it's just that a significant portion of what it was designed to do was in service of a racist, colonialist government bent on carving out living space from points east by obliterating most of the resident population. And the fact that it did so enthusiastically until the Soviets stopped them doesn't exactly help. That aspect is typically not recognized in the wargamer fascination.

And you've also got the people writing their memoirs about it, like Guderian and von Manstein who downplayed their own moral culpability. A lot of wargamers will kind of worship their tactical and strategic skills, completely ignoring the fact that the Wehrmacht was responsible for deliberately starving millions of Soviet prisoners to death - either on the orders of guys like that or through their administration of orders from higher up.

So... yeah. I can see how someone might get the impression that WWII wargames enable players to be a bit too Nazi friendly. Not directly friendly with the politics and racism, but also not too questioning since that gets in the way of a good wargame, or a good discussion about how important the close coordination of air support and concentrated ground assault was in the annals of tactical warfare, etc. It's kind of hard to wax on about the coolness of dive bombers clearing the way for tank assaults when they had been so busy murdering Polish civilians - so that kind of gets not included.
 

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