Monday, September 2, 2019

Some thoughts on Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax Part II

This is the second in my series post about the legacy of Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax.

 


I consider myself informed on the legacy of the two men and the history of DnD and tabletop roleplaying. There are other that have spent far more time, and money on the subject than I. Sharing what they learned in formal films and books.

However for each of us to come to our own conclusion on the topic we need a path to get there. The sources I have used were the following

Playing at the World by Jon Peterson
The Hawk and Moor series by Kent David Kelly
The First Fantasy Campaign by Dave Arneson and the Judges Guild Staff
Dave Arneson's True Genius by Rob Kuntz

Gygax Q and A series on various Forums
Dragonsfoot
Enworld

The TSR Q and A series on Dragonsfoot

Old school forums such as
The Comeback Inn
The ODnD discussion forum.
Knights and Knaves

Recently there an another new source of information the Secrets of Blackmoor documentary which I haven't gotten completely through yet.

Browsing through the above when you have the time and interest will lead you to other sources that I haven't mentioned.

The reason I haven't given you my opinion yet is that throughout the recent round of discussion there are lot of editorializing and opinion given but nobody is explaining how you can form your own opinion. Especially in a way that is compatible with the time and budget you have for a hobby. Everything that list except for the First Fantasy Campaign should be readily accessible to anybody reading this. You don't have to digest it all at once. Just read (or watch) through what you can when you can.

Eventually you get to a point where you have your own answer to the questions I posted in Part 1.

And no I am not going to make you wait for a Part III for my answer.

So what does Rob think?

  • Would have Dungeons & Dragons be written without Dave's help or Dave running the Lake Geneva session?

My conclusion is no. In the absence of that session happening in Lake Geneva maybe Gygax would have followed up man to man section of chainmail with a Metagaming Melee type wargame or some other type of wargame that had the players playing individual characters (like Gladiators). But it is Dave Arneson who the first to put all the element that we know as tabletop roleplaying. And more important did the work to figure out how to make it fun and interesting.


  • What was involved in developing the idea of a tabletop roleplaying campaign in Dave Arneson's Blackmoor Campaign.

Blackmoor started out as a miniature wargame campaign. Not a traditional one where the players were in essence the armies on board. In Blackmoor, like in the various Braunsteins being run, the players played the actual commanders and other important characters. Not just the good guys but the baddies as well. 

Dave's role was that of a neutral arbiter. He created the setting, drew up the rules to resolve battle, logistics, and prices list. Within those constraints the players were free to do anything that they would as if they were there. In short a wargame campaign but a very sophiscated one.

What turned Blackmoor into the first tabletop roleplaying was Dave's willingness to say yes. When Peter Gaylord wanted to play a wizard, he said yes. When Dave Fant figured out how to transform into a vampire, he said yes. And so forth and so on. Week by week the focus of the Blackmoor campaign shifted from a struggle between good guys versus bad guys to the individual exploits of the players as their characters.

My opinion that it is the introduction of Blackmoor dungeons the defines the clear line between two phases of the campaign. Prior the dungeon Blackmoor was mostly a wargame campaign, afterwards it was mostly about the exploits of the individual characters.

The reason I picked the dungeons, because the First Fantasy Fantasy campaign and other anecdotes clearly state that the good guys players were punished with exile because they lost Castle Blackmoor to the baddies by spending too much time exploring the dungeon. Instead of learning their lesson when they arrived at Lake Gloomy they went off to explore new dungeons.

I know my statement makes it sound like a AHA! moment. But I can't stress enough that this developed over weeks and months. With Dave and his players constantly trying things out.

When Dave goes down to Lake Geneva to run that fateful adventure. He has nearly two years of running Blackmoor under his belt. The same amount of time Gygax used from the writing his first manuscript and running the Greyhawk campaign, to the publication of Dungeons & Dragons.

Also keep in mind as Gygax ran Greyhawk, Dave continued to run Blackmoor that the two corresponded frequently.


  • What would have happened to Dave Arneson innovations if Gygax never had written Dungeons & Dragons?

So here the thing, Dave does not have a lot of published works to his name. Nearly all of the anecdotes paints Dave as a genius at running campaigns, making wargames.  But shined when it was face to face not words on paper. But Gary Gygax was able to see a project through publications and did so a number of time prior and after Dungeons & Dragons.

So what would have happened if Gygax never had written Dungeons & Dragons. We would have seen Megarry's Dungeon boardgame at some point. We would also probably seen wargames where the players played individual characters. Probably something like GDW's Engarde, the first Boot Hill, or the later Metagaming's Melee and Wizard by Steve Jackson. We would have probably seen some Braunstein scenarios published.

But without that Lake Geneva session run by Dave inspiring Gygax, we would have not have tabletop roleplaying. When I read through First Fantasy Campaign and the various accounts, I notices there is a lot of focus on the wargame side of the campaign. In terms of rules, scenarios, the miniatures, and the props being made.

But because Dave had to travel to Lake Geneva, he couldn't bring all that so brought the part of the campaign that was easier to transport (and popular in its own right) the dungeons. Hence Gygax was inspired to run his own dungeon campaign, Greyhawk.

My opinion that the dungeon was the perfect setting to convey how different this game was. Compared to other type of adventure locales, the dungeon is clearly focused on players acting as individual characters. In this case exploring the monster filled maze.

Gygax contribution to the development of tabletop roleplaying was to take what Dave did and figure out to make it work for himself. Then write it in a way that was understandable for everybody else to learn for themselves.

In my view that was as an impressive feat as Dave developing the concept of tabletop roleplaying. Is why I view that there is no path to what we have as a hobby and industry that doesn't run through the two of them.

Wrapping it up
There are people who wrote whole books about the subject (and filmed documentaries to boot). I can't encompass all that into two post. What I can do is outline for you the path I took to reach the basic conclusions I reached above. Hope this help.

In the meantime
Fight On!

10 comments:

Scott Anderson said...

This is one of your better pieces of writing. It seems like you took a long time making it just so.

I’ve been reading you since before I knew you were a big deal. In these last years you have proven to me your opinion means something.

You did a good job of explaining why you believe the things you do.

Look forward to your next essay.

Charles Saeger said...

Good way of thinking about it. The best I can conjure up is that Dave had the ideas and Gary had the drive (Dave is a Ravenclaw, Gary is a Slytherin). The more I think about it, the less I can find that Arneson accomplished; Gygax was always looking for a chance to make more dough (D&D cartoon).

All of this is complicated by the cult of personality that has grown up around these guys, especially Gygax. As it turns out that Arneson and I have more mutual acquaintances that I had realized until I saw the film, I plan on hitting up some of them the next time I see them.

ruprecht said...

In the computer industry they had lots of cofounding pairs (Jobs and Woz, Gates and Allen, McNealy and Joy). In each case the more outgoing became the face and monetized the invention while the other disappeared into the background. Seems a similar dynamic with Gygax and Arneson.

Baron Greystone said...


I agree with you, something passed from Dave to Gary that made OD&D a very special, new type of game. Something more than Braunsteins, more than Chainmail. But I bought the First Fantasy Campaign when it was published by JG. I found it incoherent, a jumble of disorganized notes. It made no sense to me, and it's sat on my shelf unused. Gygax' three little booklets, while an extension of Chainmail, were an actual game. Together the two men are co-creators of the modern RPG, but Gygax wrote a game. In any case, both men are dead, they settled their differences long ago. I wish we could just let it lie, and get back to playing.

cturnitsa said...

Great stuff - and I concur. Without Arneson AND Gygax, you never get to published D&D.

BTW- if you ever edit the article, I am pretty sure it is spelled Braunstein (named for a fictional German town where the first such game was set).

Chuck

Phil Dutré said...

Good article. After having also read many sides of the story, I agree with what you wrote.

However, it's of course not sure that we would have never seen another form of rpg's, perhaps several years later. Playing at the World has charted many parallel developments. It seems to me some of these could also have become succesfull, but D&D was the first, and that's where all creative efforts went to. Creative types in the gaming hobby invested their creativity in being a DM, and so other parallel developments were not explored further.

Havard: said...

A good article! I pretty much agree with you Rob! Thank you for giving The Comeback Inn a nod! :) I also have a blog with a couple of things on this matter ;)

-Havard

Havard: said...

"However, it's of course not sure that we would have never seen another form of rpg's, perhaps several years later. Playing at the World has charted many parallel developments. It seems to me some of these could also have become succesfull, but D&D was the first, and that's where all creative efforts went to. Creative types in the gaming hobby invested their creativity in being a DM, and so other parallel developments were not explored further."

Phil Dutre: That is a good point. MAR Barker's EPT was apparently written before D&D was published. And there were certainly others in the works. Would those have become as successful and world changing as D&D became though? Was the world desperate for any Roleplaying game, or was D&D the unique combination of elements that were the key to success? We can only speculate :)

Robert Conley said...

@Havard, the key to any good alternate history is not just understanding the main thread of what happened but other things that were going on at the same time. Because with that additional information you can construct a plausible alternative path from the circumstances of the point of departure.

I just don't know enough about what everybody else was doing at the time, their capabilities, or interest, to see what other plausible paths there. I do know that the idea that game have rules, and that you play the game by the rules or you are cheating is pretty ingrained and hard to shake.

It not just a case of Dave saying yes to the zany idea, it is a case of Dave saying yes repeatably and then following up with support in terms of what was happening in the campaign and additional rules. Unless you know somebody at that time who had that amount of flexibility and zeal, I am hard pressed to see an alternative path to a form of tabletop roleplaying we enjoy today.

I do see however many paths to wargames that are more social and features the players playing as individual character. Even with a referee. Diplomacy on steroids is one way to look at it. However like Korns I strongly feel that they would all draw little boxes around what they deal with it. And stepping outside of that box would be viewed as disrupting the game instead of a feature like it is with RPGs.


DHBoggs said...

>>> the First Fantasy Fantasy campaign and other anecdotes clearly state that the good guys players were punished with exile because they lost Castle Blackmoor to the baddies by spending too much time exploring the dungeon.

Well, sort of. Only the "good guy" players who choose to stay in the dungeon while the town was being sacked got exiled. A few of the other "good guys" who weren't participating in that particular game scenario - Megarry for instance - didn't get exiled and were free to continue adventuring in Blackmoor. The excuse the exiled players used was that they stayed in the dungeon because they expected an invasion from the depths. I think it is useful to understand that Arneson had a lot of players asking for different games at different times. Some preferred dungeoneering, and stuck to that almost exclusively, others wanted battles, others a mix. Arneson attempted to accommodate them all but did get pretty burnt out.

>>>But without that Lake Geneva session run by Dave inspiring Gygax, we would have not have tabletop roleplaying.

I really couldn't disagree more. As I pointed out before, there were already other "table top role playing" games in the works in the TC, and it really is quite likely Barker would have latched on to the concept once he was exposed to it. For me, the question is how popular would these very setting specific TC RPGs have become and how much longer would it have taken role playing to spread to a wider audience from there or elsewhere? Gygax, on the other hand, was perfectly poised to craft the game for wide appeal and popularize it in a way few others could, and no matter how you look at it, we certainly wouldn't have the totally awesome game that is D&D without Gygax.