Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Dave Arneson's Adventures in Fantasy (1979)

In 1979, Dave Arneson and Richard Snider created an RPG called Adventures in Fantasy. Two versions of the game were published that year, one by Excalibur Games and the second by Arneson's company, Adventure Games. The game consists of three books -- Book of Adventure, Book of Faerry and Magic, and Book of Creatures and Treasure. A good review of the game appeared on Grognardia earlier this year. DH Bogg's "arnesonian" RPG , Dragons at Dawn, is said to have drawn heavily on Adventures in Fantasy.

Jeff Berry worked for Dave Arneson in 1979 and could reveal the following about the life at Adventure Games (AGI):

I was working for Dave at the time at Adventure Games, as the chief 'Tekumel Boat Person' (as he described us); the staff at AGI was made up of Dave's friends from the First Minnesota ACW reenactment group, and none of them were fantasy gamers of any type. Ken Fletcher and I were the only people there with any fantasy gaming experience; Richard was a free-lance author, and rarely in the shop.
Why didn't the game do better? At this time, D&D was still a young game and it would seem that the market was hungry for fantasy RPGs. If RuneQuest could coexist with D&D, why not AiF? Was it simply not good enough? Jeff Berry has the following explanation:
The problem with AiF wasn't that is was a bad game or anything, it was simply one of no marketing. Dave had bought it back from Excalibur with the money that the first of his settlements with TSR, and like many other of the AGI product line was more or less just there because Dave or one of his friends had done the game. There was no real 'in-house' support for this game like there was for, say, "Compleat Brigadier", and it has to be said that there wasn't much support for fantasy gaming of any kind in house. AGI's Tekumel line existed because of Dave's personal friendship with Phil, and my presence at AGI was a direct consequence of that. It always amazed the AGI staff that we 'boat people', so-called because we lived on pallets in AGI's basement under tarps (it was a very wet basement!) could sell our rather recondite products and the main AGI line never seemed to sell at all; I kept pointing out that one needed to run games at conventions and advertise the heck out of a game, otherwise it'd never sell to anyone.

Recently there has been speculations to whether it would be possible to get ahold of the lisence to the game so it could be published again. Unfortunately, Rafael just shared the following on Dragonsfoot today:

The news back then were, as the admin staff over at the CI discussed in various threads, that with Dave Arneson's death, apparently all of his rpg-related IP reverted to WotC. INCLUDING AiF. - This was apparently part of the agreement that allowed the licensing of the BM d20 line through several companies associated with Arneson. A dead end, it seems.Though IANAL, as to the Comeback Inn crew, things so far look far more like we will go on an produce our own setting some day instead of continuing DA's work.

So, the chances of seeing Adventures in Fantasy back in print seem very low indeed. Thankfully there are other things happening in the Old School community and many out there who are interested in honoring Dave's legacy in any way they can.



  1. Maybe Dragons at Twilight might draw on the other AiF ideas - Nobility and suchlike ?

  2. That's a great idea. I'm sure Dan would be interested in this kind of input.. :)

  3. Nobility would have to be a setting specific kind of thing. But if you have a setting in mind....

    I haven't read the DF threads, but Wotc having possesion of AiF doesn't sound right to me. I dunno, but it seems to me that it would be quite complicated with Richard Sniders role in the game and the fact that Powers and Perils directly derives ideas from it. Considering that Adventure Games was a defunct company, I doubt if Arneson could have traded away the ownership of products to which he was not the sole author but I had thought from some comments Arneson had made that he sold (or gave) all the AG products to Flying Buffalo. I assume that included AiF

  4. Yeah, that do sound odd. Flying Buffalo owned AiF last time I read Rick saying anything about it, unless I misunderstood him.

  5. Sorry about dropping in out of the blue!

    Some points about the comments, if I may: Adventure Games was a Minnesota 'Chapter S' corporation, and was for all intents and purposes a corporate extension of Dave's personal affairs. Each of the items that was produced by the company was done under contract to the individual authors, which is why a number of them (like Larry Bond and his "Harpoon") went on to be published by other companies when AG folded; the contracts all had reversion clauses so that all rights reverted to the individual authors. The actual physical inventory of AG all went to Flying Buffalo for them to sell off as part of the close-out, with the exception of the Tekumel materials which all went to us boat people, but as I recall at the time Flying Buffalo didn't have any republishing rights to the materials due to the contractual situation for each of the games. Dave had signed his own contract with Richard for AG to produce AiF, and their interests would have been covered by that contract. Flying Buffalo owned the physical inventory, which Dave transferred to Rick; I helped pack it all up, including the typesetting machine.

    It would be up to Dave's daughter Malia, in the final analysis, to make any decisions about republishing AiF; knowing Dave, I would feel pretty confident that she inherited all of Dave's IP rights to his RPG materials. I strongly doubt that WotC 'owns' the IP rights to Blackmoor; Dave just didn't think that way, and I doubt he would have agreed to anything that would have prejudiced his IP rights for Malia. Likeswise, Richard's heirs would also have to approve any republishing effort.

    From what I understand from sources at WotC, WotC made agreements with both Dave and Gary to clean up a lot of the murky contractual waters that were left over after the collapse of TSR; Dave, for example, had valid claims to royalties on the TSR D&D items like the needlepoint kits that had never been paid. The agreements were intended to give WotC what effectively amounted to 'clear title' to the D&D 'property'; and also were open enough to allow both Dave and Gary to continue to publish their RPG materials through third-party publishers.

    My best guess is that if there was enough interest, the heirs (Dave's and Richard's), would send a letter to WotC asking for permission to republish the game, and WotC would give their approval in return for a nominal royalty to be paid by the new publisher, from which WotC would then pay the heirs their WotC royalties on the D&D IP.

    It's admittedly complex, but this is the world of publishing contracts and royalties; for example, Dave assigned all of his TSR royalties to AG for tax purposes, and drew a salary as a game author under contract to AG. It all makes the accounting a little complicated, but it's what one has to do under the tax code and business laws.

    Does any of this help explain the situation, or have I made a mess of things?

    yours, Chirine

  6. That sounds like it makes more sense, yes. Come to think of it, Rick probably just wrote he had gotten AiF, and I interpreted that to widely.

    I wonder if Rick have any copies left? Hmm.

  7. Andreas, Chirine: Thanks for pitching in on this one! I am pretty sure that TSR obtained the rights to Blackmoor when Supplement II was published, but I would love to be proven wrong on that one as well. As to AiF, it there is a chance to see it brought back, I would love to see that happening, perhaps even with the Bleakwood Setting...