Friday, March 4, 2016

GM's Day!


So March 4th, the day Gary Gygax passed away has become known as GM's Day. Since I am a fan of both D&D creators, I started thinking about the time back in 1972 when Dave Arneson first sat down and Game Mastered a game of Blackmoor for David Megarry, Rob Kuntz, Terry Kuntz and Gary Gygax.

Later, Gary would say the following about what Dave was like as a Dungeon Master:

"I can not recommend him more highly than simply saying that I would rather play in his campaign than any other"
-D&D Supplement II Blackmoor

So to all the D&D fans out there. Happy GM's day! :)



-Havard

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Being a Fan of Both Dave and Gary



The two creators of Dungeons & Dragons


As mentioned the other day, it is difficult to talk about Dave Arneson without getting into his troubled relationship with Gary Gygax. This is the creative relationship that resulted in the creation of Dungeons & Dragons and the invention of the RPG hobby. But it is also a story of much grief and words and actions that both men would have been better without.

Early on in my gaming career I learned about Blackmoor. It was Blackmoor that made me curious about its creator, Dave Arneson, whom I only knew as the lesser known of the two D&D creators. The age of the Intenet opened up to new opportunities for learning about authors and game designers that I only knew from the covers of the books and games that my friends and I had so much fun with. With mailing lists and internet forums it  even became possible to interract with people like Frank Mentzer, Bruce Heard, Rob Kuntz, Colin McComb, Ed Greenwood, David Zeb Cook, Aaron Allston, Allen Varney and all the others. It was heaven for us fans.

The internet forums was where I first learned about the ugly side of fandom though. The lawsuits and falling out between Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax was not only the source of grief for those two men and their friends and associates. Long after Dave and Gary had seemingly put the conflict behind them, fans associated so strongly with their heroes that they continued the fight.
People arguing on the Internet

Gary Gygax has always had a huge following. Most of them are great people. But among them I also encountered quite a few people saying pretty nasty things about Dave Arneson. Claims that he had not really contributed to the creation of D&D at all. Blackmoor was just a variant of Chainmail. And what an evil man he had been to dare sue TSR and Gary. I didn't really know what to think about that at first. But these claims made me wonder. Could this really be true? Is the world really made up of good guys and bad guys like in the movies? Or could there be more than one side to the story? That was the beginning of a story that lead to this blog, a website and a forum. I have learned alot about the history of D&D since then.

So who is the good guy and who is the bad guy of the story? Ultimately I don't know. I never knew either Dave nor Gary. I never had a chance to speak to Gary. I met Dave once and corresponded briefly with him. But I cannot say I knew him. I think they were just two human beings who had some brilliant ideas and also made some mistakes in their lives, just like everybody else.

In 1974 both men agreed to put both names on the cover of Dungeons & Dragons. They were both willing to sign a contract that recognized both men as creators of the game. I am thankful to both men for the game they made and this is why I am a fan of both Dave and Gary. Fan theories, whether posted online or published in books is not going to change that.


 So thank you Gary. Thank you Dave. Your game brought alot of joy in my life.





-Havard



Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The "Blackmoor is Just a Chainmail Variant" Fallacy

The "Blackmoor is Just a Chainmail Variant" Fallacy


This is something I have been planning to write about for a while, but a recent discussion with my friend Brynjar and others on Facebook inspired me to finally get to writing. I am not really sure anyone has ever actually made the ridiculous claim that Blackmoor was nothing more than a variant of Chainmail, the miniature skirmish game by Gary Gygax and Jeff Perren. On the other hand, gaming amateur historians, Wikipedia contributors and other fans have in recent years seemed obsessed with proving Dave Arneson wrong, when he claimed that he only used the Chainmail combat system during a few sessions and then pretty much discarded it completely.

It is true that we need to to be critical to claims made by Dave Arneson when the process leading up to the creation of D&D involved if we wish to know the truth. It is clear that he had stakes involved in this debate. But am I the only one with the impression that people aren't giving Dave the same benefit of doubt that we are giving the other side? The most common argument used to defend this line of thoughts is that we can find the truth based on written documentation. However, Gary Gygax had the full resources of TSR on his side. He was also active in publishing various fanzines in the decades before D&D was published. The fact that there is alot of documentation supporting the claims he made does not equal the truth however.


Ultimately we will never know how much of Chainmail Dave Arneson used. In the First Fantasy Campaign there are many references to creatures and units from Chainmail, so he clearly borrowed those. As to the rules themselves, Dave kept most of those secret even from the players, so that part will boil down to whether you trust his word or whether you don't.

However, I think this whole discussion misses some central points. What we should really talk about is the very nature of these games and how different they are from eachother. Chainmail (by Gygax and Perren) is a miniatures game for running skirmish battles between small units. It was also not primarily a fantasy game, the few pages dedicated to fantasy at the end were added as an afterthought. Blackmoor on the other hand was a game that featured single character roleplaying, a Game Master running the monsters (somewhat later in the campaign), dungeon exploration and level advancement. All in a living fantasy environment. Dave Arneson may have borrowed ideas from Gygax and Perren, but he also borrowed ideas from Dave Wesely's Braunstein games, his own long experience in Napoleonic Wargaming, various board games and many other sources. And, just like Gary did his game design, Dave used input and ideas from his players, many of whom went on to become prominent game designers themselves.

While there might be similarities between what Dave did and those other games he looked at did, it seems clear to me that he was very much doing his own thing with Blackmoor. Not only was Blackmoor a different game, but it was also a different genre of game. When Dave Arneson demonstrated Blackmoor to Gary Gygax in 1972, Gary was already looking for a new game to publish. After having played with Dave as a Dungeon Master, Gary was convinced that he had found what he was looking for. Dave and Gary proceeded to sit down and design a new game that they would call Dungeons and Dragons. They did not sit down to design Chainmail 3rd edition. Both men realized that they had something new on their hands, though I doubt either man realized how revolutionary that game would truly become.

This article isn't written as an attack on Gary Gygax' legacy. But I think we are doing both men a disservice if we ignore the radically new ideas that arose with Blackmoor and was brought into the world's very first published roleplaying game: Dungeons & Dragons.


More on this discussion here.


-Havard