Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Was Kotaku Wrong to Rehash Arneson vs. Gygax Debate?

Two days ago Cecilia D'Anastasio  published an article called Dungeons & Deceptions: The First D&D Players Push Back On The Legend Of Gary Gygax at a website called Kotaku. While I found the article to be well researched and making some very interesting points, some of Gary's family members and fans have reacted strongly against the article while others feel like this is stirring up old bygones that should have been left alone. Others again point to the fact that D'Anastasio wrote an article on Gary's Widow Gail Gygax earlier this year which many saw as rather one-sided.

Gary Gygax passed away in 2008 at 69 and Dave Arneson passed in 2009 at 61. While the two had a falling out early in their careers, both men apparently moved on long before they died. Is the "who did more, Dave or Gary" discussion really worth dragging up or is it just something D&D fans who love drama use to entertain themselves while getting in pointless fights over it on forums and social media platforms?

I have tended to stay away from this debate myself. Although my work has always focused on Blackmoor and Dave Arneson, I have always seen myself as a fan of both D&D creators. I have never had any interest in the drama beyond learning the basic facts of what happened.

The problem, however, is that by leaving this discussion alone, we risk forgetting half of the story. The story that is most often forgotten is the story about Dave Arneson and the Minnesota Gamers. The Kotaku article is correct in saying that some misconceptions about the history of the hobby are being perpetuated by books and articles that have been published on the subject over the years. Several documentaries are in the works and with only one notable exception, these appear to focus on the importance of Gary Gygax.

The topic that even the best works on D&D History get wrong is on the importance of Chainmail in the development of D&D. The Kotaku article correctly identifies how by describing Dave Arneson's Blackmoor campaign as simply a Chainmail Game, the real significance of Arneson's contributions to D&D are lost. I have talked about this problem back in 2016 on this blog.

I think the best part of the Kotaku article is where it describes Dave and Gary's contributions to the creation of D&D this way:

To be sure, there would be no Dungeons & Dragons without Gary Gygax. Chainmail is a clear influence for D&D’s famous combat rules, and Gygax’s particular tastes in literature and voracious reading habit helped populate D&D’s world with monsters, gods, and legendary beasts. Gygax saw the potential in Blackmoor, or the aspects of Chainmail it happened to bring out, and moved quickly and purposefully enough to put the idea into a publishable format. But what gets lost is that neither would there be D&D without Dave Arneson. And indeed, the things that D&D fans love the most about the game—the things that distinguish “role-playing” from “fantasy wargaming”—were Arneson’s vision.

By simply choosing to avoid these discussions, I think we risk overlooking the importance of powerful ideas and concepts that are still found at the core of the hobby today. Some of these ideas are the very things Dave passed onto the hobby, in part drawn from his friend David Wesely's Braunstein games and other ideas brought in by their fellow gamers in Minnesota.

More importantly to new generations of D&D fans, I think there is much more to learn from David Arneson and his friends. Because Arneson left TSR (or was forced to leave) so early, many of the ideas and concepts that Dave Arneson's Gaming Group experimented with in the late 60s and onwards never made it into D&D. Perhaps learning more about Dave Arneson and his friends and what they did in gaming can inspire young gamers today to take the hobby to new places in the future!

In the last decades I have been researching the story of Dave Arneson and his friends, not because I love to dig up dirt or because I want to hurt the legacy of Gary Gygax. I don't like hurting anyone's feelings. I have been doing this because I am interested in truth. There are many people out there telling Gary's story, so it is only fair that some are telling Dave's as well. Perhaps the Kotaku article could have been written in a more moderate fashion and avoided some characteristics, a few quotes and its provocative heading. But at least it is another voice telling Dave's story. Its not like our corner is that crowded.


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Secrets of Blackmoor Now Available for All Audiences

For those who haven't caught the news yet, the documentary Secrets of Blackmoor is now available to those who missed the Kickstarter. The final version of the documentary was released to KS Backers on August 19. It was also shown at GenCon earlier this year.

Over the last few days, more attention was given to Secrets of Blackmoor thanks to an article at the somewhat controversial website Kotaku, which challenges what it calls the Legend of Gary Gygax. This caused some stir among hard core fans, friends and family of Gary's. However, it should be noted that the age old Gary Gygax vs. Dave Arneson debate is not the focus of Secrets of Blackmoor.

Secrets of Blackmoor instead, wisely allows those who knew Dave Arneson, played in his games and helped him develop Blackmoor to tell their story. The story about the games they played, how they played them and about friendship and a different time in America. This is an important story.

The documentary is part 1 in a planned series of documentaries and the first part focuses on the early years of the Minnesota Gaming group. The next installment promises to tell more about Blackmoor itself.

I was pleasantly surprised to see my own name in the credits. However, it should be noted that I did not directly contribute to the project. I did however have many conversations with one of the film makers and did my part in helping them get in touch with some of the people who were interviewed on screen. It is nice to know that my own part in running Blackmoor Websites and Blogs for the last 15 years (This blog since 2009), have played a part in something that others can watch.

There are many books out there that tell Gary's story and several documentaries are on the way. I have always felt that it should be possible to be a fan of both D&D creators. As such, Dave's story deserves to be told. That is what Secrets of Blackmoor does.

Watch the documentary here.


Saturday, August 24, 2019

Rest in Peace Rick Loomis

As I reported here, Rick Loomis was recently hospitalised fighting cancer. Today I am sad to learn that he has passed away. Rick Loomis was an important figure in the Tabletop industry.  In 1970, he founded Flying Buffalo Games (Tunnes & Trolls, Grimtooth's Traps, Mercenaries, Spies, & Private Eyes and more). He was also one of the founders of GAMA (the Game Manufacturers Association) where he served as President for 7 years. As President of Flying Buffalo, Rick worked with well known creatives like Michael Stackpole, Liz Danforth, Jennell Jaquays and others.

 Loomis had a good relationship with Dave Arneson. Dave owned shares in Flying Buffalo and when he gave up running is own company, Adventure Games, he sold that company to Flying Buffalo. Dave also contributed to at least one Flying Buffalo publication, City Book II: Port o Call, which I referenced my most recent Thonia Sourcebook.

 It feels strange now, that I chatted with Rick, only a few months ago about Dave Arneson. He was very helpful. Rick seems by all accounts to have been a very nice man.

May he Rest In Peace.


Sunday, August 18, 2019

Gaming Legend Rick Loomis of Flying Buffalo Games in Hospital

Rick Loomis is the founder of Flying Buffalo Games and has been working in the RPG industry for over 50 years. He is perhaps best known for the Tunnels & Trolls RPG and the Grimtooth's Traps series. Dave Arneson was friends with Loomis and owned shares in Tunnels & Trolls. He also sold his own company Adventure Games to Flying Buffalo in 1985. I was actually chatting to Rick about his connections to Dave just last month. He seemed like a really nice person.

I recently learned that Loomis, 1972, was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer earlier this year. A go fund me campaign has been launched to help cover his medical bills. If you want to help this legend in gaming you can do so by visiting that site here.


Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Fredigar's Hope: New Free Adventure Explores Origins of Blackmor's Comeback Inn

My friend Yaztromo is great at keeping me up to date with the "Blackmoor Living World" project which produces free fan written adventures set in Blackmoor for the Advanced Fighting Fantasy RPG. This latest installment, titled Fredigar's Hope explores the legendary Comeback Inn and its owner Fredigar Cribbs.

As with the other Living Blackmoor Adventures, Fredigar's Hope is relatively rules light and easy to convert to any edition of D&D or other RPGs of your choice.

This adventure is available as a free download here.


Blackmoor at GenCon 2019

Its always nice to see the original fantasy RPG setting see some presence at the world's largest RPG convention! Origial Blackmoor Player and D&D designer Mike Carr was there running his Fight In the Skies game. The biggest Blackmoor related story to have come out of Gen Con 2019 is related to a certain documentary:

As reported by Secrets of Blackmoor, a screening of the Documentary by the same name was shown at Gen Con 2019, in Indianapolis this weekend. As the producers of the film were unable to attend, the event was organized by Gen Con Film Festival Organizer Chuck Budreau. It was recently announced to backers of the Kickstarter that the version distributed at vimeo would not be the final version of the documentary, but that these backers would recieve a revised version. It is unclear which version was screened at GenCon.

Did you attend GenCon 2019? Did you go to the screening of Secrets of Blackmoor? What were the highlights of your GenCon 2019 experience?

More discussion of this article here.


The Piazza - D&D Worlds Forum Celebrates 16 Years!

  One of my favourite places to talk about D&D is The  Piazza . I can't belive its been 16 years since fans created that forum. Peop...