Thursday, August 29, 2019

D&D: The Legacy of Gygax and Arneson

Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson
Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson
A recent article on a gaming site has been stirring up quite a bit of controversy on the origins of Dungeons & Dragons. Following off the release of Secrets of Blackmoor, the article challenges the accepted history of the creation of Dungeons & Dragons. In the article, there is a strongly implied theme that Gary Gygax rode the coattails of Dave Arneson's idea of a role-playing game and took all of the credit.

The truth is a lot more nuanced.

In the article, there are several historical events that are presented in such a way that to make it sound like Gary stole Dave's ideas and then didn't give him any credit. This bends the truth significantly and there are multiple literary sources and original TSR employees around that can corroborate actual events.

Original "wood grain" D&D white box
Original "wood grain"
D&D white box
The biggest problem with the article is that it is written in a very biased manner meant to tear down Gary Gygax instead of uplift Dave Arneson. Author Cecilia D'Anastasio herself directly stated, "I am a diehard D&D fan who seriously dislikes Gygax and his legacy." It is unfortunate that is not written at the top of the article, because that tells you most of what you need to know.

The original (white box) Dungeons & Dragons was a true collaboration between Gary and Dave. However, Dave left TSR (was not forced out) prior to the development of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and the other Basic D&D sets released from 1977 onward. It is a shame that these two amazingly creative men fell out due to business issues, but that can (and often does) happen with any creative endeavor.

So, absolutely lift a glass in memory of Dave Arneson and his early contributions to the game and genre. There is no doubt his ideas were a significant factor in the development of D&D as a table top RPG. However, Gary carried those ideas onward making a viable product for years to come. There is no need to attempt to tear down Gary Gygax in order to properly salute Dave. Dungeons & Dragons as a game could not have existed without both of these men.

For more information on the history of Dungeons & Dragons, I recommend the following:
Playing at the World by Jon Peterson
Designers and Dragons by Shannon Appelcline
Art & Arcana: A Visual History

1 comment:

Other Owlbear musings