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Friday, July 27, 2018

Happy Birthday - Gary Gygax - Co-Author and Midwife of Dungeons & Dragons


Gary Gygax - Co-Author and Midwife of Dungeons & Dragons

The truth is that the most important part that Gary Gygax played is the role midwife of Dungeons & Dragons.

Bear with me while I explain that. Without his tireless efforts and drive it would not have made it to print.

Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson although they lived in different states moved in the same circles and played many of the same games. They belonged to many of the same organizations and had previously collaborated on games.

Arneson is the Father of Role-playing Games, he had spent almost two years creating the Blackmoor Campaign, and his players referred to it as playing Blackmoor. Arneson travelled from Minneapolis MN to Lake Geneva WI in 1972 and ran his Blackmoor game for Gary Gygax, Ernie Gygax, Rob Kuntz, and Terry Kuntz. Publication had not been a consideration for Arneson, but Gygax the entrepreneur immediately saw the potential and was very excited about the game.

Therefore, Arneson sent Gygax his notes variously reported as 16, 20, or something loose pages of notes. These turned out to be just short notes as any of us might write that work great for us, but are mostly unintelligible to anyone else. Gygax with considerable help from Kuntz  and their joint memory of the game and with both telephone calls and correspondence with Arneson set out to get it down on paper. He wrote a document that contained the ideas and the system that Arneson created but wrote it down in his own words. Some of the mechanics were Arnesons', some were Gygax versions of those mechanics, and this is where parts of Chainmail were grafted back into the document. After all, you or I would have done the same. He played in this extraordinary game that Arneson ran, but the notes where just that, notes with different versions and no clear order. They meant something to Arneson and he used them in running the game, but not to Gary or to you or to me. Moreover, all the references to Chainmail in the text are not surprising, again Gygax is just like us, he wanted to sell more copies of Chainmail. Even though it has been widely reported by those who were there that Gygax did not use Chainmail to play D&D.

Play testing took place in Lake Geneva and in Minneapolis. An unknown number of drafts and play test versions were written and tweaked until it was published. It was not what Arneson envisioned, but Gygax did the heavy lifting on writing it down, he and others put up the money and his version dominated. 

But the history is clear, Arneson created it, but not in a vacuum.  He had influences from many sources, and many ideas where present in different place and he combined them into one game.  Gygax wrote it down and while keeping the system and ideas substantially revised the mechanics to fit his preferences in the writing and that was tweaked through interaction with all of the players in both the Blackmoor and the Greyhawk campaigns as they were the play testers.

So Arneson created the role-playing game, what came to be called Dungeons & Dragons, he is the father of role-playing.

Gygax took Arnesons' work, wrote it down in mostly his own words, and worked tirelessly to promote it. He is not the creator, but he is the co-author, midwife, and promoter of Dungeons & Dragons. In the writing, he added his own ideas to those of Arneson and he interpreted Arnesons' ideas. Gygax is deserving of many accolades, just not sole creator.

Neither Gygax (nor Arneson) deserve to be worshipped as saints or gods and like all men, they have feet of clay. There are books out about the history of D&D and about Gygax. Some of those books focus on Gygax as it relates to D&D, some are pretty even handed about things, some are biased, and some are hatchet jobs that are mostly TMI. Some are excellent and some read like articles reprinted from the gossip tabloids.

Let us hope that the books that focus on factual history as recounted by both documents and first person interviews will flourish and the books that focus on personal flaws will be relegated to the trash bin of history where they belong.

Happy Birthday to Gary Gygax, without whose tireless efforts you and I would not be playing the Original Dungeons & Dragons.

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