Saturday, March 6, 2010

Gygax and Arneson

Michael Shorten kindly pointed me toward an entry on Jeff Berry's blog that I'd somehow overlooked. Here's the really intriguing part:
I got to know Gary through Dave; the latter used to send me down to Lake Geneva as his proxy to vote his token share of TSR stock at what passed for stockholders' meetings, and I had the dubious and difficult job of being a voice of reason during the struggles between Gary and the Blume Brothers (tm) over who was going to control TSR. Gary often found that Dave was in agreement with his views, and was surprised that I'd put them with all the passion that I could in the meetings. He took me out to lunch a couple of times, and we talked about the early days of gaming and TSR, and how and where things had gone wrong. I'd pass along Gary's views to Dave, and Dave's to Gary, and it was astonishing to both how often they actually agreed with each other.
It's funny, because I've often mused, lately especially, that the entire history of the hobby would likely have been very different had Gary and Dave not had their falling out after the launch of D&D. Both men had their faults but they also had great virtues and, in retrospect, it seems clearer to me that their virtues were complementary ones: Dave's boundless -- and eccentric -- creativity and Gary's eye for "the big picture" and relentless promotion of the game.

Together, these virtues allowed Dungeons & Dragons to live and breathe and grow, establishing itself as the font from which our shared hobby flows. The dispute between its co-creators weakened the game in my opinion, collapsing one of its "lungs" and leaving it gasping ever since. Such a pity that the comity Jeff Berry describes in his recollection did not result in something more permanent and wide-reaching in its implications. But it's amusing to consider nonetheless.


  1. Great reflections. You're on a roll.

  2. It wasn't just D&D that was impacted, but the whole history of RPGs as other early ventures in the field were also killed by "not invented here" syndrome as the walls went up.

  3. I always had a sneaking suspicion that the falling out could be explained with a single character:


    Call me cynical I guess.

    I hear money ends a lot of marriages too.

  4. I just came across Berry's blog earlier today myself. I find your thoughts on the matter interesting James. RPGObjects_chuck is probably close to the truth, though it may also have to do with the nature of creative individuals.

    In any case, it is certainly interesting to think about what the history of D&D would have been like if both men had been kept involved.


  5. This entry reminds me of a similar falling out between the creators of "Doom," specifically how one was deemed the "creative one" and the other was the "big picture man." In both cases it was the creative one who fared less well. I wonder if this is a pattern in entrepreneurial endeavors.

  6. Thinking about most ventures even where there hasn't been a big falling out usually the "big picture man" has the commercial awareness to achieve greater business success even if the products are not so innovative or good.

    An example from a different industry would be Apple Computer where Steve Wozniak was the creative force and Jobs was the big picture guy.

  7. Oh, dear. And here I was, thinking that nobody but the few devotees of an ancient cult were the only ones looking at my little blog...

    From my experience, the biggest 'issues' that Gary and Dave had was that the one was much more of a 'chapter and verse' rules writer and the other was a much more freewheeling improv artist. Both of them, in turn, had very real problems with how their works were being (in Gary's phrase) 'exploited' to provide a lot of what were basically non-gamers/non-friends/strangers with very nice jobs in the midst of rural Wisconsin. As gary put it to me, by the time he figured out what was happening, it was way too late.

  8. I wonder if that's a common thing to happen - something is created in that moment of glorious inspiration - a work of love - and then all too late, they realize it's been co-opted. It's a tragedy all of it's own.