Arneson & Saint Paul (not the city)

   There is bad blood between Team Arneson and Team Gygax, that’s no secret. The sad thing is: it didn’t have to come to that. Not at all.

   You and I are partners and we write a game called Cobbles & Creeps – and we make a lot of dough. Then I go my separate way and write Advanced Cobbles & Creeps and keep making a lot of dough without you because, if you’ll understand, Advanced Cobbles & Creeps is “an entirely different product”, so I don’t need to share its profits with you, buddy.

   What does it mean?

   Anyone could start a company and call it “Advanced Apple” or “Advanced Google” and that would be legal.

   Absurd, right?

   Still, that’s what happened back in ’77. So yes, there is bad blood between Team Arneson and Team Gygax. But then again, Gygax lived by the sword and died by the sword: ten years after he’d screwed Dave Arneson, the Blume brothers and especially Lorraine Williams screwed him over and booted him out of his own company. You know what they say about karma––

   These two guys created Dungeons & Dragons together. Role-playing games wouldn’t exist without both of them. The analogy I’d like to make is this: Arneson is Jesus, and Gygax is Saint Paul. Bear with me here...

   Jesus didn’t write anything down. Jesus just spoke to the people – and he was good at it. He was spontaneous. After Jesus’ death, a man named Saul, who would later be known as Saint Paul, decided to jot down some things and “organize” the new faith. He worked tirelessly, he traveled a lot, and founded many early Christian churches. He gave that newborn religion a fighting chance against the Roman gods and against Zoroastrianism. Without his texts and his energy and his travels, who knows what would have become of the unofficial, unpopular, underground “sect” of Christ?

   It seems there’s always a Jesus and a Saint Paul. There was Tesla and there was Edison. There was Einstein and Oppenheimer. There was Wozniak and Jobs. There was Bob Hunter and Patrick Moore...

   One man is not enough to “give birth” to any grandiose thing. It takes two – sometimes even more – to do it.

   Dave was spontaneous. Gary was an organized writer and worker. Without Dave, Gary couldn’t have written Dungeons & Dragons, or any role-playing game for that matter. Without Gary, Dave’s clever invention couldn’t have made it out of his circle of friends. Both geniuses were needed to really accomplish what was accomplished.

   That unofficial / unpopular “sect” can be equated to Arneson’s original Blackmoor campaign. Publication of the OD&D White Box can be equated to Saint Paul’s Epistles. What came after can be equated to the four Gospels.

   But then the “Advanced” thing happened.

   It’s like if Saint Paul had somewhat managed to modify Christianity just enough to call it his own – and not have to pay Jesus any royalties. But royalties didn’t exist back then. And Jesus was already dead, anyway. And Jesus had no heirs or widow (sorry folks, it’s not The Da Vinci Code).

   Gary Gygax once said: “Dave Arneson was running a game up there, using my Chainmail rules, and I believe he called it Blackmoor.”

   Seriously, Gary?

   You “believe” he called it Blackmoor? You played that game yourself in November of 1972 when Arneson and Megarry drove down to Lake Geneva and showed you both their games – Blackmoor and Dungeon! It was your first RPG session ever. Your son Ernie was there with you, and both Rob and Terry Kuntz. Everybody saw how this new game was NOT Chainmail.

   It’s almost tragic – this great man trying to fool himself and everybody else, again and again, by changing the story. Such awkward denial, and for what? Is E. Gary Gygax less of a giant for not actually inventing RPGs?

   I hear that John Kentner’s documentary, Dragons in the Basement, is delayed still because of Gygax legal issues. We don’t get to hear what Dave Arneson and Professor Barker have to say about the origins of RPGs... because of legal issues?

   Kentner must obtain a permit in order to use the name “Gygax” in his film – but I’m also told that Mrs. Gygax was very pleased when she discovered she didn’t need any permit to erect a Gary Gygax monument in Lake Geneva. Isn’t that a little bit twisted, or is it just me?

   Solution #1. Every time Gygax appears on-screen, call him Mordenkainen. When someone else says his name out loud, bleep it over and put a little “Mordenkainen” sign on that person’s mouth. Even in the end credits, just put: Mordenkainen. Everybody will understand perfectly – and Mrs. Gygax doesn’t own the name Mordenkainen, does she?

   Solution #2. Cut Gygax out of the doc completely. Gamers of the world still want to hear what Professor Barker and the three Daves have to say. Gygax is not our only “founding father”. I’d rather see and hear Washington + Franklin + Adams + Madison, without Jefferson, than not see or hear any of them.

   Pick Solution #1, John. It’ll work. But I digress.

   If Jesus himself had written a Gospel, it would probably confuse today’s religious scholars just as much as The First Fantasy Campaign confuses most of today’s efficient / practical DMs. Dave Wesely said, “Arneson had favored a wide-open system that put a lot of burden on the ingenuity and style of the ref.” Strangely, that is also what Jesus had favored: he replaced all the complicated rules with one simple, overriding rule. But that proved, well, too simple. So Saint Paul stepped in shortly after Christ’s death and created a bunch of new, sharper rules.

   Role-playing games wouldn’t exist today without both Arneson and Gygax – just as Christianity wouldn’t exist as we know it without both Jesus and Saint Paul. Jesus alone is not enough.

   And by the way, I am not a religious nut. Again, this was just an analogy.




  1. Hi there! Interesting read! The analogy is a little wild, but I see where you are coming from :) It is nice to see more people getting curious about Dave Arneson. It would be awesome to see Kentner's documentary some day. I did not know about the Gygax references being part of what was holding it up. Hope they find a sollution. Peace! :)

  2. Thank you guys! Glad you liked it.

  3. hmmm… old post, but what he heck: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qllXXrx4Aog&t=5s