I recently ordered these two books written by Rob Kuntz, and received them in the mail today right before leaving on a business trip. So, I brought them along and I've been leafing through them on the flight and now in my hotel room at Baltimore. I have to do some work tonight, so I can't just read these books and do nothing else, but I thought I'd post my initial impressions. First off is how slim these books are with the one only going from p. 9 to p. 57 (not counting credits, preface and "Preview/Samples" of his upcoming book starting on page 59) and the other only goes from p. 6 to 26 (not counting credits, preface and advertisements). That doesn't bother me, as I'm happy to support Rob in his gaming and creative endeavors, but others should be aware of those facts before buying. These short books are at least in part reminiscences of two people monumentally important to D&D: Dave Arneson and Don Kaye, written by someone who actually knew them and worked with them: Rob. Just seeing these two guys get appreciated in print makes me happy since they both deserve it. I'll post more details later once I've had time to fully digest these books.
Last Edit: Jan 28, 2020 16:39:26 GMT -5 by GRWelsh
I’m interested in the Merlynd book. Let me know what you think of the Arneson book. Some of ROM’s comments around the release time came of as a bitter swipe at Gary, or profiteering off of a controversial opinion. While hanging with Rob at GenCon Rob made dismissive comments about how minor Dave’s contributions to the game were.
Post by geneweigel on Jan 29, 2020 20:53:50 GMT -5
I was a hardcore Gamma World player but I still prefer looking at Dave Arneson stuff to Jim Ward's write ups any day (Every time that I pass a Ward article my subconscious groans! ). I think because Gary seemed judgemental but forgivingly fair about Arneson that I feel obligated to try harder.
I really think First Fantasy Campaign is wonderfully inspirational old school book. Very gamey for gamers. Most of the other “Dave Arneson” material is obviously written by other people trying to cram it into something else. There’s some good core concepts, but the execution was always off. I’ve heard many times the Dave was a great DM, but a terrible writer.
Post by geneweigel on Jan 29, 2020 22:31:37 GMT -5
The weird thing about Blackmoor is that it was plopped around everywhere almost as if its a moving land that travels into different worlds so it has this unintentional displacement.
I did a weird tribute to Blackmoor and Greyhawk a while ago but it was very superficial. Just enough to be played. Its one of the facets of an upcoming planar segment that I've been working on but it has to at least be "First Fantasy Campaign" as far as layout before posting.
It's going to be difficult to review the Arneson book fairly, because -- at least to an extent -- it throws gasoline back onto the "Arneson vs. Gygax: Who contributed more?" debate... Didn't that fire go out already? It's a debate that frankly I don't want to weigh in on because I don't know enough and don't care. They co-created D&D, and that's good enough for me. Also, this book is written in a dense, academic style with an overall thesis that may be too vague to effectively defend or even clearly understand.
The book about Don Kaye, by contrast, is much more along the lines of what I wanted: reminiscences about a person important to the foundation of D&D, yet of whom I know little about. Rob provides several personal and often touching vignettes, as well as fascinating glimpses into early 1970's gaming including a Tractics battle report and an episode of high level wilderness play in D&D! My only criticism is that the book is too short, as I wanted more of these wonderful old stories.
The weird thing about Blackmoor is that it was plopped around everywhere almost as if its a moving land that travels into different worlds so it has this unintentional displacement.
That's very true. It started as its own thing, then was considered part of the Judges Guild world, was given an 'homage' location on the World of Greyhawk, and finally was retconned into the ancient history of the "D&D Expert" world/Mystara. That last move in concept seems perfect, of course Blackmoor should be part of the "D&D world" that's a no-brainer, yet in practice it didn't seem to be a good fit. Also, by placing it in the ancient past, TSR implied Blackmoor was no longer a current campaign setting and therefore irrelevant. None of these grafts seemed to work. Only when I read THE FIRST FANTASY CAMPAIGN did I get the sense I was seeing the true Blackmoor. It seemed very player-centric, in that Dave allowed his players to develop and become powerful influences to help shape the world. But the best thing about THE FIRST FANTASY CAMPAIGN is that it gives us a glimpse into what the pre-D&D fantasy role-playing game looked like, and so it is an invaluable historical document. I was surprised Rob didn't reference it more in his book, or quote fanzines from that time period.
I do remember seeing "First Fantasy" several times but that stuff had a built in stuffiness to it that other merchandise right next to it didn't. So there was not a lot of talk of Arneson in the 80s except perhaps with game shop employees. I mentioned this before it was on a 1983 box of DRAGON LORDS minis I think ORCS OF THE SEVERED HAND was where I first heard of Arneson. To put in perspective, Gygax was sort of vague as a creative force at that time until the reiteration of Greyhawk in the boxed set was like "Oh yeah, this is the guy who writes actual game features and not just the mag blather.".
The best answer may be to quote Rob from his book (p. 5): "[Dave] and his players from the Twin Cities were the founding Fantasy Role-Players of the world, and almost a good two years before they introduced the concept to Gary Gygax, myself, my brother Terry Kuntz, and Ernie Gygax in November 1972." Rob would also most likely say Arneson's concept hasn't hit its peak yet: "... if we go back to him and the visionary parts of his concept as the wellspring for the industry then we can converge again at the same point he reached and continue through the door he opened wide for us which, unfortunately, we still stand before rather than entering" (p. 57).
I can't remember who did it, but I know Serten was killed and looted by other PCs, I think they were out for his snake staff, and Serten's allies, including Merlynd chased the killers to the stronghold of an evil high priest. They couldn't get in. The good guys swore vengeance, and Merlynd was the most determined, but they never did catch them.
Yep, that was Tom Champeny's Evil High Priest -- a character who might not have ever been given a proper name! Rob shared some of the details on this site:
RJK: The castle was but a few miles NE of the City as we pictured it, though we never then drew an environs map for it, but we knew where it was, as we knew where the Temple to the Latter Day Old Ones was, about half way to the Castle along the same path from the city, and beneath ground, also accessible by the sewers, which I later drew. Lots of adventure in the City. Robilar, Tenser, Terik and others had fantastic times in it, and some of these adventures are recounted by EGG in DRAGON (Up on a Soap Box) and elsewhere, and I have recounted some. Murlynd's (Don Kaye's) PC was housed there, Robilar had his Green Dragon Inn there, Serten (Ernie Gygax's priest-henchman of Tenser's) was killed there by Tom Champeny's Evil High Priest, the Striped Mage got his secondary name through my brother's PC "the Monk With No Name" painting his tower as such, Robilar intially adventured in Strange Way and Odd Alley there, getting totally lost, etc.
Q: What was the name of Tom Champeny's EHP?
RJK: To my knowledge never named, but I do refer to him in a current work in progress as the EHP, Tecee.
Q: What were the circumstances of his slaying Serten?
RJK: Upon returning from a group outdoor adventure , Tom's PC sought Serten's "advice" on a personal matter and rurned evil casting a finger of death upon him, stealing his snake staff and +2 armor and then fleeing the City.
There's also more detail on those characters in Rob's book MERLYND THE MAGICIAN in the article "Don Kaye, Tom Champeny & Company vs. the E. H. P." (p.22). That adventure seems to have occurred before Tom's cleric slew Serten. It included Don Kaye, Tom Champeny, Bob Dale, Bill Corey and their retainers deciding to "test their luck" by trying out a hex that had a castle located on it (a pond symbol on the OUTDOOR SURVIVAL board). It turned out to be the castle of a demon-worshipping evil high priest (not Tom but an NPC) with a balrog servant.
Last Edit: Feb 17, 2020 13:44:50 GMT -5 by GRWelsh
I wanted to revisit DAVE ARNESON'S TRUE GENIUS with a more in-depth treatment. The cover has a photo of, I assume, an adolescent Dave Arneson sitting a classroom and overlaid with words like thought balloons coming out his head: "Mechanistic Invariance? Infinite Variability? Ongoing Systemization? ... Dad needs me to shovel the drive..." To me, this implied a book with at least some biographical details about Dave linking ideas and concepts he developed at a young age to his game design breakthroughs. Also, I'd expect a book about Dave Arneson's genius to quote Dave much more such as from his games, battle reports and what he wrote in the zines, and to analyze specifics of the games he designed. But that isn't really what we get here. As far as I can tell, Rob only quotes Dave twice, and the quotes are both from an interview in KOBOLD QUARTERLY and are a bit underwhelming: "Rules lawyers... I regard them as the enemy," and "I like loose so you can change things that are not working" (p. 44). I don't doubt at all that Dave Arneson had an ingenious conceptual breakthrough in his development of Blackmoor, but I don't think it is represented and analyzed as well as it could have been in this book. Rob actually quotes EGG more, often to contrast EGG's early, open-ended gaming philosophy -- more in line with Arneson's -- against a later approach geared towards standardization and marketing. Rob writes quite a bit about Arneson's design attitude, conceptual model and systems architecture but doesn't back it up enough with quotes from Arneson. Did Arneson use these terms to talk about his gaming ideas? Does this book accurately represent how Dave thought when approaching game design? Or does it represent Rob's thoughts about Arneson's conceptual breakthroughs? There are quotes from academics like Herbert Simon, Arthur Koestler, and Wilson N. Felder, and even one from August Derleth, but it isn't clear how they all tie into Dave Arneson's ingenuity or the way he approached game design. I'm not saying Rob is falsely representing Dave, but only that the book does not succeed in demonstrating that it accurately portrays the way Dave thought and what made him a genius. It reads like a series of academic essays Rob wrote on his ideas about game design at a very abstract level. It has far too many unnecessary footnotes, technical terms, and references to Rob's upcoming but as yet unpublished book. For these reasons, I can't really recommend this book.
Rob I think is always concerned about trends so he might just be placating the Arneson apologist trend with facts surrounding the idea of Arneson the idea man and discarding obvious discrepancies to deemphasize contradictions.
Gary's comments directly to me on Arneson was an echo of the legal document where Arneson said he believed he was an agent and not a designer.
Let me know what you think of the Arneson book. Some of ROM’s comments around the release time came of as a bitter swipe at Gary, or profiteering off of a controversial opinion. While hanging with Rob at GenCon Rob made dismissive comments about how minor Dave’s contributions to the game were.
I'm not sure what his comments were at that time, but in this book Rob is certainly not dismissive of Dave's contributions to the game. Quite the opposite. He writes (pp. 48-50):
Dave Arneson creates Blackmoor from an amalgam of many parts; the MMSA playtests it for almost 2 years wherein it continues to grow according to Arneson's ongoing systemization views; Dave Arneson then introduces it to us, the LGTSA, in November 1972...
Summary: Arneson's systems architecture was described by Gygax in print, but it was not created by the latter; and it is not apparent anywhere before except in Arneson's history before the publication of D&D. Thus Gygax cannot have conceived of the original RPG building, as that actual building, using the same architecture that D&D would use, was already in place and continuing to grow (i.e. in the campaign and conceptual environs of Blackmoor); and so Gygax proceeded to fill it out (re-model it) with different rooms as he liked, but only according to his design proclivity and not due to cohesion issues, as the original rooms, all housed within the building that Arneson built were, and still are to this day, fully functional according to his same architectural plan utilized for D&D.
One should not equate the 2nd builder who greatly assists in erecting a second RPG with being the actual architect of RPGs.
I'd love to read a long essay devoted solely to that November 1972 gaming session. Would it have been recognizable to us as a fully functioning fantasy RPG? If so, then Rob is correct and D&D wasn't the first fantasy RPG, it was a remodeling of something that already existed. But other questions to ask are: how much did Dave make use of the CHAINMAIL Fantasy Supplement and BRAUNSTEIN, and to what extent did they inspire him? Would BLACKMOOR have ever emerged without the fertile ground created by these other games?
“I'm not sure what his comments were at that time, but in this book Rob is certainly not dismissive of Dave's contributions to the game. Quite the opposite. He writes (pp. 48-50):“ That’s kind of why I had the feeling he was trying to diminish EGG’s reputation as much as tout Dave’s true genius. At Gen Con his comments were along the line of Dave’ contribution being a handful of barely coherent notes, and Gary did the rest.
I suppose both could be true: BLACKMOOR could have been a fully functioning fantasy RPG and a handful of barely coherent notes. It's not necessarily a contradiction but definitely a shift in emphasis. Rob seems more willing to praise Arneson and be critical of EGG nowadays. In this book is an essay on what he calls Debunking the Chainmail/Braunstein "Derivation" Claims (pp. 48-57) and I assume he's referring to PLAYING AT THE WORLD (2012) by Jon Peterson and EMPIRE OF THE IMAGINATION (2015) by Michael Witwer as well as internet chatter, but he doesn't specify. The Peterson and Witwer books present nuanced views, and are well cited.
The most striking part of Rob's book is somewhat incongruous with all of the abstract, academic talk. It is a biographical episode, and felt like a real gut-punch... It was a stockholder's meeting after GENCON IX (1976) attended by, according to Rob: Gary Gygax (President), Brian Blume (Vice President), Terry Kuntz (Dungeon Hobby Shop Manager), Rob Kuntz (Shipping Manager/GENCON Convention Chairman), Mike Carr (Controller), Dave Sutherland (Art Department Head), Dave Megarry (Accounting), and Dave Arneson (Research Director). I'll quote some of it here (pp. 22-25):
First order of business was a request by those who I will refer to as our "friends from Minnesota" (Arneson, Megarry and Carr); and this for a third Director (in addition to Gary and Brian) being added to the board, namely, Brian's father, Melvin Blume (who had been a successful executive for Wisconsin Tool & Die).
When Gary asked why this was being forwarded the Minneapolis group (speaking with and for Arneson) stated it would provide a direction for Dave's overlooked participation and design views in the company. Arneson has been mothballed since his arrival in Lake Geneva, working out of his apartment, and pretty much just sourcing talent for TSR from Minneapolis, such as, previously, with Megarry's Dungeon! Carr's Fight in the Skies , and with influences extending for M. A. R. Barker's EPT and Snider's Star Probe , the latter being on the next horizon.
Dave Arneson felt that he needed to be more involved with the design end of the D&D game he had helped create and was obviously getting no access for that from his current position or requests. [Footnote 17: Arneson was seen infrequently at TSR due to limited office space. This pretty much isolated him to his apartment on Wisconsin Street when he was not working in the art department area or in Mike Carr's office, the latter that I, at times, also shared.] My brother and I were not aware of this circumstance so we were catching up with the back-and-forth as it transpired; but there was light (i.e., diplomatic) concern being voiced by all of the three as I've noted. It was all sincere and couched intelligently and forthrightly, especially by Mike Carr who was always mild-mannered, reasonable and intelligent in his conversations.
Lots of silence followed that exchange and then Gary suggested that we poll the department heads present about whether there was misdirection with the company and if anything needed to be changed (a point that I concluded as side-stepping the tabled issue). Brian Blue assented to the suggestion and the poll proceeded from Gary's right (the Minneapolis group) and who except for as previously stated by Arneson, above, didn't have objections to how their departments were being responded to. My brother voiced some needs for the hobby shop; and then it was my turn, and I started by saying, "Yes there something that needs to be done..." but I was not allowed to finish the sentence, which was, "with shipping supplies..." as halfway through it Gary bolted from his seat and leaning forward and across his desk screamed at the top of his lungs in my face. Though I am sure there was a sentence contained in his outraged outburst for me, I don't recall it as I was stunned senseless by this as were all of the stockholders; everyone was silent while Gary reseated himself. I had never finished my sentence.
Gary immediately called for a vote on the tabled proposal of "our friends from Minnesota" which was defeated, with my brother and myself abstaining due to real lack of prior knowledge regarding Arneson's situation.
The meeting was adjourned after a request for any more business to be presented. There was a meet-up at a local bar of "our friends from Minnesota" that my brother and I went to in order to finally find out what was going on, but its aftermath must be left aside for another time.
The very next day Gary waved me into his office upon my arrival at TSR and behind closed doors he explained the the previous night had been an attempted takeover of the company. In our eight years of student-mentor relationship I had usually hung on every word he'd said. Now it seemed that a change had occurred and I was not sensing him, even though I easily noted that he was highly agitated. I could not ascertain what it was that seemed out of place. I nodded. I had no idea why I was there or what was expected from me in response.
The upshot of this stockholder's meeting was a monumental shake-up of TSR's current structure: Dave Megarry tendered his resignation soon afterwards; with a big smile on his face he bid farewell while saying to me that it felt like a burden had been lifted from him. Just prior to his resignation I had once again attempted to get the "Upstairs" to accept my own request to be moved to design. I was being crushed with shipping duties and pressing convention concerns (with two GENCONs behind me, I had agreed to do Winter Fantasy 1, upcoming) and was not able to effectively concentrate on design work any longer, much the same way that Arneson was not being promoted for design work. A long letter explaining why my talent was misplaced in the company was presented to Brian Blume who handed it over to Gary. I received it back a day later with the following red letters written across the black in: "NO!!"
After careful consideration of everything that had transpired to this point I tendered my resignation with a two weeks notice, this a few days after Megarry's departure. In an impromptu meeting with Gary, who came down to speak with me in shipping, we discussed future convention work, my continuation of writing articles for TSR periodicals and of answering the mailed in questions regarding D&D. I left on "good" if somewhat strained terms with TSR.
My departure was soon to be followed, back-to-back, by my brother and Dave Arneson, both of whom were forced to quit the company under less than savory circumstances that were engineered for them. [Footnote 18: These circumstances are explicitly detailed in my unpublished memoirs.]
All I got from the backs and forth between Rob and Gary was at one point Rob left America and came back and things were no longer laid back and Gary was hard to get a hold of. It seemed like this was during the AD&D beginnings.
EGG was so happy at Rob's 'return' that he announced it a "From the Sorcerer's Scroll" article in DRAGON Magazine #55 (November 1981):
Finally, I had heartening news recently. Rob Kuntz, after a long stint away from AD&D gaming (reputedly due to a case of reveling in royalty income) has again returned to the creative fold. Being first one of the original participants in my Greyhawk campaign, and eventually its co-DM, Rob is eminently qualified to assist in the production of the storehouse of material and information which you are asking for. Rob and I have sat down several times over the past few weeks to discuss how we should go about this production in order to assure an orderly and useful flow of new things. Here is the tentative list we are now aiming at:
A. Regular WORLD OF GREYHAWK game information via the "Sorcerer's Scroll" column -- you have the first here!
B. Completion of the CITY OF GREYHAWK map and gazetteer. Rob, Terry Kuntz, and Eric Shook are now at work on the project.
C. Detailed, smaller-scale maps of important areas of the Flanaess, complete with important residents and some encounters. The same team has ruled off the world map, and as soon as CITY OF GREYHAWK is finished, I expect this project to move ahead with force.
D. Miniatures rules for large-scale battles between the states of Oerth — in limbo now, although Steve Carpenter of Minifigs has mentioned that he is working on possible rules for this use.
E. GREYHAWK CASTLE & DUNGEONS production — at this point, this is only in a very general discussion stage, because of the other projects and the fact that the existing is only suitable for use by Rob and I. (As with most extensive dungeon complexes, much is developed and kept in the head due to actual play, and some areas are so difficult as to be impossible for those not used to our DM style.) So, initial work is unlikely to begin on this effort until sometime late in 1982.
I agree that with Dave it was probably a little of both. I have no doubt that he could conceptualize and run great games, but it’s also obvious that he didn’t know how to present those concepts in a way that would be appealing to anybody but the niche-iest gamers. When you look at everything, you have to admit that Gary’s business acumen was lacking. You can talk all you want about hostile takeovers, but there’s a track record of poor decisions made before and after. And I’ve heard multiple stories about what a tyrant he was when he was in charge.