Sunday, September 18, 2022

Meeting Dave Arneson

 So, recently TSR/RPG researcher Ben Riggs published an interesting piece of TSR history: Dave Arneson's proposal to Peter Adkison asking to be hired back at TSR and put in charge of D&D.


"Why D&D's Co-Creator

Didn't Get Hired by

Wizards of the Coast"



Riggs states that this was the last of Arneson's many efforts over the years trying to regain control of the game, all unsuccessful, though Arneson did manage to extract a good deal of cash from TSR over the years. The Great War between Gygax and Arneson is now the stuff of legend, recently set down by RPG scholar Jon Peterson in well-documented glory in his book GAME WIZARDS.


Riggs says this April 1997 gambit was Arneson's last effort along these lines.  As it turns out, I think I can add to this account.  I only met Arneson once that I remember,*  when he dropped by the RPG department at WotC. I don't know who was showing him around, but he came over from the direction of Peter's office, so I assumed he'd been meeting Peter Adkison himself. Arneson was in a good mood, v. pleased as he told us the news that he would be contributing to the new edition of D&D (what came to be known as 3e). This surprised me, because Julia and I were already well into the editing of the PLAyER'S HANDBOOK (working on the skills and spells, I think;  Julia or Jonathan might remember more), and any contribution Arneson might want to make wd have to be in hand pretty soon.  I did not however share this reservation with Arneson; it seemed inappropriate to rain on his parade, put the kibosh on his happy mood, however you want to put it. 


What strikes me as curious about this is that it wd definitely have been after the April 1997 period Ben Rigg's letters date from. Among other considerations, I was laid off from TSR in Lake Geneva at the end of December 1996 and hired back at Gen Con 1997, reporting to work in Ranton in early September 1997.  Arneson's visit was definitely to the Renton building, so it cdn't have been earlier than that.  Working from the other end, my copy of the Third Edition PLAYER'S HANDBOOK is dated Monday June 19th 2000. I know that 3e had an unusually long creation period but can't now remember specific signposts. At a guess, the encounter I'm remembering is likeliest to have fallen about a year before the book's release date --which wd make it circa mid-1999, or about two years after the April 1997 letters.



In the end Arneson contributed nothing to 3e D&D, but Peter's meeting with him clearly made him happy. And it's of a piece with Adkison's making a goodwill gesture to Gygax as well, which resulted in his writing a brief Foreword to RETURN TO THE TOMB OF HORRORS (1998).






*While drafting this post I discovered that I may have met him one other time, at the 1995 Origins in Philadelphia (the only time I've ever been to Origins. Or Philadelphia). Inspired by Petersen's account of Arneson's career in his THE GAME WIZARDS, I did some recent sorting of the remaining rpg collection.  I remembered that somewhere down there I have a copy of THE FIRST FANTASY CAMPAIGN, Arneson's post-D&D Judge's Guild release. I haven't unearthed that  (yet) but I did find a copy of the boxed set ADVENTURES IN FANTASY (Adventures UnlimitedExcalibre), signed by both Arneson and his cowriter, Richard Snider.** 


**not sure how he connects with the Snider who authored the early TSR STAR EMPIRES/STAR PROBE digest-sized games (John M. Snider), nor the one who illustrated the former (Paul G. Snider).


According to my note on the inside box cover this was a gift from Lester Smith ("cJuly '95"), one of TSR's top talents in the mid-90s.


And with this I found THE ADVENTURE OF THE PACIFIC CLIPPER, by Arneson (Flying Buffalo); this one is autographed 


"to John

Dave Arneson



  I remember the con well, but somehow this event has disappeared from my memory, alas.



Falconer said...

Hey, John. Hope you find that FFC. It’s a very interesting read. More Tolkien content than you would expect, too!

Word has gotten out about The History of the Hobbit Deluxe. It’s on Amazon UK under ISBN 0008601402. What can you tell us about this? (Assuming you knew!)

John D. Rateliff said...

Dear Falconer

Thanks for the hook re. the Arneson book. This will spur me on in my efforts. (first I have to get through sorting out all the Judges Guild and Mayfair RoleAids)

I'll see what I can find out about the deluxe edition of H.o.H.. It'd certainly be nice to have such a thing available for those who like such things (which I admit includes myself).

--John R.

John D. Rateliff said...

Dear Falconer

Glad to say I found my copy of Arneson's FIRST FANTASY CAMPAIGN today, so I shd have a chance to look it over within the next few days. Must say your mention of Tolkien content has my interest piqued.

--John R.

Falconer said...

Hope I didn’t oversell the Tolkien part, John! Regardless, hope you find it quite enjoyable!

Gerald Groy said...

Both Arneson and Gygax were liars who had no problem twisting facts to suit them. Fun game, tedious creators.