I spent many hours this past weekend reading Tim Kask’s thread at Dragonsfoot. First of all let me say that in my Essentials & Concepts post last month I shortchanged Mr. Kask’s efforts in compiling Supplement II, Blackmoor. I have no doubt that assembling those random, disorganized notes that he received from Arneson was a Herculean effort. It’s just that aside from the Temple of the Frog, which Kask claims was the only section of Blackmoor actually written by Arneson, I find little use with the book. I’ve never been a big fan of the Monk, the Assassin, Hit Location or of marine adventures. There’s little to get excited about. The book surely reads well, but I’m in it for the options and suggestions, and aside from the aforementioned TotF adventure, I don’t much care for that supplement.
It’s quite clear that Tim Kask and Dave Arneson didn’t work well together. In reading Tim’s posts, one finds it obvious that he had an axe to grind in regard to Arneson. That’s some serious long standing ill will, over thirty years after the fact. I cannot question or dispute his assertions in regard to Arneson, and I have no reason to do so. I do however feel compelled to recognize the yeoman’s work that Mr. Kask apparently performed in taking a jumbled hodge-podge basketful of handwritten notes and transforming them into a published book.
While catching up on Tim’s posts I learned quite a bit about the history of D&D and TSR. Tim Kask has probably forgotten more on the two subjects than many of us will ever learn. Assuming everything within is true, I came away from the often scathing comments with what I feel is essentially confirmation of how I envisioned the Gygax & Arneson co authorship of D&D. I’ll not mince words here. Arneson was not gifted with the written word. Gygax, as everyone already knows, was not merely gifted, but was a master of the language. Furthermore, Gygax was uniquely talented at putting together gaming rules. Arneson, not so much, if at all. Dave’s Blackmoor games used many outside rules which were bolted on to the ongoing campaign, such as Chainmail, naval wargame tables, and Avalon Hill’s Outdoor Survival.
Arneson is quoted as saying that he didn’t write a single word for the original D&D. I don’t doubt this one bit, but I think this fact can be taken out of context. Arneson blended the essential elements that became D&D. I believe this is why Gygax felt obliged to include him as co author. Whether or not Dave actually “wrote” anything in the first three volumes is besides the point. Gygax developed and wrote D&D. You’ll notice I say developed. This, for me, is one of the key points to the entire Gygax & Arneson team, such as it was. Gary did not come up with this concept, Dave did. Gary took Dave’s ideas and formed them into a coherent, comprehensive format that was playable by the masses. Dave couldn’t do that, and was infamous for his disorganized notes and random ideas.
I don’t mean to diminish Gary’s role here. There are certainly major rules differences between D&D’s progenitor Blackmoor, and D&D itself. It was more than a simple compilation and light edit effort. Ideas were nailed down and fleshed out, and made into streamlined playable game features. Grey areas were defined and turned into actual tables and guides. Additional rules from Gary’s Greyhawk were meshed into the system. For example, the concept of Experience, that being the reward for surviving through ongoing game sessions, went from Arneson’s Flunky-Hero-Superhero cycle to Gygax’s actual Class Levels. The idea is the same, but it has been improved immeasurably with Gary’s input. The fact that so much of the Blackmoor game used Chainmail as a basis cannot be dismissed either. Many of Gary’s own conventions introduced therein were a large part of the Blackmoor game.
It seems Arneson was good at coming up with ideas but needed someone else to translate them into a readable and playable format. It strikes me that when Gygax handed that basketful of Arneson’s notes for Blackmoor over to Kask, he knew it was a path he had already traveled. Gygax was confident that Kask could turn them into a Supplement. The components had been there for both D&D and Supplement II, someone just needed to bring them out and make them shine. I’m glad that Mr Kask was able to plunder the Temple of the Frog from those notes, polish it up, and transform it into the first example of a D&D adventure. It was never my intention to belittle his efforts in compiling Supplement II. Considering what Tim apparently had to work with he deserves co authorship on Blackmoor in the same way that Gary did on Dungeons & Dragons.
~Sham, Quixotic Referee