Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The Deadly Illusion of GenCon 1978

 

As much attention as Game Wizards lavishes on conventions, there was more still before the manuscript was cut down to size. Convention tournaments in particular received more attention, and GenCon 1978 had a anecdote that began as follows: "Even the tournament was something of a shambles, with only one group surviving the second round: seven out of eight parties died to an illusion, mistaking for a teleporter something that was actually a deadly pit." This account follows Jon Pickens's description in A&E #39, which makes for something of a funny story, and lets us see with fresh eyes the encounter with Silussa the succubus and her vampire beau Belgos in D3 Vault of the Drow.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Arneson v. Gygax: The Freeman Deposition

 

When Dave Arneson's lawsuit against TSR was nearing a trial date at the end of 1980, his legal team recruited an expert witness in the person of Jon Freeman. Freeman, who wrote for Games magazine and had recently produced The Complete Guide to Board Games, was a longstanding D&D fan who drove one of the earliest computer adaptations of dungeon-crawling to see a commercial release: The Temple of Apshai (1979), first of the "Dunjonquest" series. Today, we'll take a look (a layman's look, not a lawyer's) at Freeman's argument, beginning with his chart above, which shows how Gary Gygax's earlier Chainmail rules contrasted with both D&D and AD&D.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Game Wizards: The Evolution of TSR Contracts

This single piece of paper constitutes the entirety of the understanding between TSR and the authors of the 1975 Greyhawk supplement: most significantly, it covers a copyright assignment to TSR and an agreement from TSR to pay royalties based on "the cover price of the game rules or game on each and every copy sold." It is quite short, having been drafted pro bono by Gary Gygax's uncle at a time when Tactical Studies Rules was still a partnership, and D&D had sold perhaps 1500 copies. This language is of especial interest because the same form was used for the 1975 D&D contract, and famously Dave Arneson would later sue TSR on the grounds that his rights to royalties extended to titles like the Holmes Basic Set and the AD&D hardcover books. This is a major focus of Game Wizards

Over the next five years, TSR refined the language of their new agreements to be clearer about what rights authors were assigning, and for which sales they would receive compensation. I am definitely not a lawyer, but I am going to offer below a few layman's thoughts about the evolution of TSR's contract language during this period.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Arneson's Hit Points for Characters

 

Game Wizards is very decidedly not a book about who invented which system in D&D. But early drafts of the book did track one design choice in D&D that Dave Arneson perennially criticized: the system wherein characters gain more hit points as they go up in level. Arneson held that character hit points should instead be fixed at character creation, and that characters should become harder to hit as they rise in level. While that story thread failed its save against manuscript bloat, restoring it does add context for Gygax and Arneson's subsequent disputes. Probably the most well-known place Arneson mentioned his system was in the introduction to the First Fantasy Campaign (1977), as shown above.

Friday, October 15, 2021

"Game Wizards" the Game

 

Game Wizards has "turn results" at the end of the annual chapters to track the big picture, while casting the business of D&D as the sort of game that Gygax and others often made it out to be. Early drafts of the book actually had a 1970s-style Diplomacy variant serialized from the beginning, with installments throughout, which both served as a sort of ersatz dramatis personae and also would have made the chapter closer look more like what you would have seen for turn results in an actual Dippy zine back in the day. I was eventually persuaded it was too obscure and gimmicky, and scaled it back to its current form. But for the amusement of anyone digging into the book now, this is an (unpolished) excerpt of what that might have looked like.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Units of Value and the Tactical Studies Rules Partnership

 

From September 1973 to September 1975, Tactical Studies Rules was a partnership of hobbyists, not a corporation. Under Wisconsin law at the time, partnerships apparently couldn't sell stock shares -- but TSR devised a way to sneak key people some equity in the venture. The above shows the partnership granting five "units of value" to Dave Arneson, on May 1, 1975. So, what were these "units of value"?

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Game Wizards: D&D Development Timeline

 

While Game Wizards has plenty to say about the big picture of TSR's corporate financials, it also pays a lot of attention to the early, scrappy days when D&D was more of a hobby than a business to the people who made it. This visual timeline of the 1972-4 process is intentionally pretty high-level, showing sequences of events rather than exact dates, but it is the working model I used for this era as I wrote the book. It is a little different from the timeline certain books (including mine) have given in the past.