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.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Game Wizards: TSR Staffing

 

The above model, drawn from the narrative of Game Wizards, shows roughly how many people TSR had on staff between 1976 and 1985. Obviously, staffing fluctuated over a given year, and these plotted points are not anchored to any particular date on the calendar, but they impart a general sense of TSR headcount across its peaks, midpoints, and valleys. At the macro level, staffing ramped up steadily after the Egbert incident, accelerated recklessly in 1982, and then plummeted sharply thereafter. But this isn't the way that Gary Gygax remembered it... and that warrants a bit of explanation.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Game Wizards: TSR Financials

 


Underpinning the business story of Game Wizards is the financial model shown here of TSR as a company, from the founding of TSR Hobbies in 1975 to the ouster of Gary Gygax at the end of 1985. Although it leaves out coverage of the earliest years, this chart is in effect the narrative of Game Wizards visualized: it also locates major events on the timeline, and along the very bottom shows who was running the company when. So where does this data come from?

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Game Wizards: My New Book

I have a new book coming out next month called Game Wizards. Unlike my previous books, which are histories of game design, this is an early history of Dungeons & Dragons as a product: of how it came to be a product at all, of the people who made it, of its unlikely success, and of the battles that its success caused. If you've read my "Ambush at Sheridan Springs" article from 2014, this is a book-length expansion of its story. It follows the business journey of D&D, as well its creators, from their hobbyist origins up to Gary Gygax's ouster from TSR in 1985.