Friday, April 12, 2013

The Dalluhn Manuscript: In Detail and On Display

It's been a few months since I've discussed the Dalluhn Manuscript here. In the intervening time, I have conducted a more thorough study of the document, consulted with forensics experts and early gamers, and assembled my findings to date into a paper that I present here as an "interim appendix" to Playing at the World along with a few exhibits. Those brave few who have complained that they found PatW too short may take solace in this substantial addition. Like the book, this appendix is dense, scholarly reading, but I'm working on a friendlier account that I hope will appear soon (EDIT: in issue #2 of Gygax magazine). For the impatient, I provide a high-level introduction to the evidence below. I believe the paper establishes that the Dalluhn Manuscript preserves the earliest currently known version of the game of Dungeons & Dragons. (EDIT: click here for more confirmation derived from the recent recovery a 1973 Gygax working draft of D&D.)

The publication of this "interim appendix" coincides with a development in the availability of the Dalluhn Manuscript: I have loaned the original copy of this to the National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY. It goes on display there this coming weekend, on April 13th, 2013, as a feature of their Game Time! exhibit, along with many other interesting artifacts from the history of modern gaming. If want to see it first hand, do drop by; there are plenty of other amazing pieces of history on display.
For those interested in a preview of the content of the paper, without the technical detail, here are a few highlights.

First of all, the paper explores crucial editorial mistakes in the production of the earliest version of original Dungeons & Dragons (OD&D). These are cases where some passages in OD&D are inconsistent with the remainder of the text in a way that hints at what early drafts of OD&D must have looked like. Previously, these have been curiosities to scholars of OD&D. Why does the elemental monster text refer to elemental controlling devices as "medallions, gems, stones or bracelets" instead of the names in the magical item list? Why does the languages passage refer to alignment languages as "divisional" languages? How did the percentage range for the "Ring of Delusion" end up broken? With the Dalluhn Manuscript in hand, we can find answers to all of these questions: each inconsistency points to the content of an earlier draft, a pre-publication system which is preserved in the Dalluhn Manuscript. For "divisional languages," for example, we learn that "dvision" was the name for "alignment" in Dalluhn.


Since OD&D evolved from Arneson's Blackmoor campaign, which in turn began with Chainmail, we would expect that a pre-publication edition would show us a system in the midst of evolving from those influences into D&D as we know it. In fact there are numerous respects in which the Dalluhn Manuscript is an exact "stepping stone" between these earlier systems and OD&D. We can see this wherever notes from Blackmoor in 1972 survived: in the list of investment areas for baronies, for example, which OD&D narrows down significantly. We can see Chainmail preserved in the text of many spells and monsters, quite lucidly in "Light." The most crucial cases, though, are those like the "roc" text where we can see Chainmail and Blackmoor notes combine into the entries in Dalluhn, and then show how the Dalluhn entry clearly bridged the way to OD&D.


These are of course just examples: the paper examines scores of points of evidence like these. Of course, I didn't figure all of this out on my own. Daniel Boggs found many correspondences between the Dalluhn Manuscript and Blackmoor. Geoffrey MacKinney provided a very clever demonstration that the list of Magic-user spells in OD&D must have come after the Dalluhn list, as the exhibit below shows. My goal in loaning this work out to the National Museum of Play is to find a permanent home where the document will be available to scholars who can further explores its history and implications.



17 comments:

  1. I find this all fascinating. Your book was one of my favorites of the past few years. I started collecting Dragon magazines after reading it and am only missing 1, 12 and 17. Great stuff!

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  2. I read through your paper tonight, and I think you have done the best analysis possible at this stage; unless and until we get more data, I think you have really done a good job on determining the place of this manuscript in gaming history!

    Bravo!

    yours, chirine

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    1. Indeed, at this stage really all I'm aiming for is establishing dating and priority. If I can prove that this system came before D&D, and that the original D&D text refers to it, I think we've resolved the most important question. There are of course other questions, but then again there remain a ton of questions about exactly how the original version of D&D was produced as well, and it's unclear when or if data will emerge that would let us resolve those questions as well.

      Thanks for the read and the kind words.

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  3. Thanks for the article. I went to the museum yesterday and saw the 8 pages they had on display. I had (unrealistically, I know) hoped that the entire text would be viewable, but it was still nice to see those 8 pages.

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  4. Thanks Jon for the article and your well-reasoned paper. Do you know whether anyone has asked Rob Kuntz to comment on the Dalluhn Manuscript?

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    1. If you search "Kuntz" in said paper you will find a section talking about my outreach surrounding this. As I believe you and I have discussed before, my own research method is basically blind to decades-old recollection as a form of historical evidence, but naturally I showed this document to many people who were around at the time to see if anyone could shed any light on it. While I have run across a few eyewitnesses, as the paper describes, who believe that the document is a pre-publication edition of D&D, the evidence I argue from is the textual evidence in the paper demonstrating the relationship of Dalluhn to other early documents.

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    2. Sorry, I missed the Kuntz reference. I appreciate that your approach is both solid an scientific and that your paper concentrates on the central issue of placing the document in its proper historical context. I just cant help feeling that it is anecdotally strange that none of the old D&D stalwarts that have been shown or referred to the maunscript had a "wow I remember that!" moment.

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    3. It would be anecdotally strange if it were in any way uncommon. In my experience waving documents in front of people's faces, this is however the norm.

      If I may with some small irony relate an anecdote of my own, last month I met a member of the original Lake Geneva gaming circle who had been reading my book, and who insisted that he had never heard of a gaming society that PatW had placed him in. With the materials I had on my person, I at least managed to convince him that the society in question existed, but he maintained that he had no part in it. By email, I later sent to him a half dozen or so scans from period magazines that contained reports attributed to him on the activities of the society. He replied firmly that despite the attributions the reports could have been written by someone else. I then furnished him with some more evidence for this, including a period piece that clearly identified him as the president of this society. He hasn't yet replied to that email.

      From these sorts of interactions, which I've had numerous times since I first started working on this project, I have gotten the impression that most of this history has not only been forgotten, but for the most part people have forgotten that they ever even forgot anything about it. No one at the time knew that the gaming events of 1973 would be worthy of remembrance. When it comes down to unpublished documents, for which it's unclear who might have seen them or where they were produced, it's quite common to draw a blank when we ask who remembers them. Fortunately, we have more reliable tools at our disposal to make sense of these things.

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    4. When I started doing trial work I told a senior lawyer that I wanted to consult with a witness. He cautioned me against it because we didn't yet have all the relevant documents. He told me that until I could put every document in which the witness was mentioned in front of the same witness, for him to read, there was no way I could ask him to tell me his version of events. Same reason I guess.

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    5. Kind of. The moral of my story is that even if I put a document *you wrote* with *your name on it* in front of you, that doesn't mean you'll remember it. You don't get to choose what you remember. You may still deny you wrote it because you don't remember it. But as historians, what should we believe?

      Now just imagine how much worse the situation is when we're talking about third parties looking at collaborative documents written by others, unpublished drafts with very uncertain and extremely limited distributions, probably just one instance in a lengthy chain drafts or sets of notes, and ask yourself how likely it is that a given person would have even seen it, let alone remember it.

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    6. That is a great anecdote! Completely in line with other interactions I've heard from that original gaming circle, and very much highlights the importance of your method. Thanks for sharing that.

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  5. I have a few issues with this analysis, mostly where I think you don't adequately account for a few factors in the document (I use this term because it doesn't assume anything about its writing). One is that Dan Boggs talked about the tone of the writing being different while you seem to take for granted that the writing is essentially either proto-D&D or derived from Chainmail or the notes that became FFC. This is probably the most serious flaw, because you wind up assuming part of your conclusion (that it is basically transitional).

    Neither your analysis nor Dan's accounts adequately for the drawings. Chirine has vouched for the drawings as definitely resembling the unpublished art of Arneson, which I think is pretty interesting evidence. I think you come very close to handwaving the drawings, but even if they're not original to the document, their presence requires some deeper explanation.

    If it's a pre-publication edition as you hypothesize, then the absence of any attribution, title or credit requires some explanation. I also think you need to discuss and show examples of pre-publication documents like it in order to establish that this is a possibility.

    Finally I'm intrigued by the fact that it's from Phil Barker's garage, and I think this should be factored into the analysis. It means that it's possible that this is an artifact of the Minneapolis "scene" before D&D was officially published, rather than a draft compiled as part of the writing process. (It also invites speculation as to whether Barker had anything to do with its production.)

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    1. I appreciate your thoughtful response here. I'll speak to each of your points in turn, but before I do, it might be worth restating the obvious from the paper: that the facts about the system (like my Exhibit K shown here) are what I think shows us that this is a pre-publication manuscript. Unless those can be explained away plausibly (that is, without invoking time machines), I'm not sure that solving any of the other points you raise here are relevant to establishing that this is a pre-publication manuscript. I would argue that we left with only the necessity of establishing there is at least one possible hypothesis for addressing each of the loose ends, as it were.

      With that slight course correction, to your first point: I'm not particularly persuaded by any of the arguments from style that have been raised to date. I believe I have reviewed an adequate sample of the contemporary unedited writings of Gygax and Arneson - something that I don't believe many people can convincingly claim - and my assessment is that the style of Dalluhn doesn't require any special explanation, so my paper doesn't supply any. I don't think comparing the Dalluhn text to decades-later writing samples, or comparing rules text to informal banter in a letters column, say, are really indicative of an apples-to-apples comparison. If you want to compare the Dalluhn text to anything from a stylistic perspective, I'd suggest 2nd editon Chainmail's Fantasy supplement. There are many very technical details about the text of the document (consistent misspellings, etc) that might eventually help us to identify who typed it, but to date I haven't seen found anything remotely conclusive. Accordingly, I don't draw any conclusion about that. I don't think any are needed to date the document.

      As for the drawings, my paper clearly states the salient point about them from my perspective: that they were clearly added after the fact to the body text. There is a pretty wide field of candidates for who might have added them, and a number of possible hypotheses for why and when they may have been added. What we lack is any particular reason to support one of those hypotheses over the others. While Jeff is in good company in believing Arneson drew these illustrations, and I certainly wouldn't rule out that possibility, I don't believe the existing evidence is sufficient to support that or any other conclusion. Even if it were, I don't think that would alter my conclusions about the dating of the text in the slightest. As such I don't draw any particular conclusion there either. I will say that with more time and research, we may be able to do better on this front, though. I just didn't think we needed to wait for that to produce the results (along the lines of Exhibit K) that date this document.

      [cont'd]

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    2. The paper states quite clearly that the missing pages imply the actual title page, and any accompanying attribution, could just be missing from this photocopy. I point out that the ellipses around "... beyond this point be dragons ..." if anything suggest this is an interstitial page rather than a title. I'm not sure any other explanation is required. If the last page is missing (it is), why not the first? Or an enclosing folder with the title and authors' names? Or any of a number of other possibilities, that we lack the evidence to decide between today? Where we lack evidence, I'm not sure there's any obligation for us to speculate baselessly. But again, nor would this alter the analysis of the system in the document.

      Finally, I agree it is interesting that this was found in Barker's garage, but given that Barker in 1974 gamed and associated with many Twin Cities gamers who had once been playtesters of D&D, I'm not sure how this factors in either way. The folks at the Tekumel Foundation like Jeff, who had this document long before me, dismiss the idea that Barker produced this himself out of hand. On balance, I concur that it's pretty unlikely that Barker was involved in the production of this for a number of, again, narrow technical reasons about how this compares to his other output. The distinction you imply between "an artifact of the Minneapolis 'scene' before D&D was official published" and "a draft compiled as part of the writing process" is lost on me, unless you're implying a very Gygaxian narrative in which a Minneapolis draft would by definition not be a pre-publication D&D manuscript.

      But again, from my perspective these uncertainties have little to do with dating the document, and all I'm trying to establish right now is that question. When you say that I take the derivation of this document from Chainmail or FFC "for granted," I must suggest you take a slightly harder look at my paper. In fact I establish that the writing in Dalluhn is derived from those sources with scores of individual points of evidence. There are entire passages of Dalluhn that are verbatim identical to Chainmail - is that "for granted," in your estimation? Squint at Exhibit A, if you have it handy; I make no circular assumption here. With complete access to this text, and to other pre-D&D resources, I think it's difficult to reach any other conclusion about the dating of this document. I've made this available through a museum precisely so that interested scholars could make that evaluation for themselves.

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  6. Off topic for the post, I just wanted to let you know I just got the book in the mail, I didn't realize what a massive tome it was. I'm digging the hell out of it so far. Keep up the good work.

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  7. ...now you need to release a "2e. Playing At the World" that is updated to take this new information into account ;p Seriously, though--as the definitive book on the topic, it practically demands that this be added.

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    1. Oh, there are many things in PatW that require some expansion, on account of myriad new sources that have come to light since I put the book out. In fact, the book necessarily attracts new evidence, as readers want to enhance or challenge the account in it. One of the fascinating things about studying the Dalluhn Manuscript is that it reveals new connections with other early sources that we would overlook, if we didn't have the Dalluhn Manuscript as a stepping stone to show us the path of influence. But I'd like to beg for some grace time to collect still more material before revisiting the core text of PatW. It will be worth the wait, I promise.

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