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.
Probably the most dramatic adjustment to the traditionally accepted timeline shown here is dating when Dave Arneson and Dave Megarry made their famous visit to Lake Geneva to demonstrate dungeoneering. I am well aware that this contradicts no small number of sources, including Playing at the World, but ultimately, I no longer believe timelines dating that event circa November 1972 are viable. To quickly summarize:
- At the end of 1972, Gygax planned to do a third edition of Chainmail for Guidon Games, and having read Arneson's pieces in the Domesday Book and Corner of the Table (as well as private correspondence), he wrote to ask him for any Chainmail modifications developed for Blackmoor, promising credit and a free copy of third edition Chainmail when it appeared. Ever cost-conscious, Gygax often mailed quick blurbs using index cards as post cards:
- Arneson basically replied that his Chainmail modifications were "fairly minor," citing his changes to the hit point system, but he characterized Blackmoor as mostly driven by the development of the dungeon, its incorporation of Outdoor Survival (then a very new thing), and its famous referee-driven style of play. He volunteered to send Gygax some "chance tables" from the campaign, which Gygax received and studied in the New Year, but he couldn't see quite how it worked.
- In early 1973, because Megarry hoped that Guidon Games would publish his Dungeon! boardgame, he and Arneson came down to Lake Geneva to demonstrate it to Gygax - the planned date got pushed back, but they apparently got together in the second half of February. After the Dungeon! demo, Arneson ran the group through a Blackmoor adventure, and Gygax was hooked.
- A few weeks later (early April), Gygax wrote back to Arneson, describing the creation of the Greyhawk dungeon and proposing that the pair of them collaborate on publishing rules for dungeon adventuring. (One not insignificant impediment, as the top half of the postcard above hints, was that Guidon had failed to pay Arneson royalties for their earlier Don't Give Up the Ship, and Arneson was not then interested in doing any more work for them). Gygax busily gets writing, and though Arneson sends him more notes, Gygax's attitude was, "I won't even go into the rest of what you said re fantasy until you've seen the rules I've done."
- Gygax sends Arneson the 100-page first draft around mid-1973. Arneson's group begins incorporating some of its concepts into their Blackmoor campaign. Or, as Arneson later described the collaboration in his Pegasus #1 interview: “At the time, they had a lot more spare time than I did and they had a lot of ideas, so they came up with their own version of the rules. They sent theirs to us and we fooled around with them for a while. We exchanged letters for a while and just kind of slipped into it.” Arneson continued to send material on things like magic swords, naval and aerial battles, and so on.
Pushing the date of Arneson and Megarry's visit forward leads to a more compressed timeline, where the collaboration of Gygax and Arneson happens largely between the spring and fall of 1973. By the fall, Gygax had embarked on a complete rewrite of the game into its three-volume format (an idea which appears to have originated in the Twin Cities, incidentally).
The other significant difference in the timeline reflects when first print brown box D&D was actually published. Though TSR printed the three little brown booklets one at a time throughout January, Gygax suggests the last volume did not come back from the printers until the second week of February:
Regular readers of this blog may be wondering if this new timeline induces me to push back when I celebrate the anniversary of the publication of D&D, that is, on the last Sunday in January. My earlier posts about this stressed the difficulty of assigning a "release date" to a game produced so informally, pointing out ambiguities like Gygax's claim that January was when TSR received its first order, which could have been true even if the game hadn't been printed yet, etc. Ultimately, I probably won't move my own celebration date, for the reason given on the bottom half of the postcard above: because Gygax could still run the game for a group of 16 on Sundays before the booklets were all back from the printers. But I wouldn't look askance at anyone who raised a glass to D&D on the first (or even second!) Sunday in February instead.