The Battle Over Dungeons & Dragons Was the Ultimate Geek War

After the sudden success of Dungeons and Dragons in late 1970s, Gary Gygax (game designer) and Dave Arneson (game designer) waged a decade-long struggle over who should be considered D&D's true creator. Jon Peterson, a gaming historian, recounts the struggle in Game Wizards:The Epic Battle for Dungeons & Dragons.
Peterson, in Episode 489 of the Geeks Guide to the Galaxy podcast, says that I was able to find enough information to answer most of the questions that I found interesting. Although I don't have all the answers, I do think I can paint enough of an image.

Many D&D players may be surprised by the appearance of Game Wizards. Peterson's account draws heavily from primary sources, such as letters and legal documents. Many of these documents portray Gygax or Arneson in a deeply flawed light. Peterson states that it is not enjoyable to write something negative. It is necessary, however. You won't understand the subtleties of legal and business situations if you don't get them.

Peterson made every effort to show respect and empathy for all his characters. He admits that everyone made mistakes and that everyone had their egos. They were just trying to make the most of a situation they didn't expect. They suddenly found themselves in this situation, and now what? This is not a place for villains, I hope.

Peterson says that the creation of Dungeons & Dragons was a collective effort. He says that the game draws on many different sources and experiences and all the different inputs. It is not right to reduce the cultural significance of an invention to one person.

Listen to the entire interview with Jon Peterson on Episode 489 of Geeks Guide to the Galaxy. You can also see highlights of the conversation below.

Jon Peterson and Dave Arneson

Three awards were presented to D&D at the 1978 Origins Game Fair, including the award for Best All-Time Role-Playing Game Rules. Arneson ran up to the podium to claim the all-time best role-playing game rules trophy. There was some disagreement. These trophies should go to the publisher of the game or to the designer. Arneson launched a massive publicity campaign to convince people that designers should receive these awards and not companies. He didn't win all three trophies, even though there was a lot sympathy from the industry wargame publishers.

Jon Peterson on Gary Gygax

Gygax was a great person. Everyone who had met Gygax before he became Gary Gygax, and all of the anger about D&D's success, remarked on his eagerness to help. He wanted to play games with you, help design your games, and help you create your own rules. He was outgoing, friendly, and gregarious. Once those skills are required to run a medium-sized company with a lot of employees, layers of management, process, and this group must agree on the general strategy. You can't micro-manage it all. He hated it. He wanted to leave.

Jon Peterson discusses the Satanic Panic

TSR has people saying things like "Yes, there's all this gnashing-of-teeth about the occult," but I don't think that they meant that any more than with astrology. Is there anything to your newspaper horoscope? Although it is unlikely, there was a background of New Age-ism, crystals, and American spiritualism. They wanted to tap into it or at least they knew that there was a market for it. Gygax, Arneson and others identified themselves as Christiansstronglyso. I don't think they were trying to make a provocative statement about the veracity or authenticity of occultism.

Jon Peterson on Ben Riggs

Ben Riggs will be publishing a book called Slaying the Dragon next year. The book focuses on the time after Game Wizards is over. Many people who followed Ben knew about Game Wizards' coming and were shocked to learn that he was writing a book. Are you being beaten to the punch by someone? Peterson is trying to steal this from you. So, we made a video at Gen Con to show that we were actually friends. We've known for a long time that we both love these books and have been working together to coordinate.

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