Jon Peterson's Game Wizards - The Epic Battle for D&D

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T. Foster

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Got my copy in the mail from Amazon; just spent my lunch break looking at all the pretty pictures. Hope to be able to start actually reading it within the next couple days.
 

EOTB

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As I get older and experience the documentation of events I have first-hand knowledge of (nothing particularly important), I've come to accept there is no history. Documentation largely isn't written to accurately detail anything; it's written to establish something. The purpose of history is to provide a narrative + citations for people not involved in the events to feel they now know something they've not experienced, and can debate citations and their time investment in "learning about it" with others who've done the same (and were also not involved) who've come to opposite conclusions.

It is my strong opinion that the citation culture we've created is a net negative.
 

Vile

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As I recall (boom! boom!), memories are re-written every time they are retrieved. On the other hand, documentation doesn't document what it doesn't. We can only ever imagine what happened before, based on snippets that may or may not be true. That's not to say academic rigour counts for nothing, but one should never be deluded into believing it paints the full picture of events.
 

Acmegamer

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Playing at the World is all original and extensive research. Ditto The Elusive Shift, which is an extensive history of early rpg discourse in the APAs.

As T. Foster says he doesn't take verbal recollections as fact, no historian does actually, which considering the rampant rumour-mongering and outright fabrications that have largely composed rpg 'history' up to this point I consider a refreshing tonic.

DeWalt and Laforge have done more conventional interview-based histories with reasonable journalistic rigour if one is interested in that although much of those verbal recollections have been refuted by Peterson's subsequent research.
So if the person they wouldn't interview decided to write it down, they'll use that? Feels like not taking interviews serious along with written and other interviews to collaborate is a serious shortcoming in historical fact finding in my opinion.
 

T. Foster

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In the sources and acknowledgements section at the back of the book Peterson includes a list of 24 interview subjects. We’ll see how/whether those interviews are incorporated into the body of the book. The inclusions and exclusions from that list are interesting: Gary and Dave are both there, plus lots of other familiar TSR names (Jim Ward, Jeff Grubb, Zeb Cook, Harold Johnson, Lawrence Schick, Steve Winter, Jeff Easley, etc), but nobody named Blume; Flint Dille is there but not his sister (Lorraine Williams); no Tim Kask or Frank Mentzer or Mike Carr or Dave Megarry; Terry Kuntz is there but not his brother Rob. I wonder how many of those people Peterson reached out to but declined to be interviewed.
 

JRT

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I think the debate on whether Peterson's research is accurate or gives equal time is covered in the epilogue chapter. I think he's trying to analyze things but one thing he's made clear is that the book is meant to be a skeptical look at various claims made over time. I'll add a few excepts to clarify Peterson's position, which I think does the best job explaining his mindset.

Gygax had spent so long shaping the history of TSR while he ran it, he hardly was going to stop when he left, or ignore his final chapter. Because Gygax's years at TSR ended in disappointment, the narrative of TSR he now told was a tragedy: his new character was the hero betrayed by perfidious business partners...

...But that bitterness took a toll on the fidelity of his account, in claims about TSR's finances like "I began to see an inkling of trouble in the fall of 1984" which neglects the catastrophic situation TSR found itself in after its overextension by mid-1983, during which Gygax, as president, had no small inkling of trouble when the bank demanded they lay off a third of TSR's workforce...

...Weaponized rhetoric, which was originally forged during the battle for Dungeons & Dragons in the first decade of its existence, lays strewn throughout the historical record like unexploded ordinance...it has led many people--myself included--on wild-goose chases, trying to substantiate later claims that turn out to be will-o'-wisps born of the conflict...

It was the primary aim of this book to show, to the extent possible, the baseline events that all this rhetoric has obscured...A history like this can never resolve all the uncertainties around the story: some are ambiguities built into the history itself...but the nuance of these circumstances does not prevent us from understanding what happened, provided we can accept its unresolvability and the role it played...real people are messier than the characters they adopt for themselves or project on another.
 
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JRT

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I can’t imagine Lorraine Williams would want to talk after being vilified for 30+ years.
Honestly, I don't think the "vilification" bothers her that much. She probably treated her time at TSR like a business and moved on -- she never really dealt with the TSR audience or public.

So maybe she wasn't interested in what other people were saying about her and moved on with her life. And that might be why she doesn't do interviews about that time.
 

Baulderstone

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Honestly, I don't think the "vilification" bothers her that much. She probably treated her time at TSR like a business and moved on -- she never really dealt with the TSR audience or public.
Yes, I don't think she'd be interested in being interviewed for a book on the gaming scene simply because she never really part of that scene. It was her job. If someone called me up to interview me about the office politics from a job that I had decades ago, I wouldn't be interested.
 

robertsconley

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I think the debate on whether Peterson's research is accurate or gives equal time is covered in the epilogue chapter. I think he's trying to analyze things but one thing he's made clear is that the book is meant to be a skeptical look at various claims made over time. I'll add a few excepts to clarify Peterson's position, which I think does the best job explaining his mindset.
So far it looking pretty solid. I am just past the point where Donald Kaye died. Everybody is coming off as a nuanced human being. For example it is obvious Gygax's drive propels everything forward. But there a some stupid and petty things he does make you go "why do that man?"

Dave Arneson plays a crucial role but somewhat low energy, sometimes focuses on tangents, and not particularly organized. However he (and Mike Carr) does get screwed out of petty amounts of cash with Don't Give up the Ship by Don Lowry. Which leaves him unenthusiastic later precisely when D&D was picking up.

And the whole publishing wargaming of everybody involved (Gygax, Lowry, Arneson, etc.) up to 1975 was low dollar amounts even by early 70s standard.

Most of the crucial points are backed by letters and papers.

Now I am reading how 1975 plays out.

If it continues like this I think Jon Peterson is going to piss off all the hardliners both Gygaxian and Arnesonian. To me it echoes what I experienced dealing with clubs and small business over the past decades. I seen year long feuds erupt that started with a problem with a small amount of cash, a slight, or a small difference in opinion. And sometimes I got stuck in the middle :trigger:
 

finarvyn

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If it continues like this I think Jon Peterson is going to piss off all the hardliners both Gygaxian and Arnesonian. To me it echoes what I experienced dealing with clubs and small business over the past decades. I seen year long feuds erupt that started with a problem with a small amount of cash, a slight, or a small difference in opinion. And sometimes I got stuck in the middle :trigger:
I'm roughly at the same point in the book that you are, any my take seems to mirror yours a lot as well. I don't see Jon "taking sides" at all here so far and the motivations for each of the main characters seem solid and reasonable. It's been fun to read so far. :smile:
 

robertsconley

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OK I think this excerpt from "Game Wizards" sums up nicely one interesting difference between the Arnesonian point of view and the Gygaxian point of view.

[context Dave Arneson negative reaction to Gygax's article "Origins of the game" in Dragon #7]
Over time, Arneson would increasingly argue the basic idea behind the game mattered more than its codification into a text.
 

finarvyn

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Dave was the kind of guy who had all these ideas but never quite got them down on paper. Gary was the kind of guy who had the knack of taking other people's stuff and improving on it. (Gary consistently did this with Chainmail, Alexander the Great, Don't Give Up the Ship, D&D, etc.) Gary was more of a salesman. As folks have noted, it took both to get D&D off the ground and both had a huge role to play in D&D's success.
 

xanther

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So far it looking pretty solid. I am just past the point where Donald Kaye died. Everybody is coming off as a nuanced human being. For example it is obvious Gygax's drive propels everything forward. But there a some stupid and petty things he does make you go "why do that man?"
....
Does he align it with potential things going on in their personal life? IIRC Gary got divorced around then but there seemed to be an implication there was an affair going on before hand for some time...that kind of puts pressure on a person.
 

EOTB

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Gygax divorced in the mid-80s, Kaye died in '74 or '75.
 

T. Foster

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Does he align it with potential things going on in their personal life? IIRC Gary got divorced around then but there seemed to be an implication there was an affair going on before hand for some time...that kind of puts pressure on a person.
Don Kaye died in 1975; Gary's divorce happened approx. a decade later and may or may not (depending on which rumors you lend credence to) have been a factor in his loss of control of TSR at the end of 1985. His assets being tied up in the divorce proceeding may have been the reason why he didn't have sufficient liquid capital ($300-400K) to be able to buy out the Blumes' ownership share in the summer of '85, which is what drove them to sell to Lorraine Williams instead. No idea if this is something Peterson talks about in the book or not (it wasn't mentioned in the original "Ambush at Sheridan Springs" article which leaves the motivation for Gygax's delay in buying out the Blumes' share after having promised to do so as an open mystery).

I'm really eager to start reading this book. I may have to set aside the other book I'm currently reading - A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny - because it's so good that I want to be able to continue savoring it and not rush to get through it.
 

JRT

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I think Xanther was asking if the book dealt with that stuff "in general", not specifically tied to the year you had read.

The book touches upon divorces and marriages (not just Gary, one of the Blumes was divorcing as well while part of TSR). But it's very matter of fact, not trying to analyze specifics or get into too many sordid details.
 

Acmegamer

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I think Xanther was asking if the book dealt with that stuff "in general", not specifically tied to the year you had read.

The book touches upon divorces and marriages (not just Gary, one of the Blumes was divorcing as well while part of TSR). But it's very matter of fact, not trying to analyze specifics or get into too many sordid details.
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finarvyn

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I may have to set aside the other book I'm currently reading - A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny - because it's so good that I want to be able to continue savoring it and not rush to get through it.
This is a great book, and I love to read one chapter each day. Start on October 1, end on Halloween. :grin:
 

T. Foster

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This is a great book, and I love to read one chapter each day. Start on October 1, end on Halloween. :grin:
Finished it last night. Such a good book! I can’t believe I went almost 20 years not knowing about it, especially since I was already a Zelazny (or at least Chronicles of Amber) fan at the time it was released.
 

xanther

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I’m sure Taupin enjoyed the house “We Built This City” paid for.
Akkk I'm glad they released that song because it got them on tour again, but just plain awful and not Starship or Airplane to me. Good news on that tour (1981) they played that song, then it was all old stuff.
 

Endless Flight

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“We Built This City” came out in 1985.
 
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