IX: TSR & Dungeon History ~ The Year 1973 (Part V)

For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.

TSR & Dungeon History:

The Year 1973 (Part V)

In today’s post we look at late-year events along the way that would plant seeds that would be sown in years to come, taking Dungeons & Dragons out of Gary’s eventual control in the mid-1980s. But such momentous things over the far horizon are only discernible in retrospect …

Read the earlier chapters in this series, Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

The Autumn of 1973:

October 1 to December 31

A chronicle of the year 1973 as it pertains to the history of Tactical Studies Rules, fantasy role-playing games, E. Gary Gygax, and David Lance Arneson.

Disclaimer: This is an historical essay, developed for knowledge and research endeavors, and is freely shared to the public for nonprofit educational purposes as a matter of fair use. All mentioned copyrighted entities remain copyrighted by their respective holders, being corporate for-profit organizations which castleoldskull.com (Kent David Kelly) is neither partnered nor affiliated with. No challenge to such copyrights is intended by specific entity mention in this open historical record.


October 1, 1973: Tactical Studies Rules (TSR) is founded by Gary Gygax and Don Kaye.

(In January 1975, Don would pass away unexpectedly, leaving Gary in an urgent business crisis with dire control ramifications that would reverberate throughout TSR for the next decade. But for now, all was well.)

c. Early October 1973: Tactical Studies Rules publishes their first game, Cavaliers and Roundheads: The Great Rebellion, as authored by (Jeff) Perren & Gygax.

(Sales are intended to generate the funding needed to publish Dungeons & Dragons, but would prove insufficient unless Gary, Don, and distance co-author Dave Arneson wanted to wait until 1975 to see the game published. Therefore Gary would soon seek to partner with Brian Blume, which again would have major effects on TSR’s business structure in years to come.)


“Don and I wanted to get the D&D game out as soon as possible. If we had waited until sales of our one set of military miniatures rules, Cavaliers & Roundheads, generated sufficient funds, it would have been 1975 before we could publish.”

Gary Gygax


October 9, 1973: Conan the Barbarian #34 (“The Temptress in the Tower of Flame”, cover date January 1974) is published by Marvel. (Interesting elements include an underground catacomb crawl and a fire-generating machine artifact.)

October 1973: The Ballantine Adult Fantasy edition of Hrolf Kraki’s Saga, by Poul Anderson, is published. This is a retelling of a very old tale; story elements in the original include pit traps, a wereboar, trolls, and a hefty helping of berserkers.

Fall 1973: Weird Tales Volume 47, Number 2 is released.

Fall 1973: Gary works busily on a three-volume rewrite of his Dungeons & Dragons manuscript, which we can tentatively term the final draft.

(This may be when he was considering Lin Carter’s essays as featured in Imaginary Worlds, as we have discussed in Part III of this 1973 chronology.)

October-November 1973: Slow sales of Cavaliers & Roundheads incentivize Gary to seek a third partner to join TSR (and to provide additional funding).

(As noted prior.)

Late 1973: Professor M. A. R. Barker, observing a game run by Mike Mornard, is introduced to the Dungeons & Dragons game.

(Eventually leading to a bit of an intellectual property clash between Gygax and Barker pertaining to Barker’s D&D-derivative campaign materials, which would lead to the compromise of publishing a separate game via TSR, Empire of the Petal Throne.)

Late 1973: Weird Tales Volume 47, Number 2 is published.

November 1, 1973: Gary writes the Foreword to Dungeons & Dragons.

(This is commonly a capstone endeavor, the last bit of writing in which the game designer looks back on the work for the purposes of framing an introductory welcome to players who will be picking up the game.)

November 1973: Swords Against Death (Fritz Leiber, Ace Books) is republished, along with Swords and Deviltry.

(Among other things, this would eventually lead to the publication of TSR’s Lankhmar adventure boardgame in 1976. Gary may have reacquainted himself with Leiber’s Swords & Sorcery tales at this time.)

November 1973: The Emperor’s Fan, by L. Sprague de Camp, is published. (Possible inspirations for D&D include a doom curse, a magical fan artifact, and a malicious man-eating dragon.)

c. Late November 1973: Brian Blume approaches Gary and expresses interest in joining the partnership.

End of November 1973: Don Kaye decides to hold a meeting between himself, Gary and Brian to discuss the potential publication parameters for Dungeons & Dragons.

Early December 1973: Brian Blume is admitted into TSR as an equal partner.

(This partnership would provide the funding necessary to publish first original edition of Dungeons & Dragons, the woodgrain boxed set, in the months to come.)

December 4, 1973: Conan the Barbarian #36 (“The Fury of the Stone God”, cover date March 1974) is published by Marvel, with cover art featuring a living statue or stone golem.

December 1973: The Worlds of Jack Vance, a compendium of reprinted short stories, is published by Ace Publishing. (The “nopal” creatures featured in “Brains of the Earth” – originally published in 1966 – may have been one of the several inspirations for psionic parasites as featured in Eldritch Wizardry and the 1977 Monster Manual.)

December 1973: The Bait, by Fritz Leiber, is published in Whispers magazine. This is another tale of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

December 1973: In correspondence to the Great Plains Game Players Newsletter, Gary indicates that he is working on a fantasy game derived from Chainmail Fantasy and Blackmoor.

Late December 1973: The proposed printing of Dungeons & Dragons exceeds its budget.

December 27, 1973: Gary clashes a bit again with Arneson concerning the lack of harmony within game rules that can easily result from remote collaboration with a design partner. Gary also lets Arneson know that they are still waiting on Dungeons & Dragons cover art of a dragon, which is coming from Greg Bell.

Late December 1973: Gary drops off the finalized Men & Magic manuscript (Dungeons & Dragons, Book I) at the printers – Graphic Printing Company – for publication. The last business days in the month following the Christmas holiday would be December 26-28, Wednesday to Friday.

c. December 28, 1973: A Friday. With various issues and no hoped-for cover art from Greg Bell, Gary will be forced to postpone the publication of some pieces of Dungeons & Dragons until after the holidays.

December 30, 1973: Gary sends Arneson a letter requesting revisions to his (Dave’s) expansion of naval rules which he is hoping to publish via Tactical Studies Rules in 1974. Gary also discusses the expenses demanded by advertising in gaming publications.

So how did all of the pieces of D&D eventually make it into the printers, how did they afford everything, and how were all of the boxes assembled for the eventual release? All of those events pertain to 1974. And that, my fellow adventurers, is a tale for another day …

The 1973 chronology ends here. Other chronologies, of other years at TSR and beyond, are yet to come.

(As always, dates, details, and misassumptions will be corrected as further information comes to light. ~K)

The chronology project will soon continue, as we look at game development in other years before and after 1973. In the days and weeks to come, we will be digging into another momentous time period in TSR and D&D history with a deep exploration of the Temple of Elemental Evil.

Thank you for reading, and enjoy your journeys!

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