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

Dark manifestations always seem to rise alongside all but the purest of intentions.

TSR & Dungeon History:

The Year 1973 (Part II)

In today’s blog post, as we continue to explore the history of the Arneson and Gygax creative collaboration, we dig down toward one of Lin Carter’s innovative books (Imaginary Worlds) that could very well have inspired much of the theming and background behind pre-publication Dungeons & Dragons.

The Spring of 1973:

March 1 to June 21

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.

Early March 1973: Gary Gygax is deeply inspired by the dungeon game weekend. He understands the mechanics of Megarry’s boardgame design, but the secrets behind Arneson’s “behind the screen” game mastery approach – the core mystery behind Blackmoor – still baffle and intrigue him.

Presumably, when Arneson and Megarry return home, the Blackmoor campaign continues on with the usual Twin Cities crew and Arneson as game master.

March 1973: Count Brass, by Michael Moorcock, is published. (Possible inspirations for D&D include the multiverse, planar travel, the war between Law and Chaos, and so forth.)

March 1973: The Tolkien Reader is published by Ballantine, a collection of minor earlier Tolkien works, offered to the readership in wider availability. As a tale example, “Farmer Giles of Ham” includes a marauding giant, a sword of dragon slaying, and classic farmer-to-hero advancement of a character.


“[In Dungeons & Dragons] most of the Tolkien-influenced material was added to the mix to broaden the appeal of the underlying fantasy action-adventure …”
Gary Gygax


c. March 1973: Gary works on notes evolving from Arneson’s demonstrated dungeon game. He also works on Megarry’s Pasha Cada concept.

c. March 1973: Gary encourages David Megarry to further demonstrate The Dungeons of Pasha Cada for Don Lowry, of Guidon Games. Gary might believe that the game’s potential is not evident from a mere description alone. Megarry will follow Gary’s lead, sending the game prototype to Lowry in April.

Sadly, the effort will fail because Lowry – despite his interest – has too many troubles of his own to capably publish Megarry’s game at the time.


“It became quite apparent by the summer of 1973 that Guidon Games was not going to publish this game. The board is very difficult to publish, it’s very expensive. And … Guidon Games did not have the resources to be able to publish this game.”
David Megarry


c. March and/or April 1973?: If we honor a brief aside Arneson made in an old interview – an interview which, so far, is very much in sync with the facts at hand – it appears that he made additional trips down to Lake Geneva beyond the fateful February dungeon gaming weekend. If this is indeed the case, it would probably have been in March and/or April, before Gary completed his own first draft manuscript of the proposed Dungeons & Dragons rules in May.


“After I made several trips down there so they could go down in my dungeon, they became very excited about it.”
Dave Arneson


c. March and April 1973: Gygax starts running his gaming group through dungeon adventures, forming an origin for the future Greyhawk campaign (Greyhawk being now a city state in the previously developed abstract gaming world known as the Great Kingdom).

For those who are interested, I have chronicled most of Gygax’s remembered tales from this campaign – originally believed to have occurred in late 1972 – in Book II of my Gygax and Arneson retro-spectacle series, Hawk & Moor. Many of the events’ dates must necessarily change, but the dungeon tales told by those who are no longer with us endure and remain the same.

Spring 1973: Gary (perhaps with son Ernie in tow) visits with friend and Chainmail co-author Jeff Perren in Rockford, Illinois. Gary might want to talk about the potential publication of another collaborative game, leading to the publication of the first Tactical Studies Rules wargame – Cavaliers and Roundheads – in the autumn of 1973. Whether they discuss possible fantasy additions to Gygax’s perceived Third Edition for the game is unknown.

April 5, 1973: Gary invites Dave Arneson to collaborate with him on a dungeon game which would be presented to Don Lowry for potential publication. At this time, Gary might still be assuming – as he did in December 1972 – that Arneson’s material would basically be an adjunct to a proposed upcoming Third Edition of Chainmail. Or, due to the extent of Arneson’s innovations he might envision the new game as being a separate booklet product, but this would certainly require an attribution of co-authorship.

April 15, 1973: Gary sends a postcard to Dave Arneson, proposing co-authorship of the proposed dungeon game (with Gygax’s name coming first), and a 50/50 royalty split. This is modeled after the initial agreement the two men had when devising Don’t Give Up the Ship!. (Arneson would likely receive this card through the mail a couple of days later; April 16 being a Monday.) At this time, Gary is thinking that the dungeon game should be a separate booklet release, to be published via Guidon Games.


“The order in which my name is listed has never been important. … I never paid much attention to the title pages.”
Dave Arneson (when later discussing his co-authored project Adventures in Fantasy, created with Richard Snider)


April 1973: Flashing Swords! #1, a collection of various authors edited by Lin Carter, is published. Other featured authors include Poul Anderson, Fritz Leiber, and Jack Vance. Carter contributes an entry essay titled “Introduction: Of Swordsmen and Sorcerers”.

April 1973: The Champion of Garathorm, by Michael Moorcock, is published. (Possible inspirations for D&D include Chaos worship and the idea of otherworldly familiars that are not merely of one animal type; in this instance, a winged cat.)

April 1973: A new Ace Double (two works in one) paperback by Ace Books is published. This one is fairly interesting because it pairs two science fiction tales by Jack Vance, originally published in the 1960s, entitled The Dragon Masters and The Last Castle. Whether these story titles would influence Gary’s own ideas toward game naming is a matter of speculation.

April 1973: As requested by Gary, David Megarry sends his Pasha Cada game prototype to Don Lowry for publication consideration. (David has said that he still has the transmittal letter for this event, so the date is likely accurate.)

c. April 1973: At this time, Gary is tentatively planning to move his family from Lake Geneva to Belfast for the purpose of following Don Lowry and the relocation of Guidon Games to Maine.

c. April to May 1973: Gary discusses plans for illustrations for the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons with artists Cookie Corey (wife of wargamer Bill Corey) and then later Keenan Powell (half-sister of Gary’s wife). Cookie’s contributions will include the Beautiful Witch and the Amazon, both featured in Book I.

c. April or May 1973: Gary produces the graph paper map of a sample dungeon level, which will be featured in the 1974 D&D rulebooks. In doing so he incorporates visual features that will later become iconic in dungeon iconography, such as diminishing hash lines for stairs leading down, and the S symbol inside a wall for a secret door.

April to May 1973: Gary continues to develop his rules draft, getting to the point where he has a rough 100-page manuscript. The manuscript is titled as Dungeons & Dragons and is sub-titled “Rules for Fantastic Medieval Paper & Pencil, Board, and Miniature Figure Campaign Games”.


“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.”
Dave Arneson


May 3, 1973: Gary encourages Arneson to consider the move to Belfast, Maine as well. Gary also – in an early glimpse of friction between the two men from a design perspective – chastises Arneson a bit concerning his approach and lack of congruity with existing rules.

May 1973: The Jade Man’s Eyes, by Michael Moorcock, is published. (Possible inspirations for D&D include the patronage of a demon lord and the dangers of Chaos worship; note that there are both original and rewritten forms of this novella, which can lead to some retrospective confusion.)

May 1973: Paradox Lost and Twelve Other Great Science Fiction Stories, a collection of tales by Fredric Brown, is published. (This book includes “Knock”, based on the two-line short story world building concept, “The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door …”)

May 1973: Gary writes a letter to Jack Scruby, where we get a bit of a deeper glimpse into his plans for Dungeons & Dragons. He says that he (Gary) and Arneson are co-authoring a “campaign rule booklet” which will tie into the existing Chainmail game. This perhaps implies that the booklet is intended to focus upon the Twin Cities Blackmoor campaign.

May 22, 1973: Conan the Barbarian #29 (“The Wizard and the Warrior”, cover date August 1973) is published by Marvel. (Conan sneaks into a dungeon and battles against a spirit-projecting illusionist.)

Gary’s play group would certainly be familiar with these comics; we note for example that the Domesday Book #12 (1972) would feature a copy of the cover art from Conan the Barbarian issue #1 (1970); see for example here and here.

c. Late May 1973: Don Lowry has troubles with the move of Guidon Games to Belfast, which will shake Gary’s confidence in the venture.

Before the End of May 1973: Gary receives what will be his last payment from Don Lowry. In the near future, Lowry’s inability to pay him will result in Gary looking for other avenues of game publication (such as starting his own company).

c. May or June 1973: Lowry’s company begins selling sets of polyhedral dice to gamers.

June 1, 1973: A notice in Gamesletter indicates that Gary and Dave are still working together on developing their new fantasy game.

c. Early June 1973: With an eye toward future publication, Gary begins soliciting artwork for the Dungeons & Dragons manuscript.

c. Early June 1973: Newly-graduated Keenan Powell comes to stay at the Gygax household, and Gary will enlist her talents in creating artwork for Dungeons & Dragons.

June 5, 1973: Conan the Barbarian: King-Size Annual #1 (cover date July 1973) is published by Marvel. The tales – reprinted from Conan the Barbarian #2 and #4 are entitled “Lair of the Beast-Men” along with the Howard classic “The Tower of the Elephant”.

The first tale is notable as it featured Conan being imprisoned in a dungeon filled with “manlings” (humanoids). The Tower of the Elephant includes many elements that would appear in D&D, such as a master thief, a giant spider, treasure hunting in a mage’s tower, black lotus poison, and a supra-genius planar traveling creature.

June 7, 1973: This is the date on a signature for the Efreet art created for Dungeons & Dragons by Keenan Powell.

(Refer to the book Dungeons & Dragons: Art & Arcana.)

June 1973: Imaginary Worlds: The Art of Fantasy is published (Lin Carter, Ballantine). This is not an art book, but rather a series of studies on the topic of fantasy literature. Two of the more interesting essays are entitled “Of World-Making: Some Problems of the Invented Milieu” and “The Tricks of the Trade: Some Advanced Techniques of World-Making”.

See the Addendum to this essay – which will be the subject of our next blog post – for some further intriguing bits and pieces of the Gygaxian puzzle.

June 1973: Hiero’s Journey, by Sterling Lanier, is published. This book would inspire many concepts in D&D, Metamorphosis Alpha, and Gamma World, most especially the details concerning psionics and psionically-empowered mold and slime monsters.

June 1973: Keenan Powell continues to work on artwork for Dungeons & Dragons, producing the illustrations for the Fire Elemental (featured in Book II) and Djinn (featured in Book III).

June 22, 1973: Game Designer’s Workshop – a future competitor with TSR – is founded.

June 23, 1973: This is the date on a signature for the Hippogriff art created for Dungeons & Dragons by Keenan Powell.

Very soon, it will be time for Gary to send his working manuscript to his co-collaborator afar, David Arneson.

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

The Castle Oldskull blog research chronology will continue in Part III, when we take a deep dive into Lin Carter’s work that appears to have guided a fair amount of Gary’s thematic decision making for the Dungeons & Dragons game. Among many other similarities, a direct quote carried from Imaginary Worlds to Original D&D’s Foreword seems to bind the two works together.

Stay tuned.

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