TSR & Dungeon History:
The Year 1973 (Part IV)
in today’s blog post, we look at pre-publication glimpses of Dungeons & Dragons, including the art design, the Don Kaye partnership, and a very fateful Gen Con.
The Summer of 1973:
June 22 to September 30
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.
Summer 1973: Gary sends his Dungeons & Dragons manuscript under cover letter for Arneson’s review and consideration. Gary includes a private warning that Don Lowry is having troubles, which could cause production of the game to be somewhat delayed.
Arneson’s suggestions will not always be used as he intends, and via remote collaboration Gygax will make design designs – informed by intense play testing with the Lake Geneva group – that Arneson will not agree with. Goodwill still exists at this time, however.
“They sent theirs [rules] to us and we [the Twin Cities campaign group] fooled around with them [the rules of the Lake Geneva campaign group] for a while. We [Arneson and Gygax] exchanged letters for a while and just kind of slipped into it [remote collaboration in game design]. It just felt natural that Gary and I worked together on the D&D rules, because the two groups were associated, and Gary and I had worked together on projects before [Don’t Give Up the Ship! and so forth].”
— Dave Arneson
Summer 1973: Joining the speculative fiction resurgence, Weird Tales magazine resumes publication (briefly) with Volume 47, Number 1. Sadly it will fail to find its audience, although it seems likely that Gary might well have picked it up.
Summer 1973: At this time, the Twin Cities gamers are heavily involved in John Snider’s science fiction campaign.
July 1973: Black Sphinx of Nebthu, a Conan tale by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, is published in Fantastic magazine. The story features evil hyena monsters and a sphinx god of Chaos.
July 1973: Keenan Powell continues to create artwork for Dungeons & Dragons. Contributions this month will include the Medusa, Nazgul, and Wraith (featured in Book II) as well as the Dragon and Ent (featured in Book III).
July 17, 1973: Conan the Barbarian #31 (“The Shadow on the Tomb”, cover date October 1973) is published by Marvel, with some interesting dungeon-themed cover art.
July-August 1973: Gary gradually comes to the unavoidable realization that he is going to need to create his own game company.
August 2, 1973: Gary sends a letter to David Megarry, warning him that Don Lowry is not in a position to publish games effectively. This means that Megarry’s The Dungeons of Pasha Cada will need to find a new home if it is ever going to be released.
August 1973: MiniFigs runs an advertisement in Wargamer’s Newsletter, announcing the imminent release of a line of Mythical Earth fantasy figures, strongly alluding to Tolkien’s Middle Earth.
August 1973: Keenan Powell produces her last pieces of artwork for the Dungeons & Dragons endeavor. This work includes the Witches art (in Book I) and also the Wizards art (also in Book I). This may also be the time period when she mails artwork to Lake Geneva from her home in California.
Early August 1973: Coming down to attend Gen Con, David Megarry takes a Greyhound bus down to Lake Geneva and brings his Pasha Cada prototype game along with him. (A bit prior to this, Megarry apparently traveled all the way to Belfast, Maine to retrieve the prototype, which he had sent to Don Lowry in April.)
August 18-19, 1973: Gygax and company run the Gen Con gaming convention in Lake Geneva. Dave Megarry is able to demonstrate The Dungeons of Pasha Cada for more games. Gary enjoys a prototype science fiction game developed by Arneson’s friend John Snider, entitled Stellar VII. Don Greenwood of Avalon Hill enjoys the event as well, playing board wargames.
Brian Blume introduces himself to Gary – which will have significant repercussions throughout TSR’s history, all the way on to Gary’s corporate exile in 1985.
c. Late August: Following after Gen Con, Gary convinces his best friend Don Kaye to finance their partnership in a gaming company.
c. Late August or September 1973: Gary effectively hires wargamer and artist Greg Bell to contribute new art for Cavaliers and Roundheads as well as Dungeons & Dragons.
c. August or September 1973: Mike Mornard leaves Lake Geneva to attend university in the Twin Cities.
September 2, 1973: J. R. R. Tolkien passes away.
September 4, 1973: By mail, Gary lets Dave Arneson know that he (Gary) and Don Kaye are getting ready to fund and found their own gaming company.
September 1973: Gary and Don Kaye make arrangements to found their gaming company partnership. Don Kaye is able to contribute $1,000 to the Gygax & Kaye game company endeavor. Kaye takes a huge risk by borrowing the sum against a life insurance policy.
“It was really Gary’s friend, Don Kaye, who came up with the money to do the first printing of Dungeons & Dragons. We couldn’t find anybody that would give us money. At that time, I was a security guard who couldn’t afford shoes, so neither one of us was willing to cashier.”
— Dave Arneson
c. September 1973: Gary performs calculations which indicate that he and Don do not have enough money as of yet to publish Dungeons & Dragons. They decide to publish another wargame first to raise additional funds.
September 1973: The collection Flashing Swords! #2, edited by Lin Carter, is published. Carter’s introduction is titled “Flashing Swords and Black Magicians”.
September 1973: The collection The Halfling and Other Stories, by Leigh Brackett, is published. (Despite the title, these are primarily pulp science fiction tales.)
September 1973: Here Abide Monsters, by Andre Norton, is published. (Possible inspirations for D&D include dimensional gateways and parallel worlds filled with the monsters of mythology.)
September 1973: Gary’s article entitled “Fantasy Wargaming a la Tolkien” appears in Panzerfaust magazine #60. The article includes Gary’s Battle of the Five Armies scenario for Chainmail Fantasy.
September 11, 1973: Conan the Barbarian #33 (“Death and Seven Wizards”, cover date December 1973) is published by Marvel. (Several interesting elements include a thieves’ guild, mage towers, underground passages, and a battle arena, the Gauntlet of Seven Deaths.)
September 27, 1973: Gary informs Dave Arneson concerning outreach to game distributors and promising initial pre-orders for the upcoming debut wargame from Tactical Studies Rules, Cavaliers and Roundheads (a game concerning the factions in the English Civil War).
Very soon, it would be time to raise the moneys needed to publish Dungeons & Dragons. And just about everything would go wrong …
The chronology will continue in Part IV. Stay tuned.
(As always, dates, details, and misassumptions will be corrected as further information comes to light. ~K)