D&D’s original Basic Set arrived in stores in the fall of 1977, but in only reached third level. For higher levels, the set directed players to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons—except the advanced game would take two more years to complete. The AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide, which included the advanced combat tables, came in 1979. For 2 years, D&D players blended combat rules and magic items from the game’s original brown books with monsters from the AD&D Monster Manual, and later with the new races and classes from the AD&D Player’s Handbook (1978).
In the June 1979 issue of The Dragon, Gary Gygax made claims that baffled D&D fans used to playing with a mix of original, basic, and advanced D&D rules. “ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is a different game. Readers please take note! It is neither an expansion nor a revision of the old game, it is a new game. It is necessary that all adventure gaming fans be absolutely aware that there is no similarity (perhaps even less) between D&D and AD&D than there is between D&D and its various imitators produced by competing publishers.”
AD&D never proved as different as Gygax claimed. His new version of D&D remained roughly compatible with the original. Supposedly, AD&D featured strict rules while original D&D featured room for customization, but everyone—even Gygax—changed and ignored AD&D rules to suit their tastes. Later, Gygax wrote, “I just DMed on the fly, so to speak, and didn’t use the rules books except for random encounters, monster stats, and treasure.”
Why did Gygax vehemently argue that AD&D held “no similarity” to D&D when the game’s fans found the claim laughable? Because D&D co-creator Dave Arneson felt that TSR owed him royalties for AD&D, while the company claimed Arneson only deserved royalties for the original game.
From Dave Arneson’s perspective, D&D came from his ideas. He had started with a sort of miniature game that had existed for generations and that appealed a tiny hobby, and then he had added the concepts that made a revolutionary game. Arneson invented a game where each player controlled a single character, and where a referee enabled players to attempt any action. He discovered the fun of looting dungeons. His fantasy game added characters defined by numeric attributes, and characters who could improve through experience.
From Gary Gygax’s perspective, he had labored for years on D&D. He had turned 20 pages of notes into the original rules. He had bet every cent he could scrape together on publishing an odd, risky game. In supplements and magazine articles, he enriched D&D. He defended it in letters and editorials. His friend Frank Mentzer wrote that for D&D, Gygax “paid the costs in stress on himself, his marriage, family, and friends.” Arneson had only planted an idea.
Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax each argued that D&D’s success rested on his contribution. Both were correct, but that didn’t make sharing the wealth any easier. The court fight lasted until March 1981. The settlement granted Arneson a royalty of 2.5% of the cover price of core AD&D books. (In 1985, Arneson sued TSR again. His lawyers argued that the Monster Manual II—a collection of new monsters—qualified as a “revision” of the Monster Manual. Stop laughing. The court agreed.)
After Wizards of the Coast purchased TSR, they dropped the “Advanced” brand for the game’s third edition. In 30 Years of Adventure, Wizards CEO Peter Adkison wrote, Arneson “was supposed to get a royalty off of any product TSR published in the Dungeons & Dragons line. Previous owners ‘got around’ this royalty by publishing everything as Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. To me this seemed silly. I talked with Dave, and we agreed that he would release all claims to Dungeons & Dragons if I simply gave him a big check. I did.”
For the full story, see Basic and Advanced—The Time Dungeons & Dragons Split Into Two Games.
Next: Number 4.