Wednesday 28 July 2021

Arneson and Gygax's first collaboration.

Cover of first edition

Most of us have heard the story of the collaboration between Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, which led to the birth of Dungeons and Dragons in 1974. But this was not the first time these two game innovators had worked together to produce and publish a game. Their first joint publication, together with Mike Carr, was for Guidon Games and it was a set of Napoleonic Naval wargame rules called: "Don't Give Up The Ship".

Early Naval wargames required clean floors.

The title is a reference to the dying words of the captain of the USS Chesapeake in 1812 during the American-English War of that year. 

Gygax had begun writing a set of Napoleonic Naval rules in 1968 but soon realised he was out of his depth (no pun intended!) Then, at Gen Con 2 in August 1969, Gary met a young Napoleonic wargamer by the name of Dave Arneson and gaming history began to happen.

The International Wargamer magazine.

When Gary heard that Dave and his group in Minneapolis were putting their own rules set together, they decided to co-operate and the first version of "Don't Give Up The Ship" was drafted. Mike Carr was brought in as an editor and by 1971 the trio were ready to publish. They tested the game out by publishing it as a partwork in the "International Wargamer" journal starting in issue 57 in June '71. The first, fifty page, edition of the game as a whole was with Don Lowry's Guidon Games in 1972. It sported a slightly reworked cover art also by Don Lowry, which was based on his drawing for the "International Wargamer". A second edition, with extra rules and scenarios by Carr, runs to fifty-eight pages and was published by TSR in 1975 (Gygax having previously begun the company because Lowry couldn't see the potential of "Dungeons & Dragons").

Early ship models for wargames by Joe Morschauser 

The Rules themselves were written for model ships of 1/1200 scale and clearly designed for gamers with lots of space! With ships engaging each other at ranges of up to 21" and ships becoming visible to one another at a range of 200"! Games involving even small fleets were not going to be possible on the dining room table. In fact the rules suggest an area of 100 square feet as a minimum. In this regard, Arneson's game rules reflect those he had been used to when playing WWII games using Fletcher Platt's "Naval War Game" rules across the floors of  local meeting rooms and ball room dancing halls. Platt's rules were first published in 1948 although they originated in 1929 and were themselves influenced by Fred Jane's naval warfare games beginning in 1906. Arneson's rules were for sailing ships however and required many more systems for dealing with movement and the wind, boarding actions, kedging, controlling fires on board and many more. There are essentially three sets of rules, of which the Advanced Rules add so much complexity that the game becomes almost a reconstruction of warfare down to the level each individual man on board ship. Almost a role playing game of sorts(?) Indeed, Jon Peterson in "Playing At The World", makes an argument for the play sheets for each Ship (which came with the first edition) as the precursors to what became the Character Sheets in rpgs later on.

An inspiration for Arneson's game.

From what I can see, the model of game development which Gygax, Arneson and Carr created when working on "Don't Give Up The Ship", was then used again when creating "Dungeons and Dragons" a few years later. Gygax had the motivation and vision to see the project through, with Arneson as the creative driver sending Gygax drafts which later got stitched together and shared around (although Carr edited Don't Give Up The Ship, Gygax didn't bring him on board with D&D until the second, Advanced version of the game needed an editor).

Mike Carr demonstrating Don't Give Up The Ship 

Although "Don't Give Up The Ship" has a long pedigree, it's complexity and space requirements soon made it less fashionable in wargaming circles. A planned follow up: "Ships of the Line" by Arneson, although completed and in use, was never edited and was dropped by TSR.


  1. An interesting read I love the older games and how they are like time capsules of a bygone era, for example being able to rent somewhere with a floor big enough to get a game in.

  2. That's right. I suspect a lot of wargaming groups (those that have survived the Lockdown) simply don't have that kind of space.