Unveiling the Past: A Journey Through the July 1973 Draft and D&D’s Foundational Saga

Line art illustration of the July 1973 Dungeons and Dragons Draft
July 1973 Dungeons & Dragons Draft

Dungeons & Dragons was forged through collaboration and feuding. The latter culminated in a lawsuit filed by co-creator Dave Arneson against Gary Gygax and TSR, respectively, the other co-creator and the original publisher of Dungeons & Dragons. Unfortunately, understanding the unique output of collaboration that created Dungeons & Dragons requires looking at some of the feuds that shaped it. 

The Quest Unfolds

Here are the quotes from both Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax that launched my research into their creation:

Many of your questions could be answered but I am bound legally to not do so.

Dave Arneson
ODD74 forum, a reply by Dave Arneson on the topic of Dave Arneson’s House Rules

Unfortunately I cannot explain this in a way that will satisfy your readership. It is all covered in court documents that are presently sealed. Any comments that I can make are in violation of those settlements.

Dave Arneson
Interview of Dave Arneson conducted by Ciro Alessandro Sacco (https://www.keithrobinson.me/thekyngdoms/interviews/davearneson.php, originally published on http://dungeons.it, archived at https://web.archive.org/web/20160111015216/http://dungeons.it/)

For my part I am satisfied with whatever credits others care to assign to me and I believe my work speaks amply for itself.

Gary Gygax
Interview of Gary Gygax conducted by Ciro Alessandro Sacco (https://www.keithrobinson.me/thekyngdoms/interviews/garygygax.php, published initially on http://dungeons.it, archived at https://web.archive.org/web/20160111015216/http://dungeons.it/)

From these quotes, the co-creators of D&D became my quest givers. Through these quotes, I heard Dave and Gary telling me a treasure trove of history was waiting to be discovered and unearthed, one that would reveal significant moments in the game’s storied past and how the game came to be. Thus, with this call from beyond, I became an RPG researcher and historian like others before me.

Unearthed Treasure Trove

My research endeavor has been a labor of love and dedication, driven by a deep desire to contribute to understanding and appreciating Dungeons & Dragons’ rich history that has been ongoing for over five years. Through this research, I was able to assist with The Secrets of Blackmoor, earning a film credit with other researchers, and was able to provide Ben Riggs, author of Slaying the Dragon, with the Random House agreement signed by Gary Gygax, which Ben kept hearing about but eluded him (both are affiliate links).

The adventure has taken me physically and virtually to archives all over the U.S. Occasionally, I discovered long-forgotten or rarely-seen sources, with long hours pouring over old zines, magazines, and texts. I had to learn the arcane language of archives and U.S. federal courts.

My dedication to the quest paid off when the records Dave Arneson mentioned were found. Fortunately, the case was deemed important. Otherwise, like so many other documents, it would have been too late, and the documents destroyed. Government retention policies can be a heartbreaker for a researcher.

While I had anticipated that, if located, the documents would still be under court seal that would require herculean acts to unseal, I was surprised to find that was not the case. The entire court case was in the public record. The excellent staff at the National Archives in Chicago informed me I could have a copy of the record for $0.80 per page, though there were over 900 pages. After requesting a portion of the papers, I was soon hooked; this was the trove Arneson promised, a window into the past. In the end, I requested copies of the whole record of the case.

There were letters from lawyers, letters from Gary Gygax, interrogatories, depositions, and there was the entirety of the July 1973 draft of Dungeons & Dragons.

Public Records — A Gateway to History

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of D&D, I decided to share something extraordinary with fellow enthusiasts and scholars alike—a rare find that shines a light on the game’s early days and the legal battles that shaped its future. People who love this game should have access to read the documents directly, not only through my or someone else’s lens—and the court records are public records, so the public should be aware they are available. I’d always intended to one day point to just where they are, just as Jon Peterson pointed out his source for many of the zines he references are in Bowling Green University’s archives; the 50th anniversary of D&D and the birth of roleplaying games seems like the right time.

On February 12, I shared on the OD&D Discussions forum (better known as ODD74) that I had a copy of the draft and for members to ask me anything about it, as well as the location of the federal court case records, which are public records, and who to contact to view them. Having and studying a copy of these documents was amazing, but does not compare to the reward of watching and participating in discussions with other enthusiasts and historians. D&D and game design research is best done as a team sport with collaboration.

Sharing this discovery brings a mix of emotions: the thrill of revealing a hidden gem and relinquishing a closely guarded secret that once felt like my precious treasure.

The centerpiece of this revelation is a copy of the July 1973 D&D draft, a document that provides an unparalleled glimpse into the game’s development. In the spirit of sharing and recognizing the importance of this historical document, I’ve decided to guide others on how they might access this piece of D&D history. 

The treasure is housed in the National Archives in Chicago and can be viewed on the National Archives website. You can also visit the archive and review it in person in the research room at 7358 South Pulaski Road, Chicago, IL. The research room at the National Archives at Chicago is open by appointment only (773-948-9001 or chicago.archives@nara.gov), Monday-Friday, 9:00 am–4:00 pm. 

You can also write or email to request a copy (chicago.archives@nara.gov). There is no longer a fee, as the files have all been digitized. The information needed to identify the records are:

  • David L. Arneson vs. Gary Gygax and TSR Hobbies, Inc: U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota, Fourth Division
  • Civil Case Number: 4-79-109
  • National Archives Identifier: 200185170

Be nice to the staff at the archive; they are fantastic.

To be clear, while these court records are public records, some documents contained within the records are still protected under copyright. Also, public records do not equate to public domain. The distribution of copyrighted material in this court case is not condoned. It is your responsibility to ensure that you adhere to copyright law.

The Adventure Continues

Stay tuned to this blog, where I’ll delve into the differences highlighted in the July 1973 D&D draft, uncover aspects of gameplay that have evolved, and share insights that challenge and enrich our understanding of Dungeons & Dragons. This journey through D&D’s history is just beginning. I invite you to join me as we uncover the layers of creativity, conflict, and collaboration that have made the game a beloved cultural phenomenon.

Post Script

When I revealed the court records’ location, I was unaware of an upcoming book, poised to offer an unprecedented look at D&D’s origins, featuring contributions from fellow game historian Jon Peterson. This work promises to be an essential read for enthusiasts and historians alike; I know I am looking forward to it. You can pre-order a copy of The Making of Original Dungeons & Dragons: 1970-1977 (affiliate link) or learn more about the book with this YouTube video.

DisclosureSome of the links above are affiliate links, meaning that at no additional cost to you, I will receive a commission if you click through and make a purchase. All affiliate links are marked.