Lost trove of D&D co-creator unearthed, up for auction

Ethan sez, "The personal archives of legendary Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Dave Arneson -- some 10,000 items -- were abandoned by his heirs and lost in storage facility in Minnesota. Now they've been found and catalogued, and they're being auctioned starting this Sunday. Here's a story about it and an exclusive preview of Sunday's auction."

“It was by pure chance that the new owner attempted to find the meaning of some of the boxes of paper rather than deciding that there was no gold or jewelry to be found, and just tossing it all into the nearest dumpster,” wrote Cox on his company’s website.

Cox contacted Stormberg, whose company specializes in handling and evaluating the collections of RPG game designers and artists. They teamed up to buy and save the collection. Cox made an offer to the local auction company. The company agreed and The Collector’s Trove took possession of the materials for processing and auctioning. In an interview with GeekDad, Stormberg would not put a price tag on the collection, but he did say, “it was a substantial amount of money” — more than Cox had ever paid for an entire collection in 18 years of buying and selling for The Dragon’s Trove, which has had its hands on many of the largest and highest quality collections in the world...

...Stormberg said that “About 30% of the items are what I call product: published games, game accessories, periodicals, and books.” The remaining 70% of the collection is “non-product”: all those letters and scribbled notes, maps, objects, and personal and family items. There is Arneson’s Smith Corona: Mark IV typewriter; a set of lead crystal goblets etched with Arneson’s family heraldry; and a model ship made of metal. “Dave loved the age of sail and all things to do with naval military history. Indeed, one of his first published games was Don’t Give Up the Ship which he co-wrote with Gary Gygax and Mike Carr in 1972.”

Among the highlights: unpublished manuscripts that did not make it into the final draft of Dungeons & Dragons that date as far back as 1973. There are even older items from 1971 and 1972 “dealing with the Blackmoor campaign and the Castle itself,” Stormberg said. These may reveal secrets about the game’s origins. Domesday Book Newsletter, among the rarest and highly sought after collectibles by Dungeons & Dragons collectors.

GeekDad Exclusive: Auction Preview of D&D Co-Creator’s Personal Collection and Archives — Game’s Secrets to Be Revealed (Thanks, Ethan!)


  1. Good that it was discovered. Though too bad the contents weren’t scanned and made available to all, like what would happen to a literary author’s works. I wonder if in years ahead, there will be regret that scanning didn’t happen, or an attempt to do so.

  2. The unpublished stuff needs to be bought not by “just” a collector, but be an archivist who will scan it in and make it available. “The Lost Worlds of Blackmoor,” could be a hot seller. The material could be presented as-is, and then with mechanics for some modern RPG system.

    Before RPGs per se, gamers had play-by-mail campaigns that were closer to Diplomacy in nature than familiar tabletop role-playing. Players took on the roles of leaders of their nations, and traded letters and stories. There were articles about these in really old Dragon magazines. Blackmoor might have started out as something like this.

    * * *
    The mimeo’d material brings back memories. It reminds me of late-70s vintage gaming zines. I bet I still have some, stashed away. Some zine publishers would submit issues to APAs (amateur press associations), resulting in these bizarrely varied zine-amalgamations.

    * * *
    The smaller photo shows a Brown Box D&D set. I’ve seen one of those exactly twice. The second time saved my sanity:

    On the first instance, in the Battlegrounds store on Bleecker St. in 76 or 77, I poured through this guy’s set  in utter fascination. D&D sets were in incredibly short supply. I was especially interested in the sample dungeon.

    Then, in late 77, I got my own “white box” set. The second printing. I turned to the dungeon example and felt immediate cognitive dissonance. Something was missing! But everything else in the books was pretty much as I remembered. It really bothered me. Because this whole RPG thing was brand new, and there were very, very few “official” example of what a dungeon should look like, I felt like I was missing out on somethng.

    I eventually ran into someone who had the old set. Sure enough, there was more to the dungeon example. There was a room or two that wasn’t in my edition. Going back to my set, I could see how the map had been filled in.

  3. Hi, this is Tim Hutchings from the Play Generated Map and Document Archive – http://www.plagmada.org.  Kevin Bingham above is correct, people WILL regret it not being scanned and made available for public perusal.  Private collections are great at preserving things, but they can be awful at sharing things – and if something is made up of a thousand important parts and each part is sold separately, they will never be united again.  Ever.

    The archive collects game ephemera, the archive wants to buy up as much of the manuscript and game play material from the auctions as possible.  These materials will be made available for research purposes, placed on the internet, and possibly published if the legals can be worked out. 

    But to do this, the archive will need money – the most important items will go for thousands of dollars.  One very significant donation has been made to the cause already, and a handful of smaller donations are coming in as well.  I only found out about the auction today, and am still unsure about how to structure a short notice general plea for money – a Kickstarter wouldn’t even be resolved by the time the auctions were over. 

    So first, if anyone has any advice on how to structure fund raising for this I’d love to hear it. 

    Second, if you want to donate you can send PayPal money to the address at the bottom of the screen here:  http://plagmada.org/Donations.html


    tim h

    1.  There’s always Kickstarter, but you’d have to ask us to build you a dungeon to put it in.

  4. Tim,

         This is a subject I have thought a great deal about. Many moons ago when I first got into gaming (pre-D&D) I made sure to take care of my toys and books and I for the most part held onto them to this very day. I sold a raft of old SPI wargames when I was young to pay the rent, something I regret to this very day, but I had to eat. My collection of SPI wargames and RPG stuff however is still rather impressive I think.

         When I was back in money I would regularly spend more on gaming than on rent. I have shelf upon shelf of the stuff, much of it old and forgotten (I own an original Bunnies and Burrows). It struck me ages ago, and again when Gary passed, and then again when Dave passed that there should be a real Library collection of the stuff. My office oddly enough is in a library and I have talked a great deal to the librarians about creating a public collection of materials. Sadly it is my understanding that without a million dollars accompanying it even a Big Ten school wouldn’t touch it with the proverbial ten foot pole.

         I have oft thought of going on the quixotic quest to try to drum up the money to make this happen. I have contacts in the U of MN library system that yes, if I bring seven figures with me they will curate the materials. This auction makes me sad for the same reason it does for you, these things will pass into private hands never to see the light of scholarly work or ability for young DMs to see. My son is a young DM, and oddly enough he ran his first D&D (Second ed!!) adventure today. I wish I could have played. Not to be melodramatic, but I cant imagine a work of Shakespeare being found, and then spirited off to a private collection. And though I didn’t know Dave personally, I know someone who did, and he believes Dave would have hated this mess.
       Tim, please contact me. My email is my name at Yahoo. I think your goals are noble and I think we share the same ideals.  I would love to help out. I have to say though, your web address is atrocious. ;)

    1.  Somebody call Vin Diesel’s manager. Or let’s appeal to Vin online.  I bet he would put up the gold pieces required to get this archived.

    2. I’ll be emailing in a minute…

      I failed to mention earlier that the PlaGMaDA archive will be going to a collecting institution when I consider my role in it complete.  Should I die tomorrow it would go to the Cushing Memorial Library at Texas A&M – the Cushing Library has a tremendous science fiction and fantasy archive.  

    1.  No! Bad Dave Hester! (raises squirt bottle)

      Barry (and maybe Moe from the spinoff) could be trusted.

  5. Maybe they’ll use this stuff for the upcoming D&D 5. (JK LOL – They’re going to use “beta testers” from the community. (JK LOL – that’s what they’re saying. What they’ll do is just rewrite 4 and split each book up into three books, at twice the price each of the old ones.))

    /hasn’t gamed in years. got tired of hanging out with moronic goth metalheads
    //seriously. if you wear a *COSTUME* to a pen-and-paper game, you’ve missed the point.

  6. Please tell me someone has written a D&D scenario about finding the boxes in storage. It’s like the last shot of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Battle forklifts and scissor lifts, fight greedy fanbois on the same mission as you, lawyers, descendants and flim-flam men, oh my!

    Perhaps SJ Games could do it. (ducks)

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