Don Kaye

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Don Kaye
Born (1938-06-27)June 27, 1938[1]
Died January 31, 1975(1975-01-31) (aged 36)
Occupation game publisher[2][3]
Nationality United States
Genre role-playing games

Donald R. Kaye (June 27, 1938 – January 31, 1975) was the co-founder of Tactical Studies Rules (TSR), the game publishing company most famous for their Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) role-playing game. He and TSR co-founder Gary Gygax had been friends since childhood,[4] sharing an interest in miniature war games. In 1972, Kaye created Murlynd, one of the first D&D characters, and play-tested him[4] in Gygax's Castle Greyhawk campaign. Kaye and Gygax were convinced that D&D and similar games were an excellent business opportunity, and together they founded Tactical Studies Rules in 1973. However, only two years later, just as sales of D&D started to rise, Kaye unexpectedly died of a heart attack at age 36.

Early life and early gaming[edit]

Don Kaye was born on June 27, 1938.[5] He grew up in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, where at age 6, he became friends with Gygax, who had visited and later moved there from Chicago, Illinois in 1946.[2] They began playing miniature war games in 1953.[6] Gygax and Kaye designed their own miniatures rules for toy soldiers, with a large collection of 54 mm and 70 mm figures, and used "ladyfinger firecrackers" to simulate explosions.[2][7] In 1965, Kaye, Gygax, Mike Reese, and Leon Tucker created a military miniatures society, Lake Geneva Tactical Studies Association (LGTSA),[7] with its first headquarters in Gygax's basement,[6] and later held meetings in Kaye's garage.[8]

Formation of TSR[edit]

In the fall of 1972, Dave Arneson, a wargamer from nearby Minneapolis-St. Paul, demonstrated a new type of role-playing game to the LGTSA. Gygax then created a similar game set in the imaginary Castle Greyhawk, and invited his children, Ernie and Elise, "to create characters and adventure".[9] The next evening, Kaye joined the game along with Gygax's friends Rob Kuntz and Terry Kuntz.[4][2] Kaye created the character Murlynd, Rob Kuntz created Robilar and Terry Kuntz created Terik.[10] Kaye observed with interest as a very enthusiastic group played the prototype Dungeons & Dragons game at Gen Con VI (1973), and suggested to Gygax that they form a company to publish the game themselves.[11] Sensing the potential popularity of the game, Kaye and Gygax each invested $1000 in October 1973 to found the publishing company Tactical Studies Rules;[12] [13][2] Kaye borrowed his share from his life insurance policy.[7][14] TSR was initially run out of Kaye's dining room.[11] They immediately published Cavaliers and Roundheads, a miniature game based on the English Civil War, [15] and planned to use its revenue to print and publish D&D.[14] However, in 1974, after worries that other companies were developing similar projects, they decided not to wait,[16] and convinced a gaming acquaintance, Brian Blume, to invest in TSR as an equal one-third partner.[17] In January 1974, they printed a thousand copies of the game and hand-assembled them in the basement of Gygax's house.[6] Warehousing and shipping was done from Kaye's home.[2] The first printing sold out before the end of 1974, and sales of a second printing began to increase exponentially.[18] In late 1974, Kaye helped develop some of the rules for a new Western-genre game to be called Boot Hill.[19]

Death and legacy[edit]

Although only 36 years old at the start of 1975, Kaye needed heart surgery, a fact that he did not disclose to his partners.[14] Gygax and Blume were therefore unprepared when Kaye suffered a heart attack before the scheduled date for surgery and died on January 31, 1975.[5][7]

Kaye had not made any specific provision in his will regarding his one-third share of the company, so his share of TSR passed to his wife, who was not interested in having any part of TSR. Gygax stated "After Don died [Kaye's wife] dumped all the Tactical Studies Rules materials off on my front porch. It would have been impossible to manage a business with her involved as a partner."[20] Neither Gygax nor Blume had the money to formally buy the share owned by Kaye's wife, but Blume persuaded Gygax to allow his father, Melvin Blume, to buy it.[21] The company was re-formed as TSR Hobbies, Inc, with the Blume family owning controlling interest.[17][22][21]

In 1975, Gygax and Blume published Boot Hill in memory of Kaye.[2] Gygax highlighted Kaye's character Murlynd in the March 1983 issue of Dragon magazine.[23] The following year, Gygax paid further tribute to Kaye when he used Murlynd's name for two spells (Murlynd's Ogre, Murlynd's Void) and an item (Murlynd's Spoon) in Unearthed Arcana.[24]


  1. ^ "United States Social Security Death Index," index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 12 Feb 2013), Donald Kaye, January 1975; citing U.S. Social Security Administration, Death Master File, database (Alexandria, Virginia: National Technical Information Service, ongoing).
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Lynch, Scott (2001-05-17). "Interview with Gary Gygax, part 2 of 3". RPGnet. 
  3. ^ Kaye's primary occupation has not been publicized, but he was planning on quitting that job to work for the upstart TSR.
  4. ^ a b c Kushner, David (2008-03-10). "Dungeon Master: The Life and Legacy of Gary Gygax". Wired. 
  5. ^ a b "In Memorium". The Strategic Review (Lake Geneva, Wisconsin: TSR, Inc.) (#2): 1. Summer 1975. 
  6. ^ a b c "Gary Gygax". The Economist. March 13, 2008. Retrieved October 7, 2008. 
  7. ^ a b c d "TSR Profiles". Dragon (Lake Geneva, Wisconsin: TSR, Inc.) (#103): 56. November 1985. 
  8. ^ "The Castle & Crusade Society". The Acaeum. Retrieved 2012-04-17.  - excerpt notes from Paul Stromberg, with Gary Gygax and Rob Kuntz debating the location and organization of LGTSA meetings.
  9. ^ Gygax: "It was in the late fall of 1972 when I completed a map of some castle ruins, noted ways down to the dungeon level (singular), and invited my 11-year-old son Ernie and nine-year-old daughter Elise to create characters and adventure. This they did, and around 9 pm ... they had to come back from such imaginary derring-do, put their index card character sheets aside, and get ready for bed. They had had a marvelous time and wanted to keep playing." "Gary Gygax: Q & A (Part IV, Page 1)". EN World. 2003-07-22. Retrieved 2010-03-16. 
  10. ^ Gygax: "In a couple of days time Don Kaye (Murlynd), Rob (Robilar, Otto) and Terry (Terik) Kuntz joined the gang." "Gary Gygax: Q & A (Part I, Page 8)". EN World. 2006-08-06. Retrieved 2009-03-15. 
  11. ^ a b Shannon Appelcline (2011). Designers & Dragons. Mongoose Publishing. p. 7. ISBN 978-1-907702-58-7. 
  12. ^ Hoffmann, Frank W.; Bailey, William G. (1991). Sports & Recreation Fads. Haworth Press. p. 109. ISBN 1-56024-056-3. 
  13. ^ "Gary Gygax Interview". Dungeons and Dragons Online - Game Banshee. 2004-07-20. Retrieved 2012-04-17.  - "Gary: Well, yeah, I founded Tactical Studies Rules with Don Kaye - he and I were equal partners. We founded that in October of 1973 and published D&D in January of 1974."
  14. ^ a b c Stewart Alsop II (1982-02-01). "TSR Hobbies Mixes Fact and Fantasy". Inc. (magazine). 
  15. ^ Toth, Ralf. "From D&D to AD&D (1966-1976)". Tome of Treasures. Retrieved 2012-04-17.  - "After being turned down by all major game manufacturers of the time, Gary Gygax and Don Kaye formed a partnership, which operated out of Kaye's dining room in Lake Geneva. It was named Tactical Studies Rules after their local wargaming club called Lake Geneva Tactical Studies Association. Kaye covered the $1,000 they needed to publish Cavaliers and Roundheads, a miniature game of the English Civil War."
  16. ^ Sacco, Ciro Alessandro. "The Ultimate Interview with Gary Gygax". Retrieved 2010-03-23.  - "Gygax: Don and I wanted to get the D&D game out as soon as possible. If we had waited until sales of our one set of military miniatures rules, 'Cavaliers & Roundheads', generated sufficient funds, it would have been 1975 before we could publish."
  17. ^ a b "The History of TSR". Wizards of the Coast. Archived from the original on October 4, 2008. Retrieved August 20, 2005. 
  18. ^ 30 Years of Adventure: A Celebration of Dungeons & Dragons. Renton WA: Wizards of the Coast. 2004. p. 55. ISBN 0-7869-3498-0. 
  19. ^ Kuntz: "Don was a great fan of the Western and an avid supporter of the Boot Hill rules." "Robilar Remembers: Murlynd". Pied Piper Publishing. 2004-10-18. Retrieved 2009-09-16. 
  20. ^ "Gary Gygax: Q & A (Part IV, Page 2)". EN World. 2003-07-23. Retrieved 2010-03-23. 
  21. ^ a b "The Ultimate Interview with Gary Gygax". Retrieved 2010-03-23. 
  22. ^ Parker, Laura (March 7, 2008). "Gary Gygax: Founding father of fantasy computer games and co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons". The Guardian. Retrieved October 7, 2008. 
  23. ^ Gygax, Gary (March 1983). "Greyhawk's World: Four Uncharacteristic Characters". Dragon (Lake Geneva WI: TSR). VII, No. 9 (71): 19–22. 
  24. ^ Gygax, Gary. Unearthed Arcana (TSR, 1985)