Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Dave Arneson

Sad news today - Dave Arneson, one of the co-creators of D&D, passed away today.

Unfortunately, its not until very recently that I've learned about Dave and the huge influence he's had on his hobby. I learned in the 1E AD&D Gygaxian mold, and it isn't until the last few months that I even discovered the 3LBB that Dave had a great deal of input on. I even ran a game set in Blackmoor without know of Dave or the First Fantasy Campaign -- the blurb in the Greyhawk Gazeteer was so compelling that I just had to put something there and flesh it out!

Here is a thread from DF:
And a great story, I think, that reveals something of Mr. Arneson's creativity and contribution to the hobby:

On paper Braunstein 4 looked like a wargame or a boardgame. Most of the players controlled units (army, the inland navy or the secret police) and filled out order sheets to send them places each turn. Want to take over the radio station? Send some soldiers!

And it might have stayed that way, except for the nefarious wiles of one player: Dave Arneson.

Dave Arneson: Gamer Ex Nihilo

“Peaceful revolutionary. Gets points for printing and delivering leaflets to each of his revolutionaries, and more for handing them out to other civilians (who may be agents or guerrillas of course…). Starts at home. (B-4)”
–Braunstein 4, Banana Republic

When you started gaming you read all these books, and they told you you could be a cleric or a thief or an elf (or a vampire or a Prince of Amber) and they told you you should probably pick a caller and set up a marching order and listen at doors and all that other stuff. You marched your character around and talked in funny voices. Sooner or later you may have realized that the rules didn’t drive the game, your imagination did.

But what if you never had any of those books? What if no one had ever explained to you what roleplaying was? Were you a good enough gamer to become a gamer without even knowing what a gamer was? Could you have just started being a gamer out of thin air, without anyone ever telling you how to do it?

Dave Arneson did.

He lied, swindled, improvised, and played his character to the hilt. He came to the game with fake CIA ID he’d mocked up, so when another player “captured” and searched him he could whip them out. Other players were still moving pieces around the board and issuing orders like a wargame while Dave Arneson was running circles around them and changing the whole scenario. He was winning the game entirely by roleplaying.

You may think of Dave Arneson as one of the godfathers of GMing, but even before that he was the godfather of players. He was, literally, the proto-player.


“You’re the student revolutionary leader,” Wesely says “You get victory points for distributing revolutionary leaflets. You’ve got a whole briefcase full of them.”

Much later, having convinced his fellow players that he is really, perhaps, an undercover CIA operative, and that the entire nation’s treasury is really much safer in his hands, Dave Arneson’s character is politely ushered aboard a helicopter to whisk him to safety.

Far below the streets are still churning with fighting, plastic soldiers colliding with innocent citizens and angry rioters. In his lap sits the forgotten briefcase of revolutionary leaflets. “I get points for distributing these right?” And with a sweep of his arm he adds insult to injury, hurling reams of pages into the downdraft of the helicopter where they scatter and float lazily down upon the entire town…

Final score: Dave Arneson, plus several thousand points

Big whoop, you say, this is all old timey stuff. We modern gamers are way beyond dungeon crawls and listening at doors and all that primitive stuff. We have indie games and story games and narrative control and yadda yadda yadda.

Yes indeed. But even skipping the “standing on the shoulders of giants” argument or the “know your roots” argument, look again at what happened in that game: Dave Arneson was winning entirely by roleplaying. He isn’t doing tactical combat or playing some dumb-ass linear quest, he is making his own rules and being, for lack of a better word, an excellent player by any modern definition. He is making the game.

Don’t think Dave Arneson would kick your ass in some Sorcerer or Dogs In The Vineyard? Then you haven’t been paying attention. He would, as the kids say, take you to the net.


What happened after Braunstein 4? Major Wesely went off to the army and Dave Arneson started running his own “Braunsteins” in a little patch of imaginary world called Blackmoor. He sent his players into dungeons. To resolve combats he used a miniatures rule system called Chainmail. The rest, as they say, is history.

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