Transcript of our podcast from 19 April 2009

 subscribe with iTunes
Pod Icon play now

Rest in peace, Dave Arneson

by Moritz Eggert

A while ago I did a eulogy for Gary Gygax. Now the co-creator of the original Dungeons and Dragons, Dave Arneson, has sadly passed away as well, and I thought it was only fair to give him the same affectionate goodbye that I tried to give Gary Gygax.

Throughout the lawsuits and the bitterness that for some time made the life of both Arneson and Gygax difficult and which nearly destroyed their friendship it was always clear to any true fan that each man on it's own had a huge impact on the phenomenon that today is known as role-playing games.

Arneson was never the one in the limelight, this was a position clearly taken by Gygax - although not a shy person by any means Arneson never became an iconic face and household name, he never appeared as a character on the Simpson's or on Futurama. I think it actually has something to do with his rather normal name - Gygax just looked and sounded the part of a slightly crazy über-geek, and Gygax just is the name of a wizard, don't you think? By the way, Gygax is a quite ordinary name in Switzerland, where his family came from...

But even though Arneson had a similar physique and also shared both beard and jolliness with Gygax, he never was that much in the spotlight.

As I have already talked at length about the influence of roleplaying on the boardgames we play today last time, I would like to talk a little about the creation of the idea of roleplaying.

Like Gygax, Arneson came from the miniature wargaming scene. He was a member of the Midwest Military Association, Minnesota and shared a love for fighting sail games with Gygax, which also first brought them into contact.

A fellow gamer of Arneson, the still very much alive and gaming David Weseley, was also a member of this wargaming club, and by all accounts he is considered the person who actually first had the idea to introduce roles into the miniature wargaming scene, even though that idea was probably already in the air through games like "Diplomacy".

In a Napoleonic miniature wargame taking place in the fictional German town "Braunstein" that was created in 1967 and that Weseley refereed he experimented with distributing roles like "the mayor" or "the banker" to make the campaign more interesting. Even though Weseley considered the experiment a failure it most certainly intrigued Arneson enough to begin dabbling with a fantasy setting of his own creation, called Blackmoor. Blackmoor and Braunstein - the similarities of the names alone are interesting.

For "Blackmoor" Arneson used a very primitive combat system that later began to incorporate rules from fellow gamer Gygax, who had invented a miniature wargaming system called Chainmail and that Arneson thought fitting for his ideas. When Arneson approached Gygax to work together on a more refined and original system for this fantasy setting, Dungeons and Dragons was born.

It is a moot point to argue about the value of the contribution of each of these two creative talents to D&D - it is clear that both Arneson and Gygax had their strengths and weaknesses, and as there is a lot of individually created material by both of them it is also easy to see that they were both extremely creative and imaginative people who could very well be a force on their own and weren't dependent on each other. Still, it is their mutual creation, Dungeons and Dragons, that has had the most impact of all their work.

It is interesting to note that the whole idea of the Dungeon Crawl Adventure - which, let's face it, was a radical departure from anything gaming had known until then - was clearly Arneson's idea. "Blackmoor" was and remained his unique creation, and it is still a popular world that lives on in countless versions until today. Without "Blackmoor" there would be also no boardgames like "Talisman", "Descent", "Heroquest" or the like. This was THE original dungeon adventure world, and we have to thank Arneson for this wonderful idea that has become such an important ingredient in so many games we love.

When TSR became a million dollar phenomenon Arneson felt less and less at home and in 1976 he left the company to follow his own professional pursuits. But until then he had already contributed a lot to many classic modules and sourcebooks. Sadly there followed a time of lawsuits about royalties that for many years separated Gygax and Arneson as friends, but later they apparently reconciled and there was even a short time when Arneson worked again for TSR, until a new management took over.

Throughout all his life, Arneson remained a creative force in gaming. He created his own roleplaying system, Adventures in Fantasy, taught computer gaming design and also worked on the creation of computer games.

His daughter sums up the credo of his life very beautifully:

"The biggest thing about my dad's world is he wanted people to have fun in life ... I think we get distracted by the everyday things you have to do in life and we forget to enjoy life and have fun".

On April 7 this year another giant of gaming design, a hero of our hobby, has left us. He will be missed.

Let's keep his memory alive by playing his games and not forgetting how many hours of joys his ideas have brought us.

Dave, you will be missed.

May you game on forever.

read/write comments

2009, Westpark Gamers