Friday, April 10, 2009

Dave Arneson reactions & memorials

Some Arneson tidbits and reactions:

Secrets of the City:
I had the pleasure of playing Dungeons and Dragons with Mr. Arneson when I was a boy, at some convention or another, and he struck me as a very decent man who brought a great deal of personality to his games.
Huffington Post:

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

"But my dad never did," she said. "He just wanted people to have fun."

Geek Dad on Wired:

Arneson had to fight to get credit for his contributions, filing multiple lawsuits (later resolved out-of-court) against Gygax over crediting and royalties. He nonetheless did return to TSR in the mid-'80s to work with Gygax again. Following that, he began a second career as an educator, working in several schools with a particular focus on how to use gaming as an instructional tool.

The wargaming scene of the late ’60s and early ’70s was rich in experimentation: in alternative approaches to consolidating and distributing arbitration power, in the choice of scenes of engagement beyond strictly historical moments and eras, in the incorporation of factors besides the strictly combat-orientated in simulating a battle scene. One such experimenter was David Wesely, who hosted a multi-player battle event simulating a Napoleanic-era battle in the fictional Prussian town of Braunstein.

He began with two players each commanding one of the armies, and then added in players who’d control the mayor, local revolutionaries, and others who might affect the outcome. It turned into a free-for-all, very much to his surprise. Given rudimentary goals for their assigned characters, players went to the hilt, wheeling and dealing, working out schemes that ended up surprising referee Wesely as much as anyone else, and in general completely trashing his plans.

Wesely tried it again. The second and third Braunsteins were, from all accounts, flops. He tried centralizing authority to keep the exuberant invention in check, only to learn that it was really the point of the game for participants. Then, in 1970, came the fourth Braunstein, this time set in a banana republic in mid-coup, with Wesely accepting his discovery and planning for it this time. And in came, as one of the participants, Dave Arneson.

Arneson came prepared. His character was a revolutionary, who got points for distributing his radical leaflets. Arneson mocked up CIA ID and used it to convince other players that his character was actually an undercover agent. The game ended with him sailing off in a helicopter with much of the nation’s treasury entrusted to his care and him emptying out suitcases’ worth of leaflets over the riots and skirmishes below.


Some words keep coming up in descriptions of Arneson’s approach to gaming: “collaborative,” “relaxed,” “impressionistic,” and the like. He seems to have had no interest in being an authority, and certainly didn’t wish to be thought of one. In interviews, whenever he talked about what he was up to in gaming, it was full of “we” and “my players and I,” repeatedly emphasizing the group as a whole as what counted. He loved to experiment, and he loved helping others to do it.

Looks like he succeeded.

Grognardia, on one of Arnesons' early publications:

What I think is most notable and praiseworthy about The First Fantasy Campaign is the way it preserves and communicates, warts and all, what it was like to play at the dawn of the hobby. The rules presented here are quirky and flavorful, one part Chainmail, one part OD&D, and one part imaginative improvisation. The setting itself is highly impressionistic. Macro details are few and far between; most of the information pertains to individual locations within the setting, with the implication that other information will be created as needed rather than determined in advance of use.

As I've gotten older, I've come to appreciate this style of gaming much more than I would have in my youth. Consequently, I am sure that many will look on FFC with some disappointment at its seemingly random approach to a variety of topics, including world building. For me, though, that's part of its charm. This most emphatically isn't a polished product or an attempt at brand building. It's the notebook of one highly imaginative and eccentric referee, offered up for the world to see rather than to pick up and use "out of the box." Like OD&D itself, using The First Fantasy Campaign for onself is an exercise in active engagement with the text rather than simply reading it and following its instructions. There are no instructions in this book, just as there were no instructions to OD&D. Each person who reads it must of necessity make of it what they will. Like Dave Arneson himself, it's a pity more people aren't familiar with this product and its unique approach. I think the hobby might have been a very different place if they had been.
Out of the Box:

Dave Arneson, RIP

Dave Arneson invented this column.

Dave Arneson invented the reason you read this column.

Dave Arneson invented the reason the website that hosts this column exists.

Dave Arneson invented “armor class.” He invented “hit points.” He invented the “cleric.” He invented the “dungeon.” He invented “so, last week you cleaned out the dungeon, and now you’ve heard about another, even scarier dungeon, over the ridge there.” He invented “everyone plays one guy, and I play all the monsters.”

Dave Arneson co-invented Dungeons & Dragons.

Dave Arneson invented role-playing games.

On a personal note, he was a friendly, generous person who genuinely liked games and gamers; seeing him at a convention, or a store appearance, was always a delight — for me, for the fans, and (as far as I could tell) for him. I had the good fortune to talk to him a lot at various shows; he was a demigod adept at playing a mere tenth-level game designer, or first-level fan, but he also liked hanging out and talking about the Civil War, or his students, or what was going on in my life.

I first met him at GenCon 1997, right after Wizards took over TSR. He was sitting alone, near the Wizards booth, wearing a badge but otherwise inconspicuous. Certainly, there should have been throngs of worshipers bestrewing his lap with rose petals, or a shaft of light from the Fifth Heaven, or an honor guard of bugbears, or something. But I got to shake his hand and thank him for inventing my spare time, and my career.

And now he has leveled up.

Ars Technica:

We know how Arneson dealt with history lessons in college, and it's telling. "We created the Continental Congress and because I knew things the teacher didn't share with the students we ended up not having the Continental Congress, Delaware rejoined the Empire and New York and New Hampshire were at war," he told GameSpy. "Anyway, (laughs) I was accused by my professor of perverting his exercises… and well, it was true I did, and he was mad at me. The same thing happened with the French Revolution, and he accused me of introducing these random events that were of no historical interest at all."

We should be continually happy that so many bright students aren't dimmed by their teachers. Arneson understood that these things were of historical interest; history stands on the edge of knife, and a few different decisions one way or the other and the world would be a completely different place... we only forget that because we're comforted by putting historical events in a neat order. Arneson wanted to get into the heads of these people and play "what-if."

joystiq has some brief reactions.

Grognardia posts an early testimonial from Gygax:
Dave Arneson ... Is there really such a creature? Yes, Gentle Readers, there is, and shudder when the name is spoken. Although he is a man of many talents who has authored many historic rules sets and games, Dave is also the innovator of the "dungeon adventure" concept, creator of ghastly monsters, and inscrutable dungeonmaster par excellence. He devises complex combat systems, inexplicable dungeon and wilderness areas, and traps of the most subtle fiendishness. Herein you will get a taste of these, but he never reveals all. This writer always looks forward with great anticipation to an adventure in the "Blackmoor" campaign, for despite the fact that I co-authored the original work with Dave, and have spent hundreds of hours creating and playing DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, it is always a fresh challenge to enter his "world". I can not reccomend him more highly than simply saying that I would rather play in his campaign than any other - that other dungeonmasters who emulate Dave Arneson will indeed improve their games. While eagerly anticipating yet more material from dread "Blackmoor Castle", the following pages should satisfy your immediate craving for new ideas. Those of you totally committed to the fantasy adventure game may expect additional supplements from time to time; and isn't that dark shape crouched over the desk of blackened oak laughing fiendishly as glowing runes flow from his quill, remarkably similar to Arneson's?

E. Gary Gygax
TSR Games Editor
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
1 September 1975


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8:59 PM, April 10, 2009  

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