Wednesday, April 15, 2009

D&D Co-Creator Dave Arneson Passes On

Dave Arneson, who co-created the role playing game Dungeons & Dragons, passed on April 7 at the age of 61. He had fought cancer for two years.

Dave Arneson was born on October 1, 1947 Hennepin County, Minnesota. He grew up around St. Paul and attended the University of Minnesota. He had developed an interest in war games after his parents had bought him a copy of Avalon Hill's Gettysburg in the early Sixties. He became a avid player of naval war games, and in the late Sixties began playing war games with the Midwest Military Simulation Association in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. While playing with the Midwest Military Simulation Association, Arneson took the first steps in the development of role playing games.

It was in August 1969 that Dave Arneson attended the second annual Gen Con, a national gaming convention. There he met Gary Gygax, who had co-created the medieval miniatures war game called Chainmail with Jeff Perren. Together the two of them would develop a naval war game, Don't Give Up The Ship. It was in 1970 that Arneson started developing a medieval miniatures game based around the exploration of castle dungeons. Originally resolving combat through the simple method of rock/scissors/paper, Arneson eventually adapted the Chainmail rules and rules from naval war games (from where the idea of Armour Class came) to his own ends. He also developed his own rules as he went along.

The game would eventually become Blackmoor, the setting of which would eventually become a Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting. Arneson and his friends would demonstrate their game for Gary Gygax. By phone and mail the two worked together on the game. After play testing, Arneson and Gygax tried to sell what was then called "the Fantasy Game" to both Avalon Hill and Guidon Games. Both companies rejected it.

With funding provided by Brian Blume, Gary Gygax and Don Kaye founded Tactical Studies Rules (later TSR Inc.) in 1973. The company published Dungeons & Dragons in 1974. While Dungeons & Dragons may not have been the first role playing game, it was the first to be widely available. In role playing games, players create their own fictional characters, each with their own personalities, pasts, and motivations separate for their own. An individual called a Game Master(GM for short) referees the game. He or she also controls the imaginary environment in which the player characters exist, creating everything from the setting to the adventures to non-player characters(NPC). In many respects role playing games are simply a variation of such childhood games as "cops and robbers."

While Arneson co-created Dungeons & Dragons, he would not formally be a part of TSR until he joined as their Director of Research in 1976. Arneson did not remain with TSR for long. He left towards the end of the year to pursue his own career as an independent game developer. Heritage Models published Arneson's Dungeonmaster's Index in 1977. In 1979 he released the role playing game Adventures in Fantasy, co-created by Richard L. Snider. It was also that year that he filed his first of five lawsuits against Gary Gygax and TSR Hobbies Inc. over royalties and credit on the adaptation of Dungeons & Dragons as Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. The suits would eventually be settle out of court in 1981. As a result Dave Arneson had been credited as a co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons ever since.

Afterwards Dave Arneson founded Adventure Games, which published the games Johnny Reb, Harpoon. While Adventure Games would be successful, it would also create a considerable workload for Arneson. He eventually sold out to Flying Buffalo (publishers of Tunnels and Trolls). After Gary Gygax became president of TSR, Arneson returned to TSR in the Eighties and developed several adventures for the Blackmoor campaign setting. After Gary Gygax left the company in 1985, Arneson's association with TSR was terminated.

Dave Arneson then founded the computer company 4D Interactive Systems, Inc. He also consulted with other computer companies. It was in the Nineties that he started work at Full Sail University, a university in Winter Park, Florida geared towards the business of entertainment. There he would be a professor computer design. Arenson and Dustin Clingman would found Zeitgeist Games with the goal of updating Blackmmoor. The new version of Blackmoor was published in 2004.

Dave Arneson was pivotal in the history of role playing games. Quite simply, without Dave Arneson D&D and all the role playing games which followed it would not exist. According to Wizards of the Coast, the current publishers of D&D, he "...developed many of the fundamental ideas of role playing: that each player controls just one hero, that heroes gain power through adventures and that personality is as important as combat prowess." Dave Arneson then did not merely co-create Dungeons and Dragons, but developed the most basic principles of the role playing game.

When I was young I would play a good deal of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and other role playing games. And I do believe I owe a good deal to the role playing games I which I played. I believe that they helped exercise my imagination, helped develop my ability to create plots, and improved my ability to develop characters. Role playing games made me a better writer. While I no longer play role playing games, I do owe them a great debt. I then also owe Dave Arneson a great debt, without whom role playing games could not exist.

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