The world of fantasy gaming lost another of it’s founding founders when Dave Arneson passed away on April 7, 2009. He was 61 years old. Along with Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson was credited with the creation of the first Dungeons and Dragons boxed set released by TSR in 1974. The following year he also created the Blackmoor setting for use with the D&D world. Among the firsts in the set were the introduction of both the monk and the assassin classes.
In later years he had falling outs with both Gygax and TSR, but continued to be involved in gaming and the world of fantasy adventure. He even taught a class on game creation and rules at Florida’s Full Sail University. I would think that would have to be one of the greatest college classes ever.
With Gygax failing his save versus death last year and now Arneson also missing his roll, it got me thinking a bit about the individuals behind some of the games that I love so much today. Sometimes people make contributions to the world that are truly wonderful, but you can’t help but think that if they had not done so then someone else would have come along and accomplished the feat instead. People were always looking for ways to light up a dark room, Edison just got there first. I don’t think that is true of what these men created. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s the world of board gaming was well established with companies like Avalon Hill producing quality products that had very involved rules and immersive strategies. By the 1980’s video games were arriving on the scene and immediately developing a cult following. Given those parameters I’m not sure it’s a given that Role Playing Games as we know them today would have developed if not for, what I consider to be, the singular contributions of men like Arneson and Gygax. The idea of actually being a character, rather than just controlling one, is what set these games apart from board games and video games. I think that’s the element that these men really got; it wasn’t just about planning and executing a strategy or beating a boss and getting to the next level that mattered. It was about having fun and telling stories, being someone and somewhere else for a while, and getting together with friends. And in all those ways not much has changed since they first came up with it.
I hope that Dave and Gary are throwing some dice together and talking about old times and planning some new ones as well.