David L. Arneson (born October 1, 1947 in Minnesota, United States, Died April 7, 2009) was a US game designer. In the early 1970s, he co-created the Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) role-playing game with Gary Gygax. He is a University of Minnesota alumnus, and began working on role-playing games (RPGs) at Coffman Union. He has kept a relatively low profile and has been called an "unsung legend" in the early development of role-playing games.
Experience with miniature wargaming
Arneson's role-playing game design work grew from his interest in wargames. His parents bought him the Gettysburg game by Avalon Hill in the early 1960s and he soon taught his friends how to play. He and his gaming group began to design their own games.
In the early 1960s, Arneson began playing with military miniatures with the Midwest Military Simulation Association, a gamer group in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area that included among its ranks David Wesely. It was founded in 1964 (April 18th). It was with Wesely and the other members of the MMSA that he first developed the inklings of modern role-playing games. When they played, they would set non-combat objectives for each player, a step away from wargaming towards the more individual play and varied challenges of later RPGs. Dave Arneson joined up when he was still in high school.
Dave had already started a non-historical rendition of the game, which later was renamed Blackmoor. Unlike the one off games, these had characters grow and advance. As combat became more and more common Dave started adopting more and more wargaming ideas into the game, writing rules, and testing them with the players.
Arneson attended the Gen Con gaming convention for the first time in 1969, which was only its second annual meeting (still primarily a wargaming only convention). It was at this Gen Con that he met Gary Gygax who had founded the Castle & Crusade Society in the International Federation of Wargamers in the 1960s at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, not far from Arneson's home in Minnesota.
They also shared an interest in sailing ship games that would bear fruit when they collaborated on the book Don't Give Up The Ship!, published in 1972 by Guidon Games. Originally Don't Give Up The Ship! was a work that Dave Arneson and Mike Carr worked on, Dave had created the majority of the rules. Gary Gygax needed a naval game rule set & offered to help ready it for publication.
The ideas of wargaming helped define the rules to apply to the acting gaming called role-playing. Role playing involves more one-on-one combat than wargaming could allow. And it was this that the group wanted.
Following David Wesely's historical Napoleonic Role-playing games started in 1967, Dave in late 1968 and early 1969 started his Medieval Roleplaying fantasy. Complete with carrying characters over with experience points, leveling, and other game elements.
Originally Arneson played his own mix of rules, using rock, paper, scissors to resolve combat. Later he adapted a set of rules intended for conducting naval combat. These rules had an armor class system like that which would be used later in D&D. In particular, the lower the armor class, the harder the ship (or creature) was to hit.
Arneson later dabbled with the Chainmail rules, written by Gygax and Jeff Perren, but found them lacking. He wrote his own rules in his own play, applying his own to his role-playing game scenarios and brought in his own rules. But Chainmail was on a similar track to what Arneson had in mind, combining fantasy elements with real-world rules.
He thought that Gygax would be interested in role-playing, as he was already a game-maker with similar interests, and he helped to start the game Blackmoor. They then worked together on the game.
The game that evolved was Blackmoor, which modern players of D&D would describe as a campaign setting, not a complete game. The gameplay would now be recognizable to players of Dungeons & Dragons, featuring the use of hit points and armor class, character development (levels and experience points), and dungeon crawls. The setting was also fleshed-out over time. In the early 1970s, Arneson's gaming group in Minnesota began the "Blackmoor" campaign and has continued to play to the present.
After phone and mail design collaboration, Gygax and Arneson wanted to publish the game, but Arneson could not afford to invest in the venture. Don Kaye provided funding to publish D&D in 1974, which became a sold-out success. "Blackmoor" became one of the two major settings for the game.
In 1979, Arneson filed the first lawsuit (of five) against Gygax and TSR Hobbies (D&D's publisher) over crediting and royalties on later adapted versions of Dungeons & Dragons. Arneson left D&D/TSR and they resolved the suits out of court in 1981, but this did not end the lingering tensions between them. The court documents are confidential and neither party may talk about the issues involved. It was resolved, however, that they are "co-creators."
In the early 1980s Arneson established his own game company, Adventure Games, which produced the miniature games Johnny Reb and Harpoon. He wrote the Adventures in Fantasy RPG (with co-author Richard L. Snider), which can be seen as D&D as he envisioned it. Adventure Games published several games and made money, but Arneson handed it over to Flying Buffalo as the workload became unbearable.
Arneson briefly returned to "Blackmoor" and D&D in the mid 1980s when Gygax became president of TSR. This production yielded the "DA" (Dave Arneson) series of Blackmoor modules. When a new president after Gygax took control of TSR, Arneson was removed from the company before the fifth module was published. Gygax and Arneson went their separate ways.
In 1986, Arneson wrote a new D&D module set in Blackmoor called "The Garbage Pits of Despair", which was published in two parts in Different Worlds magazine issues #42 and #43.
Arneson stepped into the computer industry. He founded 4D Interactive Systems, Inc., a computer company in Minnesota that is still in business today. He also did some programming and worked on several games. He eventually found himself consulting with computer companies.
Living in California in the late 1980s, he had a chance to work with special education children. Upon returning to Minnesota, he pursued teaching and began speaking at schools about educational uses of role-playing. In the 1990s, he began working at Full Sail, a private university that teaches multimedia subjects, and continues there as a professor of computer game design.
Around 2000, Arneson was working with videographer John Kentner on Dragons in the Basement, a video documentary on the early history of role-playing games. He also made a cameo appearance in the Dungeons & Dragons movie as one of many mages throwing fireballs at a dragon. Eventually the scene was deleted from the completed movie.
Arneson continues to play games, including D&D, military miniatures, and an annual meeting to play the original Blackmoor in Minnesota. He has received numerous industry awards for his part in creating Dungeons & Dragons and roleplaying games. He teaches the class "Rules of the Game" at Full Sail, in which students learn how to accurately document and create balanced rules sets.
- Official website
- Facebook Page
- Dave Arneson's Blackmoor at Goodman Games. Official website for new Blackmoor material.
- Dave Arneson's entry in the Pen & Paper RPG database - Lists Dave's RPG industry credits.
- "Dave Arneson Interview" by Harold Foundary at Digital Entertainment News
- "Dave Arneson Interview" by Andrew S. Bub at GameSpy, August 11 2002
- "Dave Arneson Interview" by Allen Rausch at GameSpy, August 19 2004
- "Interview with game designer Dave Arneson" by Sam Sloan at Slice of SciFi (March 8, 2008)
- "An Interview with Dave Arneson" from Pegasus Magazine, Issue #1 (Apr/May 1981)
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