Friday, April 10, 2009

Dave Arneson, 1947-2009

I was hoping to get back to regular reviews at some point, but for now, another formless text piece. Not a rant this time, but another memoriam. Dave Arneson, the co-creator of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, passed away recently at the age of 61, over a year after the passing of his collaborator, E. Gary Gygax. Arneson wasn’t quite as well known or prolific as Gygax, and so doen’t quite get the credit he deserves. So I figure he deserves a tribute at least as long as Gygax got, even if I’m now finding myself rummaging for something new to say.

I’m fuzzy on the early history of D&D’s development, but I do know that Arneson was the creator of Blackmoor, a fantasy setting that actually predated the game. He’d been working with miniature wargaming and introducing fantasy elements, and Blackmoor was the world he had the games take place in. The desire for a more codified r
ules set than existed at the time led him to team up with Gygax, who had been involved in the CHAINMAIL medieval miniatures game, and together they developed D&D based on the structure of one of Arneson’s Blackmoor scenarios. It formed the background for the earliest D&D games, but the world wasn’t presented in much detail until it was published as a third-party campaign setting in 2004.

Arneson parted ways with Gygax and TSR near the end of the 70s, (though he briefly returned to author a few Blackmoor modules when Gygax temporarily took control of the company) and was kept out of the copyright for ADVANCED DUNGEONS
& DRAGONS by virtue of Gygax writing the whole thing. At one point Arneson was involved in a lawsuit against TSR regarding ownership of the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS trademark, but this was resolved when WotC took over (hence the third edition going back to D&D.) Despite these troubles Arneson never seemed bitter about his experience, and continued running games and working with game design in various forms until shortly before his death.

Arneson’s death came at the end of a long battle with cancer, and far too soon for anyone. But he leaves behind a great legacy- a game that spawned a medium, a game that encourages the imagination, and something very fun for the nerdier set, i.e. people like me. He didn’t get quite enough credit for it, but he’s not going entirely unsung. I hope I’ve done justice to him in my small way, and if it’s not too sappy, I’d like to imagine he’s just now started on his greatest adventure. Or, at the very least, that he and Gary are finally collaborating again.

Map of Blackmoor by Dave Arneson

Rest in peace, Mr. Arneson. We won’t forget you.

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