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Dave Arneson




Dave Arneson is officially credited with co-creating the original Dungeons & Dragons game. There's much debate as to how much he created (Gary Gygax seems to take the lion's share of the credit) but it's certainly true role playing would not exist as we know it today if it were not for Arneson.


In the '60s Arneson staged Civil War reenactments in Minneapolis/St. Paul. He belonged to a group called the Midwest Military Simulation Association (MMSA). The MMSA was a counterpart to the Lake Geneva Tactical Studies Association which had Gary Gygax as a member. As a member of the MMSA, Dave Arneson enjoyed playing Napoleonic miniature games. He wrote Napoleonic ship combat rules called Don't Give Up The Ship! It was published by Guidon Games in 1971, which also published Gary Gygax's Chainmail rules. Arneson and Gygax made contact with each other as game authors through Guidon.


While the miniature games were fun, such straight out games became boring after a while and began to take on more role playing aspects (e.g., people played individual officers with personal missions). Arneson participated in a Napoleonic role playingesque game set in Germany. Arneson eventually switched from Napoleonic miniatures to Medieval combat. He used Gygax's Chainmail rules as well as the fantasy supplement. Arneson began to add new features to the game such as rewards and treasures for the players. He borrowed some rules from an American Civil War game that used hit points and armor class. Accustomed to games being set in a given location, he began creating a game based around the mythical Blackmoor castle.


Arneson's Blackmoor campaign was very popular with the MMSA gamers in the Twin Cities. Soon Lake Geneva gamers began to hear of Arneson's Blackmoor game. Gygax invited Arneson to Lake Geneva to give a demonstration of his game to the Tactical Studies Association. Gygax was impressed with Arneson's modifications to his Chainmail system and soon they began re-working the game. Gygax eventually released his reworked Chainmail game as Dungeons & Dragons. Initially Gygax did not give Arneson any credit. Arneson took Gygax to court and won a judgment in his favor that Arneson was a co-creator of D&D.


Putting their differences behind them, Arneson created a Blackmoor supplement for D&D in the fall of 1975. In the '80s, Arneson formed his own game company called Adventure Games. He returned to producing miniature war games, including the modern naval warfare game Harpoon. Arneson also contributed to some computer games, including the ill fated Bard's Tale IV, which never saw the light of day.


In 2000, Arneson completed work on a documentary called Dragons In The Basement. The documentary is about the genesis of role playing, and includes interviews with Gygax and other early founders. It's uncertain if it's aired (beyond a showing at Gen Con 2000), although Arneson is looking to sell it to PBS or Sci Fi. You can see a preview at his web site.


Arneson generally occupies his time these days lecturing at role playing conventions and teaching sailing at a private university in Florida. To this day Arneson still runs his original Blackmoor campaign.


-- Karl Mamer





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