David Lance Arneson (October 1, 1947 – April 7, 2009) was an American game designer best known for co-developing the first published role-playing game (RPG), Dungeons & Dragons, with Gary Gygax, in the early 1970s. Arneson's early work was fundamental to the development of the genre, developing the concept of the RPG using devices now considered to be archetypical, such as adventuring in "dungeons" and using a neutral judge (now called the GM) who doubles as the voice and consciousness of all non-player characters to develop the storyline.
Arneson discovered wargaming as a teenager in the 1960s, and began combining these games with the concept of role-playing. He was a University of Minnesota student when he met Gygax at the Gen Con gaming convention in the late 1960s. In 1970 Arneson created the game and fictional world that became Blackmoor, writing his own rules and basing the setting on medieval fantasy elements. Arneson showed the game to Gygax the following year, and the pair co-developed a set of rules that became the original Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). Gygax subsequently founded TSR, Inc. to publish the game in 1974. Arneson worked briefly for the company.
Arneson left TSR in 1976, and filed suit in 1979 to retain credits and royalties on the game. He continued to work as an independent game designer, briefly worked for TSR again in the 1980s, and continued to play games for his entire life. Arneson also did some work in computer programming, and taught computer game design and game rules design at Full Sail University from the 1990s until shortly before his death in 2009.
Experience with miniature wargaming[edit | edit source]
Arneson's role-playing game design work grew from his interest in wargames. His parents bought him the board wargame Gettysburg by Avalon Hill in the early 1960s. After Arneson taught his friends how to play, the group began to design their own games and tried out new ways to play existing games. Arneson was especially fond of naval wargames. Exposure to role-playing influenced his later game designs. In college history classes he role-played historical events, and preferred to deviate from recorded history in a manner similar to "what if" scenarios recreated in wargames.
In the late 1960s Arneson joined the Midwest Military Simulation Association (MMSA), a group of miniature wargamers and military figurine collectors in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area that included among its ranks future game designer David Wesely. Wesely asserts that it was during the Braunstein games he created and refereed, and in which other MMSA members participated, that Arneson helped develop the foundations of modern role-playing games on a 1:1 scale basis by focusing on non-combat objectives—a step away from wargaming towards the more individual play and varied challenges of later RPGs. Arneson was a participant in Wesely's wargame scenarios, and as Arneson continued to run his own scenarios he eventually expanded them to include ideas from The Lord of the Rings and Dark Shadows. Arneson took over the Braunsteins when Wesely was drafted into the Army, and often ran them in different eras with different settings.:6 Arneson had also become a member of the International Federation of Wargamers by this time.:6
In 1969 Arneson was a history student at the University of Minnesota and working part-time as a security guard. He attended the second Gen Con gaming convention in August 1969 (at which time wargaming was still the primary focus) and it was at this event that he met Gary Gygax, who had founded the Castle & Crusade Society within the International Federation of Wargamers in the 1960s at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, not far from Arneson's home in Minnesota. Arneson and Gygax also shared an interest in sailing ship games and they co-authored the Don't Give Up the Ship naval battle rules, serialized from June 1971 and later published as a single volume in 1972 by Guidon Games with a revised edition by TSR, Inc. in 1975.
Blackmoor[edit | edit source]
Following the departure of David Wesely to service in the Army Reserves in October 1970, Arneson and his fellow players in the Twin Cities began to imagine alternate settings for Braunstein-style games. Arneson developed a Braunstein called Blackmoor, in which his players played fantasy versions of themselves in the medieval Barony of Blackmoor, a land inhabited in part by fantastic monsters. As the game quickly grew and characters developed, Arneson devised scenarios where they would quest for magic and gold, escort caravans, lead armies for or against the forces of evil, and delve into the dungeons beneath Castle Blackmoor (a megadungeon that was represented by a Kibri kit model of Branzoll Castle). To explain his inspiration for the game, Arneson said:
- I had spent the previous two days watching about five monster movies on channel 5's 'Creature Feature' weekend, reading several Conan books (I cannot recall which ones, but I always thought they were all pretty much the same), and stuffing myself with popcorn, doodling on a piece of graph paper. At the time, I was quite tired of my Nappy (Napoleonic) campaign with all its rigid rules and was rebelling against it.
Arneson drew heavily upon the fantasy material in the Chainmail rules, written by Gygax and Jeff Perren and published in the spring of 1971, but after a short and unsatisfactory trial of the Fantasy Combat table found therein, he developed his own mix of rules, including adapted elements from his revision of Civil War Ironclad game. The gameplay would be recognizable to modern D&D players, featuring the use of hit points, armor class, character development, and dungeon crawls. This setting was fleshed out over time and continues to be played to the present day.
Much of the fantasy medieval trope of D&D, such as the concept of adventuring in "dungeons" originated with Blackmoor, but it also incorporated time travel and science fiction elements. These are visible much later in the DA module series published by TSR (particularly City of the Gods), but were also present from the early to mid-1970s in the original campaign and parallel and intertwined games run by John Snider, whose ruleset developed from these adventures and was intended for publication by TSR from 1974 as the first science fiction RPG. Arneson described Blackmoor as "roleplaying in a non-traditional medieval setting. I have such things as steam power, gunpowder, and submarines in limited numbers. There was even a tank running around for a while. The emphasis is on the story and the roleplaying." Details of Blackmoor and the original campaign, established on the map of the Castle & Crusade Society's "Great Kingdom", were first brought to print briefly in issue #13 of the Domesday Book, the newsletter of the Castle & Crusade Society in July 1972, and later in much-expanded form as The First Fantasy Campaign, published by Judges Guild in 1977.
In November 1972, Dave Arneson and Dave Megarry traveled to Lake Geneva to meet with Gary Gygax, to provide a demonstration of Blackmoor and Dungeon!. While meeting at Gygax's house, Dave Arneson ran the Lake Geneva gamers through their first session of Blackmoor. Rob Kuntz describes Dave Arneson as the referee, and the Lake Geneva players as being Gary Gygax, Ernie Gygax, Terry Kuntz, and himself. Kuntz describes Dave Megarry as the de facto leader of the group, as he understood the Blackmoor game and campaign world. In Wargaming magazine, Rob Kuntz wrote a short summary of their first Blackmoor session:
- Gary, myself and a few other local wargamers were the first "lucky" fellows from Lake Geneva to experience the rigors of Blackmoor. This idea caught on deeply with Gary after an exciting adventure in which our party of heroes fought a troll, were fireballed by a magic-user, then fled to the outdoors (being chased by the Magic-user and his minions), fought four (gulp!) Balrogs, followed a map to sixteen ogres and destroyed them with a wish from a sword we had procured from the hapless troll earlier.
Dungeons & Dragons[edit | edit source]
After playing in the Blackmoor game Arneson refereed, Gygax almost immediately began a similar campaign of his own which he called Greyhawk and asked Arneson for a draft of his playing rules. The two then collaborated by phone and mail, and playtesting carried out by their various groups and other contacts. Gygax and Arneson wanted to have the game published, but Guidon Games and Avalon Hill rejected it. Arneson could not afford to invest in the venture.
Gygax felt that there was a need to publish the game as soon as possible, since similar projects were being planned elsewhere, so rules were hastily put together and Arneson's own final draft was never used. Despite all this, Brian Blume eventually provided the funding required to publish the original Dungeons & Dragons set in 1974, with the initial print run of 1,000 selling out within a year and sales increasing rapidly in subsequent years. Further rules and a sample dungeon from Arneson's original campaign (the first published RPG scenario in a professional publication) were released in 1975 in the Blackmoor supplement for D&D, named after the campaign setting. Blackmoor included new classes for monks and assassins, more monsters, and "The Temple of the Frog", the first published RPG adventure for other people to run.
After TSR[edit | edit source]
TSR had agreed to pay Arneson royalties on all D&D products, but when the company came out with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) in 1977, it claimed that AD&D was a significantly different product and so did not pay him royalties for it. In response, Arneson filed the first of five lawsuits against Gygax and TSR in 1979. In March 1981, as part of a confidential agreement, Arneson and Gygax resolved the suits out of court by agreeing that they would both be credited as "co-creators" on the packaging of D&D products from that point on, and Arneson would receive a 2.5% royalty on all AD&D products. This provided him with a comfortable six-figure annual income for the next twenty years.:139 This did not end the lingering tensions between them.
Arneson wrote up the Blackmoor setting for Judges Guild in The First Fantasy Campaign (1977).:39 In 1979 Arneson and Richard L. Snider, an original Blackmoor player, co-authored Adventures in Fantasy, a role-playing game that attempted to recapture the "original spirit of the Role Playing Fantasy Game" that Arneson had envisioned in the early 1970s, instead of what D&D had become. In the early 1980s he established his own game company, Adventure Games – staffed largely by Arneson's friends, most of whom were also members of a Civil War reenactment group – that produced the miniatures games Harpoon (1981) and Johnny Reb (1983), as well as a new edition of his own Adventures in Fantasy role-playing game (1981).:39 The company also put out about a half-dozen Tékumel related books, due to Arneson's friendship with M. A. R. Barker.:39 Adventure Games was profitable, but Arneson found the workload to be excessive and finally sold the company to Flying Buffalo. Flying Buffalo picked up the rights to Adventure Games in 1985; because Arneson owned a portion of Flying Buffalo, he let them take care of the rest of the company's stock and IP when he shut the company down.:39
While Gary Gygax was president of TSR in the mid-1980s, he and Arneson reconnected, and Arneson briefly relinked Blackmoor to D&D with the "DA" (Dave Arneson) series of modules set in Blackmoor (1986–1987). The four modules, three of which were written by Arneson, detailed Arneson's campaign setting for the first time. When Gygax was forced out of TSR, Arneson was removed from the company before a planned fifth module could be published. Gygax and Arneson again 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.:84
In 1988 Arneson stated his belief that RPGs, whether paper or computer, were still "hack and slash" and did not teach novices how to play, and that games like Ultima IV "have stood pretty much alone as quirks instead of trend setters" as others did not follow their innovations. He hoped that computer RPGs would teach newcomers how to role play while offering interesting campaigns, and said that SSI's Gold Box games did not innovate on the genre as much as he had hoped. Arneson stepped into the computer industry and founded 4D Interactive Systems, a computer company in Minnesota that has since dissolved. He also did some computer programming and worked on several games. He eventually found himself consulting with computer companies.
Living in California in the late 1980s, Arneson 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 and using multi-sided dice to teach math. In the 1990s he began working at Full Sail, a private university that teaches multimedia subjects, and continued there as a professor of computer game design until 2008.
In 1997, after Wizards of the Coast purchased TSR, Peter Adkison paid Arneson an undisclosed sum to free up D&D from royalties owed to Arneson; this allowed Wizards to retitle Advanced Dungeons & Dragons to simply Dungeons & Dragons.:282 In 2000, he made a cameo appearance in the Dungeons & Dragons movie as one of many mages throwing fireballs at a dragon, although the scene was deleted from the completed movie. Arneson and Dustin Clingman founded Zeitgeist Games to produce an updated d20 System version of the Blackmoor setting. Goodman Games published and distributed Dave Arneson's Blackmoor in 2004, and Goodman produced a few more Blackmoor products in the next year.:387 In 2009, Code Monkey Publishing released Dave Arneson's Blackmoor: The First Campaign for 4th edition D&D.:388
By 1998, Arneson started working with videographer John Kentner on Dragons in the Basement, a video documentary on the early history of role-playing games. Arneson describes the documentary: "Basically it is a series of interviews with original players ('How did D&D affect your life?') and original RPG designers like Marc Miller (Traveller) and M.A.R. Barker (Empire of the Petal Throne)." He originally hope it would be released later that year, but it remained unreleased. In 2009, shortly before his death, Arneson revealed that the project had over 22 hours of footage, but he did not have a plan for distribution and had not made a decision about what to charge for it.
Personal life[edit | edit source]
Arneson continued to play games his entire life, including D&D and military miniature games, and regularly attended an annual meeting to play the original Blackmoor in Minnesota. At Full Sail University he taught the class "Rules of the Game", a class in which students learned how to accurately document and create rule sets for games that were balanced between mental challenges for the players and "physical" ones for the characters. He retired from the position on June 19, 2008.
Arneson died on April 7, 2009, after battling cancer for two years. According to his daughter, Malia Weinhagen, "The biggest thing about my dad's world is he wanted people to have fun in life."
Honors and tributes[edit | edit source]
Arneson received numerous industry awards for his part in creating Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games. In 1984 he was inducted into the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design's Hall of Fame (also known as the Charles Roberts Awards Hall of Fame) and in 1999 was named by Pyramid magazine as one of The Millennium's Most Influential Persons, "at least in the realm of adventure gaming". He was honored as a "famous game designer" by being featured on the king of hearts in Flying Buffalo's 2008 Famous Game Designers Playing Card Deck.
Three days after his death, Wizards of the Coast temporarily replaced the front page of the Dungeons & Dragons section of their web site with a tribute to Arneson. Other tributes in the gaming world included Order of the Stick #644, and Dork Tower for April 8, 2009. Video game publisher Activision Blizzard posted a tribute to Arneson on their website and on April 14, 2009, released patch 3.1 of the online role-playing game World of Warcraft, The Secrets of Ulduar, dedicated to Arneson.
Turbine's Dungeons and Dragons Online added an in-game memorial altar to Arneson in the Ruins of Threnal location in the game. They also created an in-game item named the "Mantle of the Worldshaper" that is a reward for finishing the Threnal quest chain that is narrated by Arneson himself. The Mantle's description reads: "A comforting and inspiring presence surrounds you as you hold this cloak. Arcane runes run along the edges of the fine cape, and masterfully drawn on the silken lining is an incredibly detailed map of a place named 'Blackmoor'."
On October 30, 2010, Full Sail University dedicated the student game development studio space as "Dave Arneson's Blackmoor Studios" in Arneson's honor.
Partial bibliography[edit | edit source]
Source: "Dave Arneson Product Listing". RPGNet. Retrieved on April 6, 2018
- Don't Give Up the Ship! (1972) (with Gary Gygax and Mike Carr)
- Dungeons & Dragons (1974) (with Gary Gygax)
- Blackmoor (1975)
- Dungeonmaster's Index (1977)
- The First Fantasy Campaign (1977)
- Adventures in Fantasy (1979) (with Richard L. Snider)
- Robert Asprin's Thieves' World (1981) (co-author)
- Citybook II – Port o' Call (1984) (co-author)
- Adventures in Blackmoor (D&D Module:DA1) (1986) (with David J. Ritchie)
- Temple of the Frog (D&D Module:DA2) (1986) (with David J. Ritchie)
- City of the Gods (D&D Module:DA3) (1987) (with David J. Ritchie)
- DNA/DOA (Shadowrun module 1) (1989)
- The Case of the Pacific Clipper (1991)
- The Haunted Lighthouse (Dungeon Crawl Classics Module #3.5) (2003)
- Dave Arneson's Blackmoor (2004) (lead designer)
- Player's Guide to Blackmoor (2006)
References[edit | edit source]
- "United States Social Security Death Index," index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/JTVK-MZN : accessed February 12, 2013), David Lance Arneson, April 7, 2009; citing U.S. Social Security Administration, Death Master File, database (Alexandria, Virginia: National Technical Information Service, ongoing).
- Minnesota Department of Health. Minnesota Birth Index, 1935–2002 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2004.
- Paul Lafarge (September 2006). "Destroy All Monsters: A journey deep into the cavern of Dungeons & Dragons, a utopian, profoundly dorky and influential game that, lacking clear winners or an end, may not be a game at all". The Believer 4 (7). Retrieved on March 22, 2009
- "Dave Arneson Interview" (August 19, 2004). Retrieved on January 31, 2007
- Sean Patrick Fannon (1999). "9: Wargames, the Early Roots; 10: The Birth of a Hobby", The Fantasy Roleplaying Gamer's Bible. Obsidian Studios. ISBN 0-9674429-0-7
- "Dave Arneson Interview" (August 11, 2002). Archived from the original on June 22, 2006. Retrieved on January 31, 2007
- Fox, Benjamin F. (2001). "The performance of Wargames", Performing The Force: Essays on Immersion into Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Environments: 74–75. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-0895-2
- Dave Arneson (June–July 1979). "My Life and Role-Playing". Different Worlds (3): 6–8. Chaosium
- Shannon Appelcline (2011). Designers & Dragons. Mongoose Publishing. ISBN 978-1-907702-58-7
- Template:Cite news
- (1972). Don't Give Up the Ship: ii. Guidon Games
- "Role-playing games pioneer dies" (April 11, 2009). Retrieved on May 25, 2020
- Dave Arneson (June 1971). "Don't Give Up The Ship". International Wargamer 4 (6). International Federation of Wargamers
- Anon. (April–May 1981). "An Interview with Dave Arneson". Pegasus (1). Judges Guild
- "Dungeons & Dragons FAQ". Wizards of the Coast. Archived from the original on October 2, 2008. Retrieved on October 3, 2008
- "The History of TSR". Wizards of the Coast. Archived from the original on September 24, 2008. Retrieved on September 20, 2005
- Kent David Kelly (2015). Hawk and Moore: The Unofficial History of Dungeons & Dragons. Wonderland Imprints
- Allen Varney (July 1998). "Profiles: Dave Arneson". Dragon (#249). Wizards of the Coast
- Alex Handy (10 April 2009). "Dungeons & Dragons' Arneson: The Lost Interview".
- Anon. (August 1999). "Pegasus chats with ... Dave Arneson". Pegasus (14). Judges Guild
- Gary Gygax (June 1978). "D&D Ground and Spell Area Scale". Dragon Magazine (15). TSR, Inc.
- Dave Arneson (Autumn 1975). "(in) Mapping the Dungeons". The Strategic Review 1 (3). TSR, Inc.
- John M. Snider (June 1, 1974). "Letter from John M. Snider (dated April(?) 1974)". Supernova SF&F Gaming Info—Supplement. Lew Pulsipher
- Gary Gygax (June 1977). "Gary Gygax on Dungeons & Dragons: Origins of the Game". Dragon Magazine 1 (7). TSR, Inc.
- Dave Arneson (July 1972). "Facts about Black Moor". Domesday Book (13): 6–7. Castle & Crusade Society
- Robert Kuntz: "Dave Arneson was the judge, and the other players were: EGG, Terry Kuntz, Ernie Gygax and myself. Megarry was the de facto leader as he understood the campaign area and rules and so he was our overall integration point in the adventure which took place on EGG's dining table." "Original D&D Discussion: Lake Geneva Gaming Group?" (2010-07-19). Retrieved on 2011-06-30
- Jon Peterson (2012). "1.10. Blackmoor", Playing at the World: A History of Simulating Wars, People and Fantastic Adventures, from Chess to Role-Playing Games. Unreason Press
- Gary Gygax (June 1979). "D&D, AD&D and Gaming". Dragon Magazine (28–29). TSR
- Tim Kask (February 1976). "In The Cauldron". The Strategic Review 2 (1). TSR, Inc.
- "Dungeonmaster's Index". Tome of treasures for Dungeons & Dragons Collectibles. Retrieved on June 7, 2009
- (2004). 30 Years of Adventure: A Celebration of Dungeons & Dragons: 247. Wizards of the Coast. ISBN 0-7869-3498-0
- Michael Witwer (2015). Empire of the Imagination: Gary Gygax and the Birth of Dungeons & Dragons. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-1-63286-279-2
- David L. Arneson (1979). Adventures in Fantasy: Book of Adventure: 1. Excalibre Games Inc./Adventures Unlimited
- Sacco, Ciro Allessandro. "An Interview with Dave Arneson". Archived from the original on July 7, 2004. Retrieved on June 3, 2009 (Alternative URL: .)
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- Dave Arneson (blackmoor) et al. (2009-02). "Dragons in the Basement Documentary". Original D&D Discussion on ProBoards. Retrieved 2020-08-20.
- Ancestry.com. Minnesota Marriage Collection, 1958–2001 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2007.
- "Interview with Dave Arneson". Kobold Quarterly. Archived from the original on April 30, 2011. Retrieved on December 4, 2010
- Horowitz, Etan (June 18, 2008). "D&D co-creator Dave Arneson retiring from Full Sail". The Orlando Sentinel. Archived from the original on June 21, 2008. Retrieved on May 31, 2010
- "Dave Arneson". News. Wizards of the Coast (April 9, 2009). Archived from the original on April 11, 2009. Retrieved on April 10, 2009
- James Maliszewski (8 April 2009). "Sadly, This is Accurate".
- "List of Winners". Archived from the original on August 28, 2008. Retrieved on January 31, 2007
- Scott D. Haring (December 24, 1999). "Second Sight: The Millennium's Best "Other" Game and The Millennium's Most Influential Person". Pyramid (Online). Retrieved on February 15, 2008
- "Poker Deck". Flying Buffalo. Retrieved on February 11, 2014
- "David Lance Arneson". wizards.com. Wizards of the Coast (April 10, 2009). Archived from the original on April 10, 2009. Retrieved on April 10, 2009 The image originally appeared here "DnD Welcome". Archived from the original on April 11, 2009. Retrieved on April 11, 2009.
- Rich Burlew. "The Order of the Stick #644". Giantitp. Archived from the original on April 11, 2009.
- John Kovalic (April 8, 2009). "Dork Tower April 8, 2009". Dork Tower. Dork Storm Press. Archived from the original on April 11, 2009. Retrieved on April 10, 2009
- "World of Warcraft Patch Notes 3.10". Blizzard Entertainment.
- "DDO Release Notes: Dungeons & Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited". Retrieved on January 19, 2011
- "Mantle of the Worldshaper". Archived from the original on November 11, 2010. Retrieved on September 30, 2010
- "Blackmoor Studios Opens on Campus". Retrieved on December 20, 2014
[edit | edit source]
- Dave Arneson at Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
- Official website of Dave Arneson.
- "Dave Arneson Interview" by Harold Foundary at Digital Entertainment News.
- "Dave Arneson Interview" by Andrew S. Bub at GameSpy, August 11, 2002.
- "Slice of SciFi #151: Interview with "Dungeons & Dragons" co-creator Dave Arneson" by Farpoint Media, February 8, 2008.
- Jeremy L.C. Jones. "If Their Hearts Are Pure: A Conversation with Dave Arneson", Kobold Quarterly no.9, 2009-04-11. Retrieved on 2009-05-03. Arneson's last known interview.
- "Dave Arneson :: Pen & Paper RPG Database".