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R.I.P. Dave Arneson

Monday, April 13th, 2009 | Posted by Theo

“Dave Arneson, one of the co-creators of the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy game and a pioneer of role-playing entertainment, died after a two-year battle with cancer, his family said Thursday. He was 61.”

I had the good fortune to meet Dave Arneson 13 years ago, at a book signing in Roseville, Minnesota. The large Barnes & Noble there was holding its first, and I believe only, SF/F day, which featured science fiction and fantasy authors including Gordon R. Dickson, David Feintuch, and Dave Arneson. It’s probably just as well that B&N no longer holds the event, considering that a significant percentage of the authors who were there are no longer with us. Dave was a friendly and humble man who was more than happy to discuss game mechanisms and the history of gaming with anyone who happened to be interested.

I had recently located and bought a boxed set of the three original brown books, so at lunchtime, I took the opportunity to run home and grab them. Mr. Arneson was obviously delighted to sign them; it was clear that while he bore no great bitterness towards Gary Gygax, he did feel as if most D&D fans were unaware of his primary role in the creation of what was not so much a game as an entire gaming genre. Arneson will neither be the first nor the last creator to be eclipsed by a more business-savvy partner, but it behooves those of us who are creators to recognize the man and salute his foundational contribution to fantasy and science fiction gaming as we know it today.


  1. Cripes, Theo, I get my Dave Arneson tribute all worked up for tomorrow, and you beat me to it!

    I thought nobody else had noticed he was dead.

    I’ll post it anyway.

    Comment by Ryan Harvey - April 13, 2009 6:44 pm

  2. […] Theo already posted yesterday, Dave Arneson, the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, and therefore one of the founders of the […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » A Letter to Dave Arneson - April 14, 2009 12:00 am

  3. Hi Theo,

    A nice tribute. Do you really feel Arneson was eclipsed by the “more business-savvy” Gygax? From what I know of Gygax, he was much like Asimov – writing every day, working relentlessly. People tend to forget that he wrote the three hardcover AD&D books in under 18 months.

    When I think of Arneson and Gygax, I tend to think of my son and his partner for the science fair. One was the idea guy; the other did all the work. And ultimately, as the years accumulate, it’s the work that really matters.

    – John

    Comment by John ONeill - April 14, 2009 12:40 am

  4. Yeah, I guess I do think so, John. Arneson wasn’t just an idea guy, he was more of a systems designer. Whereas, if you look at Gygax’s work, he was more akin to a level designer; his modus operandi was to take bits and pieces from other sources and synthesize them into something with broad appeal. Which, of course, is an important skill in its own right. His output was certainly impressive, but I’ve never considered the content he produced to be very original or creative. Just my opinion; your mileage may vary.

    It’s perhaps worth noting that Gygax usually appeared to have been more interested in the next big thing than in improving what he was already doing. This is typical of entrepeneurs, of course. The thing that’s always bothered me, and I suspect the reason that Arneson filed suit so many times, is that Arneson wasn’t included in the formation of TSR when he probably should have been. It wasn’t a massive investment and Arneson was the guy who created the entire concept in the first place. His RPG wasn’t just an idea, but a fully playable game, after all. Not including him as a partner, regardless of whether he could pay his way in or not, appears to have been more than a little questionable in my opinion, especially in light of the way things developed down the road.

    I’m not an Arneson partisan or anything, but as a game designer and entrepeneur, I do see similar sorts of things occurring on occasion. It’s not that unusual for the creator to end up with the short straw when compared with the parties who leaped on the creator’s conceptual bandwagon.

    Comment by Theo - April 14, 2009 8:08 pm

  5. […] same cannot, unfortunately, be said of many of its founding figures. We lost Gary Gygax in 2008 and Dave Arneson the following year. Many more have followed in the years since, several of whom have been noted […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » Securing Gamer Posterity - November 19, 2013 5:00 pm

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