A Letter to Dave Arneson

A Letter to Dave Arneson

As Theo already posted yesterday, Dave Arneson, the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, and therefore one of the founders of the RPG hobby and responsible for suckering a lot of kids like me into the genre of heroic fantasy, died at age 61 on 7 April 2009 from cancer.

Gary Gygax, the man who co-wrote the original D&D, received much more fame for his work on the famous RPG, mostly because Arneson left the company in 1976. Arneson later filed a series of five lawsuits against TSR over royalties for D&D and later settled out-of-court with Gygax—but some things never quite heal.

I gained a greater respect for Arneson the more I found about his part in developing gaming theory. I also read some of Gary Gygax’s novels and thought they were terrible, which suddenly made me think much more about Arneson’s contribution to D&D.

I will admit that today I am no fan of D&D; I recognize its massive importance to the genre, but looking at all of its incarnations, I find it cumbersome, limited, and confused, which comes from stumbling out of miniature gaming without quite knowing what it wanted to be, and then growing out of control. I’d rather play a rules-lite game like Fudge any day. But D&D, when it was nearly the only game in town (at least it seemed like it; I didn’t know where I could purchase Tunnels & Trolls when I was that young) helped bring fantasy to a child who wasn’t yet old enough to read the classics. For that reason, Arneson deserves immense praise and much more recognition than he often gets. Here’s a man who gave me my dreams of the fantastic, and I didn’t even know who he was until I was in my thirties.

Arneson was a graduate of the University of Minnesota (as someone who also graduated from a Minnesota college, I feel some connection), and became, along with Gygax, an enthusiast of table-top wargaming. This would lead to Chainmail, and eventually Dungeons & Dragons. Arneson also developed Blackmoor, a fantasy setting that he had started working on before D&D, and which became the second supplement published for the early version of D&D, before AD&D. Arneson’s homepage, www.blackmoorcastle.com, was named after it. Post-TSR, Arneson started his own game company and continued to teach game design in his later life.

This is the official release from Arneson’s family:

Shortly after 11pm on Tuesday, April 7th, Dave Arneson passed away. He was comfortable and with family at the time and his passing was peaceful.The Arneson family would like to thank everyone for their support over the last few days, and for the support the entire community has shown Dave over the years.

We are in the process of making final arrangements and will provide additional details as we work them out. We will continue to receive cards and letters in Dave’s honor. We are planning to hold a public visitation so that anyone wishing to say their goodbye in person has the opportunity to do so.

Cards and letters can continue to be sent:
Dave Arneson
1043 Grand Avenue
Box #257
St. Paul, MN

Visitation will be on April 20th
Time: yet to be determined
Bradshaw Funeral Home
687 Snelling Avenue South
St. Paul, MN 55105

Seeing the address immediately inspired me. I usually don’t find an exact address to write condolences to when a major artist dies, but this time I had one. I grabbed a card from the store, wrote off this short missive, and sent it to Arneson’s address:

Arneson is survived by a daughter, two grandchildren, and a pack of geeks like us.

Update: I really like this cartoon from Dork Tower in Dave’s memory. A nice, quiet power.

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John ONeill

Thanks, Ryan. I’m glad you said it, so I didn’t have to.

– John

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