Dave Arneson Day

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TristramEvans

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October 1st is "officially*" Dave Arneson Game Day, celebrating the father of the RPG hobby.

Anyone have any plans to celebrate, or just in general want to talk about Mr. Arneson and his works?

Anyone else here watch Secrets of Blackmoor? I rented it on Vimeo and then picked up the DVD because I enoyed it enough to own.


*- Apparently, I don't know who decides these things
 

TristramEvans

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I'll start, as a (relative) newcomer to ttrpg I have little idea who Dave Arneson is other than his name gets thrown around with Garry Gygax and such.

Well, a VERY abridged history goes like this: Dave Arneson was part of a wargamming group, often acting as Referee for those in his area (the concept in wargames here is similiar to that of a GM, in that the referee sets up the sides of the conflict and creates the scenario, then makes rules callings during the game for players as needed). At some point he played in an experimenal Napoleonic game by David Wesley, entitled Braunstein, taking place in an eponymous German city, wherein players were assigned individual roles and goals, some of which were non-military.

Schick said:
Unexpectedly, the players began using their characters to talk to one another, and traveled around the town of Braunstein. When two players unexpectedly challenged each other to a duel, Wesely found it necessary to improvise rules for the encounter on the spot. Though Wesely thought the results were chaotic and the experiment a failure, the other players enjoyed the role playing aspect and asked him to run another game.

Arneson took to this injection of role playing into a wargame scenario immediately, and soon began developing his own "Braunstein" set instead in a medieval fantasy world, focused around the "Barony of Blackmoor". Unlike the Braunstein scenarios, however, Arneson's Blackmoor was run as an ongoing campaign. The actual rules were, afaik, in a constant state of flux, drawing upon various wargames, elements such as character creation, attributes, and individual character progression (concepts innovated in Tony Bath's Hyprborean campaign), and a lot of improvisational rulings by Arneson (some of which were codified).

Gary Gygax was introduced to Arneson's Blaclmoor and immediately saw the (maybe "commercial" isn't quite the right word) potential for this *new* type of wargamming and, together with Arneson, created the first edition of Dungeons & Dragons as a supplement to Gygax's Chainmail wargame rules for medieval combat.

At this point things get a bit murky, as Arneson and Gygax would eventually have a fallig out and, after D&D became an unexpected success, money was suddenly involved. To what degree Arneson contributed to the development of D&D beyond the initial creation of the playform is hotly debated to this day, but it's worth noting that the reason "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" was eventually created as a seperate brand from ust "Dungeons & Dragons" was to (righty or wrongly) cut Arneson out of the (by-then court-ordered) royalties as co-creator (Arneson and TSR had parted ways by that point, on less than amicable terms). On his own, Arneson never produced much in the way of published content.

For more in-depth information, I refer interested readers to the book Playing at the World, as well as the aforementioed Secrets of Blackmoor documentary.
 

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I used to have a copy of Adventures In Fantasy, it was a mess. He also authored the Shadowrun adventure The DNADOA.
I have it. It is a bit of a mess as you say. The follow on book to Playing at the World left me with the distinct impression he was a guy who valued his and others ideas but didn't produce much or value the work it takes to get things into production.
 

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I’m of the opinion that you give credit even if you did most of the work. Dave was the spark that gave Gary the fire to really fine tune the rules. Dave was screwed for a long time and it took Wizards buying TSR for Dave to get treated properly.
 

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I'll start, as a (relative) newcomer to ttrpg I have little idea who Dave Arneson is other than his name gets thrown around with Garry Gygax and such.
The ten cent version. Dave is the one who invented tabletop roleplaying, Gygax is the one who figured out how to write it up in a way that other people could learn in the form of Dungeons & Dragons.

From all accounts, Dave Arneson was an outstanding referee and very creative. He was the type that listened to you and if you had a good idea he would make it part of his campaign. But he only so so at his best at writing a formal rulebook.

Gygax was talented creatively and honed D&D through playtesting in his Greyhawk campaign. The fact that many of core concepts and mechanics are still popular and in use today is a testament to his skill. Not once but twice with OD&D and AD&D 1e. But what gave birth to our hobby today was that he was excellent compared to his peers at getting games and rules into publishable form.

Not to say that both men didn't have their flaws. Both didn't expect D&D to be THAT popular and as a result, didn't feel the need to explain things that were common knowledge among miniature wargames of the early 70s.

Also partly because of different temperaments and partly through different life circumstances, Dave was just out of college, Gary was in his middle age and had a family, the two couldn't sustain a working relationship. To be blunt Gary was doing most of the work to get TSR going and Dave was out of his league to be a partner in a small business. After reading all the documentation and account there is fault on both for why things went south. And that is before we get to the outright villainy by Gygax and TSR that resulted in Dave suing TSR for AD&D royalties.

I dealt with small shops in the sheet metal business for 40 years and have seen this scenario play out in all its permutations. It never ends well unless those involved work at the relationship and that did not happen in the account I read about the early days of TSR.

To wrap it up, there is no path that leads to our present-day hobby and industry that doesn't run through Dave Arneson, and Gary Gygax, it took the combined talent of both men to make what we see today happen. Without Dave, Gygax would be a wargame publisher in the vein of SPI and Avalon Hill, and without Gary, tabletop roleplaying would be an obscure niche of wargaming.
 

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I’m of the opinion that you give credit even if you did most of the work. Dave was the spark that gave Gary the fire to really fine tune the rules. Dave was screwed for a long time and it took Wizards buying TSR for Dave to get treated properly.
I feel Dave was more than just a spark. He figured out how to make a tabletop roleplaying campaign work and then taught Gary who developed the D&D rules for his Greyhawk campaign. From everything, I read Dave was a very good teacher both then and later in life.

And yes Dave deserved his share and I glad Wizards squared things away with him as well as Gygax.
 

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Every copy of D&D TSR ever sold credits Dave Arneson as equal co-author and he received a 50% royalty share that provided him a six-figure income for several years and made him (according to Jon Peterson) the second-highest-paid person in the hobby gaming industry at the time - behind Gygax but ahead of Brian Blume or anyone at Avalon Hill, SPI, etc.

It’s true that TSR tried to screw him out of credit and royalties on AD&D by making the (frankly ridiculous) claim that AD&D was an entirely new and separate game and not a derivative of D&D, but that issue was settled in 1981 in a way that, although it didn’t give him author credit on the book covers, did give him a 25% royalty that (again per Jon Peterson) added up to over a million dollars.

Arneson was able to play the victim card all the way to the bank.

Edit: Although it comes off that way I am not an Arneson-hater: I love all the stories about Blackmoor and the inspiring weirdness and inscrutability of First Fantasy Campaign and absolutely recognize and honor his status as co-creator of D&D and innovator of the “dungeon adventure” concept (even though, ironically, he seems to have had mixed feelings about it and considered it a side-show distraction from the “serious” Braunstein-style wargaming stuff). I just get annoyed by the “Arneson was the Bill Finger of D&D” narrative that’s been in place since the 70s and was promoted by fans and other publishers who resented TSR’s commercial success.
 
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The ten cent version. Dave is the one who invented tabletop roleplaying, Gygax is the one who figured out how to write it up in a way that other people could learn in the form of Dungeons & Dragons.

From all accounts, Dave Arneson was an outstanding referee and very creative. He was the type that listened to you and if you had a good idea he would make it part of his campaign. But he only so so at his best at writing a formal rulebook.

Gygax was talented creatively and honed D&D through playtesting in his Greyhawk campaign. The fact that many of core concepts and mechanics are still popular and in use today is a testament to his skill. Not once but twice with OD&D and AD&D 1e. But what gave birth to our hobby today was that he was excellent compared to his peers at getting games and rules into publishable form.

Not to say that both men didn't have their flaws. Both didn't expect D&D to be THAT popular and as a result, didn't feel the need to explain things that were common knowledge among miniature wargames of the early 70s.

Also partly because of different temperaments and partly through different life circumstances, Dave was just out of college, Gary was in his middle age and had a family, the two couldn't sustain a working relationship. To be blunt Gary was doing most of the work to get TSR going and Dave was out of his league to be a partner in a small business. After reading all the documentation and account there is fault on both for why things went south. And that is before we get to the outright villainy by Gygax and TSR that resulted in Dave suing TSR for AD&D royalties.

I dealt with small shops in the sheet metal business for 40 years and have seen this scenario play out in all its permutations. It never ends well unless those involved work at the relationship and that did not happen in the account I read about the early days of TSR.

To wrap it up, there is no path that leads to our present-day hobby and industry that doesn't run through Dave Arneson, and Gary Gygax, it took the combined talent of both men to make what we see today happen. Without Dave, Gygax would be a wargame publisher in the vein of SPI and Avalon Hill, and without Gary, tabletop roleplaying would be an obscure niche of wargaming.
It's really hard for me to say who invented it. Was it the guys at the first Braunstien than decided to play in character? Or Wesley for rolling with it? Was it Arneson for taking it a step further or Gygax for compiling it into rule to share and more easily(relative term) explain?
 

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It's really hard for me to say who invented it. Was it the guys at the first Braunstien than decided to play in character? Or Wesley for rolling with it? Was it Arneson for taking it a step further or Gygax for compiling it into rule to share and more easily(relative term) explain?
The kids at innumerable playgrounds did. Actors took over from them. Then miniature wargamers took a page from that to play at being war commanders (in some cases, in order to prepare for being war commanders). Than some of them, Arneson and Wesely included, added more roleplaying back. Then Gygax codified it and added funny dice.
Your call who has the most merits. I would rather credit the kids.
 

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The kids at innumerable playgrounds did. Actors took over from them. Then miniature wargamers took a page from that to play at being war commanders (in some cases, in order to prepare for being war commanders). Than some of them, Arneson and Wesely included, added more roleplaying back. Then Gygax codified it and added funny dice.
Your call who has the most merits. I would rather credit the kids.
Nah I don't give the kids on a playground credit in this case. They came up with a totally half assed combat system ("BANG! - you're dead! Am not!"), No advancement system, limited economy system, crap world building and zero, zero written rules. Arneson beats them hands down there.
 

TristramEvans

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Well, that’s two separate questions: who invented roleplaying and who invented tabletop roleplaying games.

I think we can kinda sorta answer the second question.

The first question may as well be "who invented cooking?", role-playing is hardwired into our nature as humans
 

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Something I've never been able to grok is why The First Fantasy Campaign came out the way it did. It was published in '77, which is late enough that there were some good examples of well produced game books and a general understanding of what people want from them. And it was several years after Arneson started developing the material years before, so it was in a fairly mature and playtested form. But the end product really, really doesn't get across anything like the vision and creativity that people attribute to the Blackmore campaign. I am very used to milking a lot of value out of the chaotically organized books Judges Guild put out in the 70's, and I find this one basically unusable.
 

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It's really hard for me to say who invented it. Was it the guys at the first Braunstien than decided to play in character? Or Wesley for rolling with it? Was it Arneson for taking it a step further or Gygax for compiling it into rule to share and more easily(relative term) explain?
Arneson likely "invented" it, he had the conception and a partial reduction to practice. Gygax conceived of improvements and had a large amount of reduction to practice. When it comes to the sweat of the brow, Gygax did the heavy lifting and cranked out text...but that is not normally "inventive." (Although the law of inventions is not really that applicable here :smile: and believe the dispute turned simply on contract law.)

What gets me is the games played (pun intended) meant to cut Arneson out, and that he was forced to go to court to get his agreed upon share (or actually less it seems) or if looking to keep the company to it's full promise foot the cost of litigation imposed upon him.
You may think the cost works both ways, but usually in the US a companies litigation expenses are tax deductible. As opposed to Arneson who likely had to pay his lawyers out of his own pocket and his lawyer costs were not tax deductible.

So yah, view it as just another corporation whose word means nothing (viewing a contract as a legally enforceable promise), as soon as it becomes economically feasible to use the court system to bully an individual to agree to less than what they were promised under the contract, the company reneges on the promise and says sue me. Doesn't matter that Arneson did well, sounds like he got less than what was promised and the company more.
 

TristramEvans

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Something I've never been able to grok is why The First Fantasy Campaign came out the way it did. It was published in '77, which is late enough that there were some good examples of well produced game books and a general understanding of what people want from them. And it was several years after Arneson started developing the material years before, so it was in a fairly mature and playtested form. But the end product really, really doesn't get across anything like the vision and creativity that people attribute to the Blackmore campaign. I am very used to milking a lot of value out of the chaotically organized books Judges Guild put out in the 70's, and I find this one basically unusable.

I don't think Arneson's talent as an improvisational GM is translatable into a set of rules.
 

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Arneson likely "invented" it, he had the conception and a partial reduction to practice. Gygax conceived of improvements and had a large amount of reduction to practice. When it comes to the sweat of the brow, Gygax did the heavy lifting and cranked out text...but that is not normally "inventive." (Although the law of inventions is not really that applicable here :smile: and believe the dispute turned simply on contract law.)

What gets me is the games played (pun intended) meant to cut Arneson out, and that he was forced to go to court to get his agreed upon share (or actually less it seems) or if looking to keep the company to it's full promise foot the cost of litigation imposed upon him.
You may think the cost works both ways, but usually in the US a companies litigation expenses are tax deductible. As opposed to Arneson who likely had to pay his lawyers out of his own pocket and his lawyer costs were not tax deductible.

So yah, view it as just another corporation whose word means nothing (viewing a contract as a legally enforceable promise), as soon as it becomes economically feasible to use the court system to bully an individual to agree to less than what they were promised under the contract, the company reneges on the promise and says sue me. Doesn't matter that Arneson did well, sounds like he got less than what was promised and the company more.
My point is the whole thing was pretty incremental and accidental. Ascribing the invention of what essentially to me seems to be a several step iteration is arbitrary.
 

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Also, I totally reject the idea that roleplaying games, in the sense we mean, was latent in the human brain or naturally bubbled up through the collective subconscious in the mid 70's. They are a distinctive creation, shaped by a few specific human minds. Just as William Asher laid down the tracks for the basic concept of the sitcom, Gygax, reacting to creative ideas from Arneson, conceived and produced the basic concept of the well-defined roleplaying game system.
 

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I used to have a copy of Adventures In Fantasy, it was a mess. He also authored the Shadowrun adventure The DNADOA.

I have it. It is a bit of a mess as you say. The follow on book to Playing at the World left me with the distinct impression he was a guy who valued his and others ideas but didn't produce much or value the work it takes to get things into production.

As a gamer of that time period, those rules were pretty much standard level of complexity and standard level of organization. While there were some cool concepts and bits of extra complexity, the rules were "of the period". The writing of the rules were like many games of the period, they make sense... but you have to internalize them and realize they were workbooks to reference (maybe). You also needed familiarity with the hobby to a degree for them to make sense. It took a good ten to fifteen years from the beginning of gaming before the rules were written for people, not skilled wargames.
 

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I did not realize there was a Dave Arneson day until right now. TIL.
 

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Also, I totally reject the idea that roleplaying games, in the sense we mean, was latent in the human brain or naturally bubbled up through the collective subconscious in the mid 70's.

Well, role-playing, as I stated, is something humans have done naturally throughout history. The synthesis of that activity with wargaming conciets to create the modern hobby of RPGs one can track a history based on publication, but we don't have a perfect historical record of implimentation. There is anecdotal evidence that Wesley's Braunstein was not unique in the period, and many of the ways that we define modern role-playing can be applied to earlier recorded wargames, in part or piecemeal. I am personally fine crediting Arneson and Gygax with creating the hobby, but they are steps along a continuous path with innovations attributable to Bath, Korns, and Wesley, and those are simply the ones we know for sure (not to mention Free Kreigspiell).
 

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It's really hard for me to say who invented it. Was it the guys at the first Braunstien than decided to play in character? Or Wesley for rolling with it? Was it Arneson for taking it a step further or Gygax for compiling it into rule to share and more easily(relative term) explain?
It was definitely Dave who ran the first tabletop roleplaying campaign. There may be other contemporaries like Jenkins Wild West campaign but they ultimately dead ends. Dave learned how to run Braunsteins from Wesely started Blackmoor as a fantasy Braunstein campaign that evolved into what we now would consider a tabletop roleplaying campaign, then taught Gygax what he knew who used it to create D&D and run the Greyhawk Campaign. From there after Gygax published it the rest learned how to run tabletop campaigns.

I feel bad for Dave's contemporaries who by all accounts ran fun campaigns. But it is clear from the documentation and accounts that they were parallel efforts. And after the release of D&D we didn't see an explosion of RPGs with independent lineages. Every RPG that was released in the 70s was in some way a reaction to D&D although they may have had their own unique systems. Even Adventures in Fantasy and Power & Perils were shaped by how Gygax chose to organize D&D although their systems were their own unique things.

My opinion after reading everything is that what made Dave's Blackmoor campaign the first true tabletop roleplaying campaign was his willingness to say yes to his players and follow up on the consequences so it had an impact on subsequent sessions and the system he was using.

From what I can tell, Blackmoor didn't start out as something we would call tabletop roleplaying. Instead, it was a freeform wargaming campaign that extended Wesely's ideas about Braunstein to cover an entire campaign. A major clue was the fact that at first there not that many NPCs that Dave ran. Both the "baddies" and the good guys were run by players competing against each other even when they are nominally on the same side.

When Dave wrote this he literally means traditional wargame setup. But to be clear it was played like a Braunstein with each player as a specific character of their own creation. At Blackmoor's beginning, he was pretty much like a football referee. The arbiter between opposing players handing down rulings, letting them play out the ensuing conflicts, recording the results, and handling the campaign logistics.

1664414039329.png
Because he was willing to say yes and try things to see if they were fun. This ultimately lead to the Blackmoor Dungeon. I am sure he was DMing small groups and individual character prior to the dungeon, the Blackmoor Dungeon proved so popular that the players all but abandoned the current scenario in favor of pursing individual goals. This is the moment that Blackmoor transitioned from being a nuanced refereed wargaming campaign to tabletop roleplaying. As we can see in various accounts and this excerpt from First Fantasy Campaign.

1664414886170.png
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It's really hard for me to say who invented it. Was it the guys at the first Braunstien than decided to play in character? Or Wesley for rolling with it? Was it Arneson for taking it a step further or Gygax for compiling it into rule to share and more easily(relative term) explain?

Keep in mind the Braunsteins were not a campaign. Blackmoor and some other we have little detail on like Jenkin's Wild West games were. And it was Blackmoor that lead to D&D being created which led to our hobby not the others. A number of things define what tabletop roleplaying games are and one of them is that they are built with campaigns in mind.

The two crucial elements in my opinion were
  • running Braunstein as an entire campaign with the player keeping the same character throughout and building on them.
  • The willingness to say yes even when it meant the scenario would be trashed. Which happened when the Blackmoor dungeon became so popular among the good guys that the baddies captured Castle Blackmoor.


And no just because it is a one shot doesn't mean it is not tabletop roleplaying.
 

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I am personally fine crediting Arneson and Gygax with creating the hobby, but they are steps along a continuous path with innovations attributable to Bath, Korns, and Wesley, and those are simply the ones we know for sure (not to mention Free Kreigspiell).

My point is the whole thing was pretty incremental and accidental. Ascribing the invention of what essentially to me seems to be a several step iteration is arbitrary.

See I disagree that Arneson and Gygax were heirs of a continuous path. Dave Arneson development of tabletop roleplaying was inspired genius. Yes nearly every element Dave used including roleplaying itself was developed first by other people. But it was Dave who was the genius who figured out the right combination to give birth to tabletop roleplaying. And it was Gygax who was smart enough to figure out what Dave was getting at and able to generate a comprehensible set of rules along with doing additional work to make even more playable than what Dave had.

From reading all the material out there now, everybody was beholden to the scenario because that is how wargames were played then (and now for the most part). Not only that it would be considered downright rude to roleplay in a way that caused the game to get off track from whatever the scenario was. Dave in contrast was one of the few that went "I guess? OK let's go with this and see where it leads us." Even went it meant that year's scenarios being trashed.

There are several accounts floating around that related how Dave was uncomfortable with the interest in various Dungeons because it required him to run the monsters, which mean he was more a player than a referee. From what I read, he really rather be in the role of an impartial arbiter. But was willing to go along with it because people really really like exploring his dungeons.
 
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See I disagree that Arneson and Gygax were heirs of a continuous path. Dave Arneson development of tabletop roleplaying was inspired genius. Yes nearly every element Dave used including roleplaying itself was developed first by other people. But it was Dave who was the genius who figured out the right combination to give birth to tabletop roleplaying. And it was Gygax who was smart enough to figure out what Dave was getting at and able to generate a comprehensible set of rules along with doing additional work to make even more playable than what Dave had.

From reading all the material out there now, everybody was beholden to the scenario because that is how wargames were played then (and now for the most part). Not only that it would be considered downright rude to roleplay in a way that caused the game to get off track from whatever the scenario was. Dave in contrast was one of the few that went "I guess? OK let's go with this and see where it leads us." Even went it meant that year's scenarios being trashed.

There are several accounts floating around that related how Dave was uncomfortable with the interest in various Dungeons because it required him to run the monsters, which mean he was more a player than a referee. From what I read, he really rather be in the role of an impartial arbiter. But was willing to go along with it because people really really like exploring his dungeons.
That oddly to me suggests the players invented roleplaying and he just didn't stop them. Or at the least it's a partnership. If I'm understanding you correctly multiple people are pushing to move away from the wargame aspect and focus on the underground exploration. I wouldn't say it was an inevitable path but it sure seems continuous and increasingly likely as more people play a fantasy based wargame. Too much of fantasy literature was in close quarters vs field action. Multiple someone's were seeking that out so it seems likely someone would satisfy that craving.
 

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So, guys, can anyone tell me more about the Arneson-penned adventures for systems other than D&D:shock:?

Nah I don't give the kids on a playground credit in this case. They came up with a totally half assed combat system ("BANG! - you're dead! Am not!"), No advancement system, limited economy system, crap world building and zero, zero written rules. Arneson beats them hands down there.
Just relax and play the game, you roll-player:devil:!


Well, that’s two separate questions: who invented roleplaying and who invented tabletop roleplaying games.
I might have been kinda facetious, but just a tiny bit:shade:.

If you don’t want to say Dave and Gary invented roleplaying games, you can at least say they codified it, which is a very important step in popularizing and spreading it to others.
IMO, neither of them "invented" RPGs, they showed to others how to do something they knew, but hadn't thought of trying. And make no mistake, that's a huge* merit in my book...I'm just nitpicking like you all do:thumbsup:!
Codified it, taught it to others, showed to others that this is possible and might be fun - call it whatever you wish. It doesn't lessen their merits.



*I'd say the same for the inventors of various martial arts as well:tongue:.
 

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If you don’t want to say Dave and Gary invented roleplaying games, you can at least say they codified it, which is a very important step in popularizing and spreading it to others.
Yeah, as I've said before I'm of the view that Western Gunfight meets all the qualifiers to be the first RPG wholesale. But even with that said, if you'd left it to the Bristol Skirmish Wargamers group to promote it, it would be at best a near forgotten wargame niche kept alive by a few stalwarts.
 

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Yeah, as I've said before I'm of the view that Western Gunfight meets all the qualifiers to be the first RPG wholesale. But even with that said, if you'd left it to the Bristol Skirmish Wargamers group to promote it, it would be at best a near forgotten wargame niche kept alive by a few stalwarts.
We should consider Gygax's PR agent for nomination as well, then:grin:?
 

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That oddly to me suggests the players invented roleplaying and he just didn't stop them. Or at the least it's a partnership. If I'm understanding you correctly multiple people are pushing to move away from the wargame aspect and focus on the underground exploration.
I wouldn't put it like that. It was a case where the players decided exploring a dungeon was more interesting than commanding military forces and winning the scenario. Even after they got their asses handed to them and suffered in-game consequences of being exiled from their home base of Blackmarsh to Lake Gloomy. Instead of fighting back to win the next round, they opted to ... well ... to find more dungeons to explore.

Another referee without Dave's temperament might have gotten upset and ended the campaign. Dave went along with it and figured out how to run the subsequent campaign. Despite his preference for running Blackmoor as a clash of opposing players and forces with him a true neutral referee. You can see this in the FFC text I posted where he all but laments that all that anybody seems interested in is exploring the Blackmoor dungeons. This is backed by later accounts of people talking to Dave.

I wouldn't say it was an inevitable path but it sure seems continuous and increasingly likely as more people play a fantasy based wargame. Too much of fantasy literature was in close quarters vs field action. Multiple someone's were seeking that out so it seems likely someone would satisfy that craving.
My opinion is that it was unlikely for the specific combination of elements that resulted in tabletop roleplaying games to have evolved. It took genius, inspiration, and the work of Dave Arneson make it happen. In the absence of Dave's work, the probable path would have resulted in something like today's murder mystery games or even Gloomhaven with a roleplaying elements. Covering different genres and situations.


One crucial thing that Dave did was allow the tyranny of the scenario to be broken. And doing the work on making the consequences of that work and for understanding that it was possible to run a campaign without scenarios in the first place.

Without that insight the scenario would have still been king. That a session or a campaign is about this narrow thing and that it would be socially RUDE to stray from it. With Tabletop Roleplaying games that is not a limit thanks to Dave's work.

To answer the question of Dave's importance to the invention of tabletop roleplaying you need to list all the elements that make up a tabletop roleplaying game. Then see if that specific combination would have happened in absence of Dave's work. You mentioned roleplaying. But Tabletop roleplaying game are not just defined by the presence of roleplaying. There are lots of other things that are in the mix to make it something distinct from improv theater, LARPing, or Let's Pretend. All of which involve roleplaying as a major component of the activity.
 

Endless Flight

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I’m of the opinion that tabletop roleplaying games would have been invented even if Dave and Gary didn’t exist. That they were the first to do it gives them the right to take that credit but that’s about as far as I’m willing to go in general. Now when you narrow it down to Dungeons & Dragons and it’s specific idiosyncrasies, I believe in even more credit. I believe somebody would have invented RPGs. There were already other people who had inspiration that was headed in that direction. In an overview, I look at something the wheel. Nobody knows who invented it; it’s more important that it exists. That’s the way I feel about most inventions including RPGs.
 

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I’m of the opinion that tabletop roleplaying games would have been invented even if Dave and Gary didn’t exist. That they were the first to do it gives them the right to take that credit but that’s about as far as I’m willing to go in general. Now when you narrow it down to Dungeons & Dragons and it’s specific idiosyncrasies, I believe in even more credit. I believe somebody would have invented RPGs. There were already other people who had inspiration that was headed in that direction. In an overview, I look at something the wheel. Nobody knows who invented it; it’s more important that it exists. That’s the way I feel about most inventions including RPGs.
The wheel is an instructional example. Much of the world had it but equally intelligent civilizations like the Maya I believe never used it for movement of goods. (I believe they had it for kids toys but with no real beast of burden it didn't get to the same prominence as Mesopotamia and their descendants) So you can have all the pieces and still not get the end result as another location.
 

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In an overview, I look at something the wheel. Nobody knows who invented it; it’s more important that it exists. That’s the way I feel about most inventions including RPGs.
Except the invention of the wheel took more than just making a round disk and attaching it. It was about the invention of the axle as well and getting that you need the wheel to be loose enough to sprin but not too loose. Which is why for some parts of the world the wheel wasn't invented, or not invented until much later.

  • Roleplaying itself is very intuitive.
  • Identifiying as an individual character and playing the game as if you were the character also make sense although would be considered unusual.
  • Playing a sophisticated game that emulated a specific genre, or situation is also intuitive.
  • Introducing fog of war by using a referee who has a god's eye view of the game's situation also makes sense.
  • Extending this to multiple players with multiple sides with multiple goals took some work and initiation which David Wesely deserves credit for, along Bath's with his hyperborian campaign.

So the next step was to do the last thing as a campaign. Which Bath did but not Wesely. From all accounts, Dave Arneson was the first to do this in the US but it quickly caught on with others leading to a gladiator game and Jenkin's Wild West game among others.

But we are still not at the point where any of these would be considered a tabletop roleplaying campaign that we play today. Why? Because all of these campaigns were beholden to the established scenario behind the campaign.

Think of it like a mid 80s group playing Battletech and pretend that RPGs didn't exist. So the group gets the bright idea to appoint a referee and instead of playing a bunch of individual scenarios they play out an entire campaign in one of the succession wars. That they would use the rudimentary pilot rules to track their mech pilots as individual characters. The campaign is launched and while we see some roleplaying and some play outside of the battles themselves. It is still focused on figure when and where to fight various battletech battles. And if a players found themselves more interested in playing a character who was a thief going around and stealing tech to sell to the highest bidder it wouldn't be part of the game.

Unless you had somebody like Dave Arneson who was willing to say yes. More importantly not only say yes but willing to put to work in to make the adventure that thief character had as interesting as the battletech battles themselves.

While we are real close but we are still not quite there yet. The transition happens when we get yet another player, who wants to go and explore the Succession War setting and not even bother with worrying about being involved in the battletech battles which is the main focus. Our BT version of Dave Arneson says yes and just as importantly also puts the work in to make this as interesting as the battletech campaign. Now this campaign has all the elements of a tabletop roleplaying game. The referee of these campaigns now allows their players to do anything their character can logically do within the setting without having to pay attention to some overarcing scenario or idea. Instead of the focus being on achieving the goal of the scenario which is to win this succession war campaign. We have players pursuing their individual character goals as the focus.

And hey, I get that this sounds like that with tournament dungeons, using published adventure, or organized play that I am saying that they are not roleplaying games. That is not what I am saying. Prior to Dave Arneson, everything was focused on the scenario however broad it may be. But when Dave allowed his players to ignore the scenario and actively supported what they were doing as the referee. The resulting rules he used became more expansive. They became a roleplaying game. And Gygax picked up on that when he made Dungeons & Dragons and it is just as expansive.

This also means that D&D and all the RPGs that came after didn't lose the ability to handle a specific scenario. That for various reasons like a lack of time for Prep, group interest, handling a lot of participants, using a scenario with a RPG may be the best option despite the reduction in scope to pre-Arneson campaigns.

One last bit of supporting evidence. Korns has several sections in his World War II skirmish rules that read like something that would be found in modern RPGs like GURPS World War II. A lot of folks use this section as evidence that Arneson didn't really invent the RPG. But when you read the entire chapter it is clear that it is there for two reasons. One that is very much about making a skirmish level World War II more realistic, and Two specifically by introducing fog of war in a way that the players has to consider the situation from the viewpoint of a ww2 infantrymen. That with the chapter and the book as a whole there is zero expectation that a group will decide to use the rules for anything other than a world war 2 skirmish. For example, playing out something like Kelly's Hero a ww2 heist.

Hope this makes sense.
 
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