Dave Arneson, one of the men who created Dungeons & Dragons, has died from cancer aged 61.
While it was colleague Gary Gygax who specifically wrote what became Dungeons & Dragons, Arneson played a vital role in both the creation of the game and the development of the role-playing game concept. He had taken a set of gameplaying rules designed for simulating military battles with miniature figures and adapted them into games where players controlled an individual character.
Wizards of the Coast, which currently owns the rights to Dungeons & Dragons, says Arneson deserves the credit for many of the basic concepts of role-playing games including “that each player controls just one hero, that heroes gain power through adventures, and that personality is as important as combat prowess.”
The game is perhaps best known for using dice with more or fewer than six faces. There’s no telling how many mature, sophisticated, trendy adults have had their teenage geekdom uncovered by an uncontrollable facial reaction to the simple term “roll two D12”.
Of course, while Arneson’s creation was no doubt motivated by artistic goals, it was a commercial goldmine thanks to its huge in-built profit margin. There’s something extremely impressive about persuading teenagers to hand over a fair chunk of cash for a box containing some dice, a booklet and an order to use their imagination.
Gygax, who died in March 2008, had fallen out with Arneson over the game’s creation and the pair engaged in legal action, though the two later worked together. Perhaps the best tribute to Arneson’s work came from Gygax in a 1975 note quoted on the Grognardia blog:
Dave is also the innovator of the “dungeon adventure” concept, creator of ghastly monsters, and inscrutable dungeonmaster par excellence. He devises complex combat systems, inexplicable dungeon and wilderness areas, and traps of the most subtle fiendishness…. I can not reccomend him more highly than simply saying that I would rather play in his campaign than any other.