Although his name will forever be linked with that of Gary Gygax as one of the co-creators of Dungeons & Dragons, one must not forget that Dave Arneson had game design credits both before and after teaming up with his more well-known collaborator. True, Dave was nowhere near as prolific as Gary, nor indeed did his designs reach as wide an audience. Nevertheless, I think it's important, for both historical and sentimental reasons, to remember that there was more to Dave Arneson than the little brown books and Supplement II, such as 1979's Adventures in Fantasy, a set of fantasy roleplaying rules he wrote with Richard Snider, who played the Flying Monk in the original Blackmoor campaign (and who also died last year).
So far as I know, there are two versions of Adventures in Fantasy, both released in 1979, the first by Excalibur Games and the second by Adventure Games. If there are any differences between the two, I cannot say, as I only have the Excalibur version. The game consists of three books -- Book of Adventure, Book of Faerry and Magic, and Book of Creatures and Treasure. The Book of Adventure, despite its name, is largely a character generation volume, although it also includes combat and related rules, as well as information about designing a campaign world. As in D&D, there are six stats -- here called Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, Charisma, Stamina, and Health -- all of which are generated randomly through percentile rolls (or 2D20, as presented, using old school D100). Social status and age are also determined randomly, with appropriate in-game effects, like starting funds and bonuses/penalties to stats. Interestingly, rules are also provided for natural death: a percentage chance rolled each year based on a character's age bracket to see if they might die from non-adventuring causes.
Adventures in Fantasy is class-based but possesses only two classes: warrior and magic-user. The main difference between the classes, besides the obvious fact that magic-users have Magic Points and are able to cast spells, is how they gain experience and improve their abilities. Warriors gain experience through martial combat and improve their skills at arms, whereas magic-users gain experience by casting spells and improve their arcane repertoire and potency. There is no skill system in the game as such, but there is an extensive set of rules pertaining to "education," from learning to read and write to learning to ride a horse or wield a particular kind of weapon. These various "courses of instruction" are non-experienced based means of improving a character, taking time and money to complete. They also take time and money to maintain, as the game provides rules for the deterioration of talents learned that characters do not practice regularly.
Book of Adventures includes an overview of "setting up the campaign," as well as a sample campaign setting called "Bleakwood," complete with maps and descriptions. What's interesting to me is how much space is given to timekeeping, something Gygax famously noted as being "of utmost importance," adding -- in all caps, no less -- "YOU CANNOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT." Arneson and Snider obviously agreed, if perhaps a bit less emphatically. "Underworlds," that is dungeons, are given some discussion, but it's wilderness design and outdoor encounters that take up even more space in this book. Combat rules round out the book and you can clearly see material from Supplement II in these pages, most notably hit location. Combat's a fair bit more complicated than in D&D, involving more number-crunching but it's probably no more complex than in, say, RuneQuest or other second and third generation RPGs from the late 70s.
Adventures in Fantasy's Book of Faerry and Magic -- proof that "clever" new spellings of common words didn't begin with White Wolf in the 90s -- details its magic system. Although it uses Magic Points, the system is surprisingly loose, with most spells requiring referee adjudication to use in play. There's very little information, for example, on range, duration, and area of effect. Sorcerous combat is a duel of power between magic-users, reminiscent of D&D's psionic combat, complete with attack and defense modes. The second rulebook also includes information on the various Faerry races and their magic. No provisions are made for allowing these as PCs, making Adventures in Fantasy, at least in its original form, a strongly humanocentric RPG.
Book of Creatures and Treasure begins by a lengthy discussion of dragons, which are a great deal more varied and individualistic than D&D's schematized and color-coded draconic beings. Otherwise, the selection of creatures is more or less what you'd expect, albeit with a stronger mythological tinge. That is, most of the creatures presented are closely associated with a real world mythology, whether Greek, Norse, or Japanese, and their characteristics more closely map to those described in those myths rather than D&D's approach of stealing a mythological name for a creature that bears little resemblance to its antecedent. Much space is devoted to rules for generating treasure hoards and the powers of magical items, as well as powerful artifacts. Again, this is all familiar territory to gamers and offers little that's genuinely surprising.
By most accounts, Adventures in Fantasy didn't make much of a splash on its release, in part due to continued legal wrangling between TSR and Arneson over D&D. There are four "upcoming" supplements listed in the Book of Adventures but none ever saw the light of day. As it is, Adventures in Fantasy feels more like someone's heavily house ruled version of D&D, which "fixes" or emphasizes certain elements according to its creators' interests. On some level, that's not an inaccurate feeling, although I suspect that many of the game's differences from D&D don't so much fix D&D as precede them, which is to say, they're reflective of the idiosyncrasies of Arneson's own approach, much of which either didn't make it into OD&D or was filtered through Gygax's own ideas.
Consequently, Adventures in Fantasy is fascinating as a historical document, providing both insight into Arneson's mind and more fodder for hashing out just what is meant by "old school." I doubt I'd ever want to play Adventures in Fantasy, but it definitely gave me a lot of food for thought. It also served to remind me of just how much Dave Arneson bequeathed to all of us who participate in this hobby and how underappreciated that legacy continues to be. Here's hoping that, as the years wear on, he won't be forgotten and his role as a founder of roleplaying is more widely recognized.