Friday, October 1, 2021

"Inscrutable Dungeonmaster Par Excellence"

Had he lived, today would have been the 74th birthday of David L. Arneson, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons. 

There's not much I can say about him here that others have not already said better – a big change from the days of my youth, when Arneson and his contributions to the hobby weren't as well known as they are today. In the years since his death, Arneson's star has risen considerably, particularly among those of us who favor the earliest editions of D&D. That's as it should be. 

Dave Arneson was, after all, "the innovator of the 'dungeon adventure' concept" on which the entire game was founded. It's an idea of such remarkable durability and flexibility that it remains a centerpiece not just of D&D and its many imitators but also of other forms of entertainment that have grown up in its wake. In a very real sense, so much of modern popular media was born in the dungeons beneath Castle Blackmoor in the first years of the 1970s and we have Arneson to thank for lighting the spark that would one day grow into a brilliant flame.

Happy Birthday, Dave.


  1. Let the bumper pass for Captain Harchar.

  2. I must confess, I teared up a bit reading this post. Good of you to honor Dave's memory, and the photo is a nice touch. Thank you also for this web site. I don't visit as often as I'd like, and I never post, but I treasure it.

  3. Yeah.

    Amazing thing, this “Information Age.” Once upon a time, I’d never heard the name Nikola Tesla, nor had any inkling of the contribution he’d made to our modern society.

    [somewhere, probably, there is an 80s style hair-metal band called “Arneson.” And if there isn’t, then there SHOULD be one]

  4. I'll raise a glass to that.

    Not quite as much of a fan of very early D&D as you or most of your readers seem to be, but Dave is certainly one of the most historically important people in all of gaming history and it's good to see him getting credit where credit is due, even if it's mostly been a posthumous thing.

  5. I remember being aware of Dave's existence and the whole saga from a pretty early age - late 80s early 90s. Now in this internet era it's hard to know how that happened. Maybe from Dragon magazines or some other source? Anyway nice to honor the guy who pioneered this great obsession that we all share.

  6. Sadly his next rpg game failed badly nor was it the DnD killer he had hoped for. Sadly this myth of his works is badly construed as many ignore the,rules he created fir DnD no one used.

    1. Assuming you're talking about Adventures In Fantasy, it wasn't a critical or commercial success, but it certainly wasn't the end of his gaming career either. He went on to produce the very popular Johnny Reb and Harpoon miniatures rule sets, helped publish several Tekumel books through Adventure Gaming before selling teh company to Flying Buffalo, and of course went on to work with TSR again on the DA series, for better or worse.

      If James ever gets up to the mid-80s of his Different Worlds retrospective series we'll also get a look at Arneson's short adventure for Blackmoor that was published in issues 42 and 43. Kind of curious to see what he thinks of that one.

  7. Dumb teen me fell in love with the "froggy men module" so much my generous and kind DM photocopied the section of his blackmoor for me. 1986...before that he was just the name on the cover of a book to me, after that I was always looking for mentions in magazines of his name. I haunted the school library so much I was made a student helper, skills that helped me afford college and art school...So, thanks to Dave!

  8. Very nicely said.

    All Roads Lead to Blackmoor.

  9. I just finished reading Peterson's "Game Wizards," which presents a fairly detailed record of Arneson's game-related activities from the early-70's to the mid-80's. It was a real eye-opener for me, and I warmly recommend the book.