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Saturday, September 29, 2018

When Dave Arneson Changed the World (Murkhill's )

It is with reluctance that I write about Dave Arneson Week.

Reluctance, because much of the impetus is that Dave Arneson is dead and we on this mortal
plane have lost so much knowledge of what was, what is, and what could yet be. Dave Arneson
Week, or Blackmoor Week if you prefer, is 24 September through 1 October. That’s an eight-day
week, and I think Sir Arneson would have liked that incongruity. And we never appreciated Dave
as much while he was available, as we do now.

You understand that Dave invented the roleplaying game, also known as rpg or rolegame. Not just
a new game, but a new kind of game, with implications that reach back to the very purpose of
games. “Why do children play games to the exclusion of almost everything else? Why is Let’s
Pretend their most popular type of game?” have asked specialists and parents for ages, and the
answer is always “to learn.” If you ask “to learn what?” the answers vary from “to learn how to grow
up” to “to learn everything!”

Why did we ever stop playing Let’s Pretend when we stopped being children?

Dave not only got us playing Let’s Pretend, he made it grown-up and edifying. We simulated the
fantastic and the not-so-fantastic, and we learned - whether we wanted to or not - a little more
about other people and about ourselves. The sages advised us to walk a mile in another man’s
shoes. Dave got us walking and adventuring in other men’s shoes, in women’s shoes, and in the
shoes of creatures who never wore any shoes. We serendipitously bumped into our assumptions
and others’ -- and while we may not have always examined those assumptions (a shocking
number of players never have!) we did bump into them.

All this is to say that something new is still going on, even when blanded as much as
mass-production can bland. On the other hand, mass-production means that more is available to
more people than could have been under the hands of only one, or two, or a few gamesmasters.
You may play Dungeons & Dragons, the first “professional” rpg, which carries Dave’s name as
merely a co-creator (for D&D grew out of Dave’s home game, which we call Blackmoor
because that was the name of the castle and because there was no name) or any other rolegame
that existed, exists, or will exist. You still owe your game’s origins to Dave Arneson.

I have friends in various careers of advising, counseling, medicating, and so forth - who use
Arneson’s inventions of rulings, simulations, and “fly by the seat of your pants” connections in
logic - to bring health and career advancement advice to their patients and clients. The Real
World benefits of rolegaming and its usage (sometimes in “mere” dialog) were used in teaching
by Dave fairly early in his teaching career. I used it in training “problem soldiers”
who were ‘given’ to me by other supervisors; a last-ditch effort to turn bad attitudes into positive
and creative men and women. Except for one person, these techniques and attitudes worked.
And yes, sometimes it was painful. No evil dragon was ever defeated without sacrifice in games,
fiction, or real life.

There’s a book you should read, which explains this is an almost-algebraic language that the
author is developing just to explain what Dave Arneson’s creation is and what it does. It’s by
Rob Kuntz, one of the unsung creators of what became D&D, and it’s still available at - and I sha’n’t review it now, because I’ve done
a short review before and it deserves a much longer, much better review. Frankly, it deserves a
long, better review by someone who is a better writer - because I can’t explain it without lauding it
Too Much. So very Too Much, that you wouldn’t believe how useful the book is and how much it
barely scratches the surface of what Rob has yet to write. It’s that good.

But it can tell you why and how Dave Arneson is still changing the world. All I can do is tell you that
he still is.

(This is a part of Murkhill's - accept no substitutes)