Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Overlooked Arneson

I've always been a Gygax fan, for one major reason - not because I think his method is the holy grail of gaming, but because I reached out to him once and he was nice to me and took time to talk when he didn't have to. I admired that. I also like his over-the-top prose style, and appreciate his sheer productivity, and I think the entire RPG industry owes its birth to Gygax's obsessive writing schedule and convention appearances.

That being said, my reading of this book has me realizing that Dave Arneson has been pretty badly overlooked by history.

This article on Grognardia, an influential blog of the so-called Old School Renaissance, discusses the First Fantasy Campaign, a distillation of Arneson's own campaign notebooks for the Blackmoor setting, which predated and inspired Gygax's own Greyhawk setting.

In fact, the idea of a party of adventurers descending into a dungeon to loot and slay is almost entirely Arneson's, as is the idea of an ever-evolving campaign setting. I do think Gygax's rules and procedures were superior to Arneson's, who came from a Napoleonic wargaming background and tended to be somewhat more arbitrary as a GM - but the bottom line is, I think Arneson had the core concept - Gygax had the energy, the enthusiasm, the background, the contacts, and the extroverted nature needed to refine and "pimp" it at conventions. The more introverted and scholarly Arneson was overlooked in the long run. 

It sounds as if maybe our group - certainly my GM style - is a bit more Arnesony than Gygaxy, at least on the face of it. I know that the Expedition to the Barrier Peaks module, though written by Gygax, was hugely influenced by Arneson's habit of including high-tech anachronistic stuff in his "medieval fantasy" world, a concept which obviously informed the Gonen's World and Dearth of the Red Sun settings. This book certainly looks interesting, though I will surely not plunk down the large change to get a rare copy.

I'll be exploring more of Arneson's contributions to the hobby in later posts, I think, though, admittedly, all my research comes from this.

Interestingly, I've learned that both Gygax and Arneson were devout Christians. Arneson did mission work in the 1980s, and Gygax was a Jehovah's Witness who once retired from gaming in 1969 to focus on his ministry (thankfully this was short-lived, and he'll always be remembered for the Church of D&D). Still, that's kind of weird, given the religious hysteria against D&D in the early 1980s. 

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