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Remembering Dave Arneson

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As most readers of this blog already know, roleplaying pioneer Dave Arneson died on Tuesday, aged 61. Thanks to a legal dispute and ensuing confidentiality agreement, the exact nature of his contribution to the original Dungeons & Dragons game will be something future scholars will be debating decades from now. In broad outline, it’s probably safe to say that he supplied many of the core mechanical concepts, which Gary Gygax fleshed out and elaborated to create D&D. Or, as Kenneth Hite so eloquently notes, Dave co-created Dungeons & Dragons, and invented roleplaying as we know it.

As someone who knew him glancingly from the convention circuit, what I enjoyed about Dave was his impish irascibility. He’d say something funny and a little bit cutting with a glimmer in his eye or a chuckle in his voice, like a kid delighted in his own naughtiness. On one level, he seemed, like a good Midwesterner, humbled and a little bit flummoxed by the attention paid to him. But at the same time he clearly reveled in his role as the unfairly exiled genius.

I was fortunate enough to get to interview him for 40 Years Of Gen Con. Like Gary, his answers in our phone conversation tended toward the laconic, requiring me to do some interweaving to build the passages that appear in the book. He and Gary sat in for separate 40 Years panels at Gen Con ‘07. In front of audiences, both of them blossomed into storyteller mode, launching into full anecdotes.

Dave was having mobility issues by that time and was getting around the convention in a newly acquired motorized scooter. He was evidently rattled by this development, asking audience members not to photograph him in his then-present condition. It was reassuring, then, to see him in apparently finer fettle as he received a lifetime achievement award at the ‘08 Ennies. The final note of his speech, in which he minimized his own contribution to say that it was really all about gamers and gaming, was truly moving.

I’d like to remember Dave in the act of telling some funny little stories. The MP3 clip below is cobbled together from his 40 Years interview. Two quick anecdotes of early Gen Con hijinks are followed by his reaction to the roleplaying’s first sudden growth spurt. (AV clubbers, please forgive the audio quality; these interviews were done for research purposes and aren’t up to broadcast standard.)

Dave Arneson MP3.

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