Ok. So I changed the title of this feature yet again. Obscure was too dismissive. Whatever I used last time was so clunky and unmemorable that it never made a second write up. So welcome to the first ever (and maybe only if I don’t like it after it publishes) BACKGROUND Geek of the Week! This week is a Geek that played a big hand in the creation of a quintessential Geek property, but who gets very little public love. Much like naming the member of Wham! other than George Michael, naming the guy other than Gary Gygax to create Dungeons and Dragons might prove tricky. Here’s a hint (and you can use this hint for this column no matter what I call it): he’s the man pictured above!
The man who played Allen/Wozniack/Newman to Gygax’s Gates/Jobs/Watson is none other than Dave Arneson.
David Lance “Dave” Arneson (October 1, 1947 – April 7, 2009) was an American game designer best known for co-developing the first published role-playing game (RPG), Dungeons & Dragons, with Gary Gygax, in the early 1970s. Arneson’s early work was fundamental to the development of the genre, developing the concept of the RPG using devices now considered to be archetypical, such as adventuring in “dungeons”, using a neutral judge, and having conversations with imaginary characters to develop the storyline.
Arneson discovered wargaming as a teenager in the 1960s, and began combining these games with the concept of role-playing. He was a University of Minnesota student when he met Gygax at the Gen Con gaming convention in the late 1960s. In 1970 Arneson created the game and fictional world that became Blackmoor, writing his own rules and basing the setting on medieval fantasy elements. Arneson showed the game to Gygax the following year, and the pair co-developed a set of rules that became Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). Gygax subsequently founded TSR, Inc. to publish the game in 1974. Arneson worked briefly for the company.
Arneson left TSR in 1976, and filed suit in 1979 to retain credits and royalties on the game. He continued to work as an independent game designer, briefly worked for TSR again in the 1980s, and continued to play games for his entire life.
The lawsuit against TSR and beloved Geek icon, Gygax, probably diminished their desire to bolster his legacy as a creator.
Gygax meanwhile used his status as president of TSR to bolster his visibility. Gygax became so well known that he went on to voice himself on Futurama before his death in 2009.
Arneson didn’t end up eating cat food or anything, but he was not in Gygax’s league in terms of fame. This often happens to the first creator to leave the company, but sometimes in life you just have to roll the dice.
For more on Dave Arneson, check out his Wikipedia page.