Today is Dave Arneson's birthday, also known as Dave Arneson Game Day.
Dave Arneson promo still from D&D movie
"The way that Dungeons and Dragons, Arneson's version came about, was some sort of inspiration that he had.
I was not there when he first introduced it to the gaming group. And so it leads to different understandings as to how it came about.
Duane tells me, says that it was while they were waiting to set up a battle that he tried it out on some of the players that were there.
When I came down, a couple weeks later, it was the story that I tell. Rather than a napoleonic battlefield in the middle of the table, there was this castle sitting there.
And they were telling me, this was-fantastic thing that we were doing.
And it's like, what is it?
I mean you know -- and then slowly but surely it became apparent that it was a cool thing."
David Megarry describes his first encounter with Dave Arneson's fantasy game idea
excerpt from an interview with Secrets of Blackmoor
Consider that, in 1971, David L. Arneson is only 23 years old when he begins to create the first fantasy RPG campaign, or Blackmoor; and that since then millions of people around the globe are still using the exact same play style that originated in that game.
If you talk to the Twin Cites gamers, none of them want to say "this is where it began" and point to any single moment within their history. They will simply say that it is an accrual of ideas that culminates with Dave Arneson inventing Blackmoor. The path from playing war games with miniatures to inventing a new game is a long one for them, and they will talk about many events that they think helped propel them forward in their quest for realism and fun.
Their game realism comes from one thing, they wanted to create realistic battles. Any historical account of any military campaign, or battle, will reveal one thing; If you do not mimic -The Fog of War- you aren't dealing with the same problems a real military commander is confronted with on the battlefield.
Explaining all of the ideas that they explore within their games is a lengthy process. Many historians will argue about where any single rule, or mechanic, first appears.
Historians seem to be obsessed with asking things like:
- Where do hit points come from?
- Where does the combat system for D&D come from?
- Where do the first magic spells come from?
Yet to examine those details without context, is to misunderstand the source and true inspiration for the RPG as it was first played by Arneson.
Arneson is famously quoted as saying, "There are no rules."
This one quote is often used to diminish and dilute what Arneson brought forth as the true creator of RPG's. Yet, if you look deeper into what Arneson was doing in his games, you'll find that his statement is very profound. Certainly, Arneson was using rules in his games. Yet, he kept most of the rules hidden from his players. Thus his statement of - there are no rules- is pointing toward something essential to all RPG's.
"[…]the written rules are subservient to the conceptual system as we are dealing with an ongoing, shifting, elastic reality wherein ALL rules cannot be ascertained UP FRONT, that is, prior to and during the ongoing game play taking place in an infinitely variable environment."
Robert J. Kuntz, taken from personal correspondence (8.16.2018)
Photo by Dave Arneson, Blackmoor Castle Model with 19th Century Ships
Kuntz sees how the game works very clearly when he describes Arneson's "Game Engine", or the "Conceptual System", in his book: Dave Arneson's True Genius.
This Conceptual System results in a formula that can be seen in every game since Blackmoor and D&D:
A. Here is the situation. (Reality is cemented in this one moment and described by the referee)
B. What do you want to do? (The players say how they want to alter reality)
The players rarely know everything about the situation, and must interact with "reality" to figure it out, in a constantly changing world model. Thus the formula is a recursion as each reaction to Part A: the situation, will generate a whole new Part B: the reaction, in an endless repetition.
This is kind of like story telling, but it isn't one sided, it's different.
David Wesely, creator of Braunstein, likes to call it "Interactive Story Telling".
You could even take it one step further if you consider what Lawrence Schick has to say about it in his book: Heroic Gaming, and call it Interactive Performance Art.
Who doesn't like a good IPA, right?
Randy Hoffa, owner of CinC miniatures company, described a war game to us that they once played in their group. It isn't an RPG by most people's standards, and yet most of what they are doing in their war game parallels everything one sees in a dungeon game.
As the commander of one army in the battle, David Wesely was back in his camp looking at maps and sending out orders to his troops. They simulated this by having Wesely seated in another room and unable to see the actual battle field table.
All that Wesely can do is wait to receive written messages from his players about what is happening on the battlefield and make notes on his maps of the enemy troop disposition. Based on this information which may not even be up to date, Wesely then has to make decisions and send orders back to his commanders on the field. Although this is not set in a fantasy world and he is not exploring a deep dungeon in search of treasure, Wesely is being forced to explore the unknown.
As the battle raged on, the enemy side sent some cavalry out to explore behind enemy lines. They took the right turn at a crossroads and found themselves riding into Wesely's camp. The battle ended with the enemy players walking into the other room where Wesely was seated and proclaiming that he was being taken prisoner.
This particular game they played reveals the nature of what Arneson was saying when he said "There are no rules." Wesely's experience of the battle required no rules. While his players may have been examining troop types and combat charts on the battle field, Wesely was not playing with any rules, he was playing as a real commander.
Additionally, the Twin Cities was not the only place where gamers were exploring ways to create the fog of war. An examination of war game history reveals many RPG's. There are many examples of Role Play Method coming out of America, Great Britain, and Europe.
Yet, Arneson is the one person who saw the potential for something truly different. He is the one who makes the huge leap and abandons the rules and a playing surface completely; all it needed was a referee who is all knowing, Arneson, and a handful of players who are willing to follow his lead, and to play make believe and explore the unknown.
Arneson and the creativity of his players should be recognized for their contribution. The extent of what Arneson jump-started has created a billion dollar industry. This is not mere conjecture, this is fact.
A young man, gaming with his friends in a basement in Minnesota, made it so that we can all explore the wonders of the unknown, instead of playing yet another game of Parcheesi, or Monopoly.
David Megarry (continued):
"What was different and cool about what David had done, was to translate story telling into a physical action.
Before that, we had somewhat been playing around with the Braunstein ideas, where we could be our own people. And we were a variety of different commanders.
Because we had a Diplomacy aspect to the napoleonic's, we did some of our strategic planning and machinations following 19th century diplomacy sort of ideas -- So, I'm the Emperor of Austria and you need to treat me accordingly.
But that was sort of -- very abstract, and disjointed.
When we got into sort of a dungeon expedition, or an adventure, we were all acting together as a group --Together -- that was different!
Because, most of the time we came to the table we were on opposite sides, and battle -- duking it out with each other.
Here we're now -- we're, actually duking it out with Arneson -- and, which -- that's a different thing.
And it's not even that we even -- we even understand that it's Arneson that we're playing.
For us it's the problem that he is presenting to us: You got a castle in the middle, there's tunnels, what do you want to do?
And that sort of -- Magical -- what do you want to do? -- Is -- is probab -- the kick -- you know -- that's the turning point in my mind -- What Do You Want To Do?
It opens up all these possibilities, that before you were confined by a set of rules -- Miniature rules, that said you could only move 5 feet -- and -- and you, the types of questions you answer -- What Do You Want To Do?- were really confined by what the rules said you could do.
Whereas when you get into a fantasy game, or a story telling game; now it just opens it up -- What Do You Want To Do?"
An update on Movie things:
We are working hard to produce a new trailer that we will be using on a Kick Starter project. As we draw closer we will use the Kick starter to begin taking pre orders on the movie itself, along with many special bonus gifts.
Some of you may want your name in the movie credits, others of you may want the chance to play Blackmoor, Dungeon!, Braunstein, or even a napoleonic miniatures game with the creators of these games. All these ideas are being pondered as a way to fund the last stages of movie production -- What do you think?
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Secrets of Blackmoor is a Feature-length documentary about the birth of the “Mother of all Games;” Dungeons & Dragons.