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D&D General Dave Arneson: Is He Underrated, or Overrated?

pogre

Legend
I think it is important to remember that D&D did not catch fire for half a decade or more. It took years for it to spread word of mouth and then ramp up. I have never seen ant compelling evidence that suggests it would not have at least started its life similarly had it leaned more into the Planetary Romance or Space Fantasy rather than Medieval Fantasy. He'll, D&D could have easily started out as Napoleanic Fantasy given its wargame provenance. I don't think there is any real evidence to suggest that it was the crappy Conan reprint milieu that drove D&D'Souza adoption rather than the new paradigm in play.
Maybe, but man when I was a kid in the mid 70's there was just something very cool about exploring a dungeon that captured my imagination in ways nothing else could.

Not saying you are wrong, but I don't think those other genres would have captured my imagination the same way.

But, who knows?

As an aside, back in the late 90s/ early 2000 I sold Dave Arneson a bunch of mint condition Blackmoor modules I had picked up for cheap at a Kaybee toy store a few years earlier. One of the wildest ebay sales ever. He was extremely polite and cordial. I wish I could have kept his check, but I needed the $ at the time!
 
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Cadence

Legend
Supporter
So, Westerns...

It feels like the Golden age of Westerns had clearly ended by the end of 1976.
It seems like there was a noticeable bubble of it from, say, 1988 to 1994.

TV shows with 100+ episodes that ended in 70's include:

Gunsmoke 1955-1975
Bonanza 1959-1973
The Virginian 1962-1971
Daniel Boone 1964-1970
Death Valley Days 1952-1970

There were another 21 that had a 100+ episodes but ended in the 50s or 60s. I'm not counting Little House on the Prairie (1974-1983) as a Western.

There were still a TON of Western movies in the early 70s. See List of Western films of the 1970s - Wikipedia .

Of the top 100 Films of All Time (domestic gross, adjusted for Inflation), the westerns come in at #40 with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969 and #56 Blazing Saddles in 1974.

John Wayne's last western (and last film) was The Shootist in 1976. It was also Jimmy Stewart's final western. Clint Eastwood's last serious Western until Pale Rider (in 1985) was Outlaw Jose Wales in 1976. He had the comedy Bronco Billy in 1980. Overall, it really did fall of a cliff pretty suddenly if you try to find any way to argue past 1976.

After that?

TV shows that hit at least 30 episodes and started after 1976 include...

Hell on Wheels 2011-2016
Deadwood 2004-2006
The Magnificent Seven 1998-2000
Dead Man's Gun 1997-1999
Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman 1993-1998 <-only one to break 100
Zorro 1990-1993
The Young Riders 1989-1992
Bordertown 1989-1991
Paradise 1988-1991
Father Murphy 1981-1983
The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams 1977-1978

The miniseries Lonesome Dove in 1989 was nominated for 19 Emmy Awards. A vaguely complete list of TV westerns is at List of Western television series - Wikipedia

For movies after 1976 with approximate adjusted domestic over $100m:

The Magnificent Seven 2016 at $113m
The Lone Ranger 2013 at $116m
Django Unchained 2012 at $214m
True Grit 2010 at $228m
Maverick 1994 at $209m
Legends of the Fall 1994 at $137m
Tombstone 1993 at $120m
Unforgiven 1992 at $223m (Best Picture)
Dances with Wolves 1990 at $399m (#155 all time gross, Best Picture)
Young Guns II 1990 at $104
Young Guns 1988 at $114m
Pale Rider 1985 at $116m

The biggest market share year from 1995-2023 was 1995 with 8 films and 2.41%.
 
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Parmandur

Book-Friend
I think it is important to remember that D&D did not catch fire for half a decade or more. It took years for it to spread word of mouth and then ramp up. I have never seen ant compelling evidence that suggests it would not have at least started its life similarly had it leaned more into the Planetary Romance or Space Fantasy rather than Medieval Fantasy. He'll, D&D could have easily started out as Napoleanic Fantasy given its wargame provenance. I don't think there is any real evidence to suggest that it was the crappy Conan reprint milieu that drove D&D'Souza adoption rather than the new paradigm in play.
D&D was riding that particular wave more than creating it: Tolkien started the process, and the posthumous Silmirillion brought it.to another level, but Medieval Fantasy was on the verge of getting huge. Even if the first RPG was not Heroic Fantasy in the vein of Conan or Tolkien, eventually the dominant one would be.
 

Clint_L

Legend
To be frank, Appelcline's review is (to my mind) one of the least helpful takes out there when it comes to understanding Dave Arneson's True Genius, simply because it only offers modest information about what's there in favor of critiquing the book for how much it goes against Appelcline's beliefs with regards to the development of the hobby. Hence his use of terms such as "Arnesonian revisionism" and "Chainmail denialism." He sees the entire thing as -isms that refute his version of history.

A more helpful review, I think, is this one by our own @Gronan of Simmerya:

This does not come across as an objective review, given that it is written by Kuntz's lifelong friend, who very much has skin in the game, and who states that the book "contains elements that Rob and I have discussed here and there over the decades, and I found myself almost 100% in agreement with." Respect to him for his amazing experience - the stories he has! - but you can't really call this a "review."
 
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darjr

I crit!
This does not come across as an objective review, given that it is written by Kuntz's lifelong friend, who very much has skin in the game, and who states that the book "contains elements that Rob and I have discussed here and there over the decades, and I found myself almost 100% in agreement with." Respect to him for his amazing experience - the stories he has! - but you can't really call this a "review."
I can’t disagree with this. I am however fascinated by early players musings. And Appleclines review does seem to be part of a debate with folks.
 


Yora

Legend
I started getting interested in 60s and 70s wargames recently. I've occasionally read some posts that people wrote 10 years ago (damn, late OSR was that long ago?) but now that I have much more context about early RPGs and actually think about how I'd do a wargame campaign in a fantasy world, I'm really starting to discover how the wargamers relevant to RPG history already were talking in ways that sound very similar to GMs.
 

GreyLord

Legend
My thoughts on the entire Western RPGs being made. It's funny about how people are saying a Western RPG would not be popular.

D&D IS a Western RPG. It's a Western in everything but weapons and appearances. It has the veneer of Historical fantasy about it centering on the Medieval and Renaissance, but looking past that it is completely a Western. AD&D quintripled down (probably more) on this idea.

Medieval Europe was not a place that you'd go out adventuring, have one on one combats as a party, and then go and get some land, develop it and have it as your own. That's the American West. You have a group of cowboys (adventurers) that go protect the land and then perhaps eventually set up a homestead of their own.

The ideals of the Western (whether a sci-fi show like Wagon Train to the Stars, or a Fantasy like D&D, or even Space Opera like the the Man in a funny armored suit and never or rarely takes off his helmet who protects the alien baby) seems to appeal to the American (or more specifically, United States and Canadian citizens) regardless of the face paint that's placed on top of it.

It may be that the historical context of 60 years is true, but the ideas that were portrayed in American (or, I kind of love the Spaghetti) Westerns seem to have had quite the appeal for decades beyond that.

Even now D&D is somewhat about going after that "American" Dream where a nobody rises up to wealth and power to become a somebody.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
My thoughts on the entire Western RPGs being made. It's funny about how people are saying a Western RPG would not be popular.

D&D IS a Western RPG. It's a Western in everything but weapons and appearances. It has the veneer of Historical fantasy about it centering on the Medieval and Renaissance, but looking past that it is completely a Western. AD&D quintripled down (probably more) on this idea.

Medieval Europe was not a place that you'd go out adventuring, have one on one combats as a party, and then go and get some land, develop it and have it as your own. That's the American West. You have a group of cowboys (adventurers) that go protect the land and then perhaps eventually set up a homestead of their own.

The ideals of the Western (whether a sci-fi show like Wagon Train to the Stars, or a Fantasy like D&D, or even Space Opera like the the Man in a funny armored suit and never or rarely takes off his helmet who protects the alien baby) seems to appeal to the American (or more specifically, United States and Canadian citizens) regardless of the face paint that's placed on top of it.

It may be that the historical context of 60 years is true, but the ideas that were portrayed in American (or, I kind of love the Spaghetti) Westerns seem to have had quite the appeal for decades beyond that.

Even now D&D is somewhat about going after that "American" Dream where a nobody rises up to wealth and power to become a somebody.
Well, I mean, sure, by that standard Conan or Fafrh & the Grey Mouser is a Western. Sword & Sorcery could easily be defined as Qestern tropes in an Iron Age drag. However, straight Westerns in the 70's? Wouldn't have ever taken off.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Well, I mean, sure, by that standard Conan or Fafrh & the Grey Mouser is a Western. Sword & Sorcery could easily be defined as Qestern tropes in an Iron Age drag. However, straight Westerns in the 70's? Wouldn't have ever taken off.

As I've argued before, D&D is essentially a western dressed up in Fantasy (originally swords & sorcery, but with increasing high fantasy trapping as time went on).

Which makes sense if you think about it. While D&D was riding on the fantasy zeitgeist of the 70s, it was still created by people who grew up watching and absorbing the tropes and ideals of westerns within the culture.
 

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