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

Parmandur

Book-Friend
More insider information regarding the topic from a couple of weeks ago. Bill willingham gives his take.
Although, I don’t know how I feel with the realization that my favorite edition only exists because it was meant to screw Dave out of royalties…And now I really really want to see those master rules.

While interesting, this post is a pretty good case for Peterson's acade.ic focus on period documents, rather than memory. An awful lot of explicitly paraphrasing there, and some of the facts are a bit sloppy. In the end, it's actually focused on Wallingham's current ride or die hobby horse, poo-pooing diversity in comics, more than a solid historical account of Basic D&D. A little bit of creative remembrance, subconscious or otherwise, methinks.
Not to counteract anything you are saying, but do we know he wasn't invested or do we know that he wasn't a good writer?
We do know that Arneson was at least not an organized or prolific writer.
 

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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
While interesting, this post is a pretty good case for Peterson's acade.ic focus on period documents, rather than memory. An awful lot of explicitly paraphrasing there, and some of the facts are a bit sloppy. In the end, it's actually focused on Wallingham's current ride or die hobby horse, poo-pooing diversity in comics, more than a solid historical account of Basic D&D. A little bit of creative remembrance, subconscious or otherwise, methinks.

Yeah, the recollections don't seem to match up with the documents and dates that we know of.

This is exactly why I appreciate the work of Peterson. I love the old stories as much as (if not more than) the next person, but far too often there is a "The fish was that big" element to them.

Contemporaneous documents aren't always perfect either, but they're usually a lot better than 40 year old memories.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
While interesting, this post is a pretty good case for Peterson's acade.ic focus on period documents, rather than memory. An awful lot of explicitly paraphrasing there, and some of the facts are a bit sloppy. In the end, it's actually focused on Wallingham's current ride or die hobby horse, poo-pooing diversity in comics, more than a solid historical account of Basic D&D. A little bit of creative remembrance, subconscious or otherwise, methinks.

We do know that Arneson was at least not an organized or prolific writer.
Yeah, I wasn't focusing on the specifics of what Bill said, but the overall general theme that B/X was created to screw Dave out of royalties (and ironically became a great seller), and that there was a master set out there that never came to fruition, which is a high crime IMO lol. I like B/X much better than BECMI, and am very curious to know how that would have looked. And tossing around the idea that if there wasn't a lawsuit with Dave going on, would B/X or BECMI ever been a thing? It seems Gary would have went full force with AD&D and just ignored the rest, since that was his baby and the B/X was in response to the lawsuit directly. It seems Gary had no idea how popular the Moldvay boxed set would be, and if B/X was never created, there wouldn't be a drive to have Frank do BECMI (because there wouldn't have been that market data that showed a basic boxed set was popular). Holmes was a thing for sure, but it was never as popular as B/X came to be, and from what I can tell, Gary was content to let it lie while he focused on AD&D.
 

These days, I'd say Arneson is "rated;" that is to say, neither over- or under- rated. Though I suspect, when you get to the younger generations, both he and Gygax are "unrated;" that their respective contributions just don't come up in conversation.

Also, one of my coworkers had him as a professor for one of his classes back in college, which still kinda blows my mind.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I'll admit though... I didn't know those were the people involved. Maybe for you guys it was obvious, but I've never really seen their names brought up as the creators of 3e.

I post periodically about the OD&D / 1e creators and history because I find it fascinating. Just more, recently, because of the new book.

At some point, I could probably be bothered to update and expand on my prior thoughts on Zeb Cook and 2e and get that thread rolling. I think it would be fun ... there's a lot of people now who have cut their teeth on 2e as their first gaming experience, and I'm sure they have a lot to say.

I'd be pretty useless in a 3e conversation- someone should definitely start that! I mean, that why we have ENWorld, right? ;)

4e would be cool, but I'm pretty sure it would get threadlocked within the hour. sigh
 

payn

Legend
These days, I'd say Arneson is "rated;" that is to say, neither over- or under- rated. Though I suspect, when you get to the younger generations, both he and Gygax are "unrated;" that their respective contributions just don't come up in conversation.

Also, one of my coworkers had him as a professor for one of his classes back in college, which still kinda blows my mind.
Its strange how much and little different groups and generations think of this stuff. Most millennial gamers I know learned about Gygax from his two lines on Futurama. No idea what TSR is or who Arneson might even be. They dont have much curiosity or care about the particulars. Could be an internet thing.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Its strange how much and little different groups and generations think of this stuff. Most millennial gamers I know learned about Gygax from his two lines on Futurama. No idea what TSR is or who Arneson might even be. They dont have much curiosity or care about the particulars. Could be an internet thing.

I don't think it's an internet thing. I think it's an age thing. When you're younger, you usually don't care about most history.* After all, that's old stuff. You're young, you're living in the present, you have a lot more to deal with. Not crusty olds trying to old-splain you why learning to drive manual is so important, or how there used to be a time before ATMs when you had to get your money on Friday.

At some point, I think you switch to appreciating history. Maybe because the present terrifies you. The only way to blot it out is history, or scotch. OR BOTH!


*It's a general statement. Some are really into history, but it's unusual.
 

MoonSong

Rules-lawyering drama queen but not a munchkin
I think he is both under and over rated at the same time. Not by the same people though. Some people don't give him enough respect for getting the ball rolling. Maybe because they don't really care about the past or they are members of the Church of st Garyᵀᵐ who are too invested on him. At the same time, we have the Arnesonites, who overstate Dave's contributions and diminish the work Gary did. It is from them that we have jewels such as "Gary stole D&D from Dave/Gary was but an editor"
 

MoonSong

Rules-lawyering drama queen but not a munchkin
Monte Cook arguably gets more credit for 3e than his co-contributors (i.e., Skip Williams, Jonathan Tweet), but a big part of that has to do with him being forthright about the behind-the-scenes design decisions of 3.0 and his public backlash against 3.5. (In short, 3.5 D&D was an intentional WotC cash-grab, with 3.0 being designed to test and prepare for 3.5.)
He gets all credit and all blame for the whole of 3.x, even the parts he didn't write.

As an aside, I remember chatting with some friends in late 1970s as to why the game was credited to “Gygax and Arneson” rather than alphabetically if they were co-equal. As UK 14 year olds, we had no idea.

On a more serious note regarding Arneson’s contributions and work ethic, I used to own (and have fond memories of) the JG Blackmoor campaign setting.
Anyone have any knowledge how it came about and how much Arneson contributed to it?
View attachment 145843
I'd love to put my paws on that book.
 

David Howery

Adventurer
These days, I'd say Arneson is "rated;" that is to say, neither over- or under- rated. Though I suspect, when you get to the younger generations, both he and Gygax are "unrated;" that their respective contributions just don't come up in conversation.

Also, one of my coworkers had him as a professor for one of his classes back in college, which still kinda blows my mind.
O
As an aside, I remember chatting with some friends in late 1970s as to why the game was credited to “Gygax and Arneson” rather than alphabetically if they were co-equal. As UK 14 year olds, we had no idea.

On a more serious note regarding Arneson’s contributions and work ethic, I used to own (and have fond memories of) the JG Blackmoor campaign setting.
Anyone have any knowledge how it came about and how much Arneson contributed to it?
View attachment 145843
i have that too, and was deeply unimpressed with it… atrocious writing.
 



Estlor

Explorer
I say this with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, but from a certain point of view, they're all overrated.

Gygax: Hey... instead of playing the French vs the British, why don't we play elves vs orcs?
Arneson: Hey... instead of armies on the battlefield, why don't we play individuals in a dungeon?
Gygax: I could sell that...

And the rest, as they say, is history.
 

Blue Orange

Adventurer
Also, one of my coworkers had him as a professor for one of his classes back in college, which still kinda blows my mind.

Well, I do know of one (in)famous case of a fantasy writer being someone's professor, but it's a little OT (spoilered to avoid thread derail)...

The Gor guy was a philosophy professor at CUNY Queens. He retired, but you can still find his RateMyProfessors ratings.
 

When I was a teen, I didn't know who Nolan Bushnell or Shigeru Miyamoto was, I just liked playing Atari and later Nintendo games. I do think that lately, there's been a tend towards aggressive nostalgia, which also manifests itself in curiosity and scholarly interest in the best case scenario. There are people that are intensely curious about D&D's history younger than I am. Some of my younger players get really interested when I talk about old D&D stuff, others, it's like I'm talking an alien language.

Its strange how much and little different groups and generations think of this stuff. Most millennial gamers I know learned about Gygax from his two lines on Futurama. No idea what TSR is or who Arneson might even be. They dont have much curiosity or care about the particulars. Could be an internet thing.
 

loverdrive

Makin' cool stuff (She/Her)
Hm...
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Good article again!

To me, going on this and other bits I've read, it seems that, despite being a bit of a useless so-and-so work-wise, Arneson invented or popularized what, to me, to groups I've played in, is what we really enjoyed about RPGs, and which was broadly applicable to multiple RPGs, which is a certain approach to DMing, to world-building, and so on, and it's one that EGG has both railed against in unequivocal terms, and also sort of seemed to almost-agree-with at others. In general though EGG has given the impression that his ideas re: how D&D and DMs should be were far narrower and even slightly repulsive to most people who run RPGs (including a lot of OSR people) - I mean, the less said about Role-playing Mastery the better. They say "Never meet your heroes" which is probably good advice (though I was behind Sigourney Weaver in a queue at a bookshop once and nothing bad happened except her smiling bodyguard looked at me in a "Don't try and ask for autograph, bro" way), and nothing disillusioned me about Gygax as hard as that book. I read it at 13 and I was already too sensible and too experienced as a DM for it. Awful.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
This one paragraph is really all you need to pass judgement.

If you believe the man co-created D&D (and you say you do), then it is not possible that he is overrated. He is the man who literally co-created the greatest RPG of all time and the RPG all others would be modeled after.
I don't agree with that. They were both new to fantasy RPGs, creating it as they went along, so while they did come up with an amazing game, they still both made errors along the way and some of those made it into the game. You can overrate them very easily if you ignore those mistakes.
 
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Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I think that quote is key. But it points directly to the view that Arneson invented D&D and Gygax published it. Gary never would have invented D&D on his own. Dave never would have published D&D on his own. There’s a clear line between creator and publisher or popularizer. I’m glad both were involved because I got to grow up playing these games, but it’s fairly clear one man created the thing itself...while the other put it out into the world.
I think this goes too far. Arneson had most of the ideas, but Gygax was a rules guy, and rules are a huge part of what makes a game. That makes it a pretty even split in my book.
 

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