Dave Arneson's True Genius by Robert J. Kuntz

Rob Kuntz was present at the dawn of the RPG hobby. He was a foundation member of the Lake Geneva Tactical Studies Association founded by Gary Gygax, co-DM of Gygax's famous Greyhawk campaign, and one of the first employees of TSR. When he speaks about the origins of Dungeons and Dragons in particular, he speaks with rare authority.

He has written a small monograph called "Dave Arneson's True Genius". Kuntz describes it as "The FIRST book ever written on D&D's co-designer!" Kuntz primarily wants to draw attention to Arneson's "unparralleled achievements" in the field of game design; along the way, he wishes to correct several historical errors he has seen published concerning the origins of D&D.

Kuntz immediately weights into the perennial debate about whether Gygax or Arneson invented D&D. In the preface he describes Arneson as "the inventor of the RPG conceptual engine. He and his players from the Twin Cities were the founding Fantasy Role-Players of the world, and almost a good two years before they introduced Dave's concept to Gary Gygax, myself, my brother Terry Kuntz and Ernie Gygax in November 1972". He further spends a substantial amount of time "debunking" the idea that D&D was directly derived either from Gygax's Chainmail game, or the Braunstein game devised by David Wesley. He will allow these systems no more than the status of "influences". Kuntz has no doubts that Gygax and Arneson developed and published the game that Arneson alone had devised.

These are conentious claims and will no doubt spur much debate (it's worth pointing out that another early TSR employee, Tim Kask, has a very different view on Arnesons' contribution to game). But Kuntz makes an even bolder assertion - that Arneson's "open" concept of gameplay, as embodied in classic (or original) Dungeons & Dragons, was compromised and corrupted in later versions of the game, starting with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Kuntz believed this was done for purely commercial reasons, and that the hobby never recovered. A sequel to the present book is currently being produced, whereby Kuntz will develop this idea further, and also paint his own vision for the hobby.

Large parts of this book are dense with abstract ideas, and Kuntz uses a very specific (and sometimes unfamiliar) vocabulary when talking about systems and games theory. Some people will find these parts challenging. The most accessible parts are the small historical anecdotes that Kuntz peppers throughout the pages. I wish there had been far more of these (the author does hint at a forthcoming memoir), and I also would have liked to see a little more biographical information about Arneson, given he is the subject of the book.

Clearly not a book for everyone, but for those (like myself) who are interested in the history of our hobby, it provides some fascinating and idiosyncratic insights.

Dave Arneson's True Genius by Robert J. Kuntz is published by Three Line Studios, and can be purchased here.

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