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Ave Atque Vale: Dave Arneson

posted Aug 8, 2012, 10:36 PM by Douglas Sun
Originally posted: April 8, 2009

Word has circulated through the gaming community that Dave Arneson, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, passed away last night. I got the sense that those in the know understood that he had been in poor health, and so there was not much surprise, but there was much sadness. Arneson, of course, created Blackmoor, which is commonly acknowledged as the very first D&D campaign setting, and that alone makes him one of the hobby's legends. All of us who derive any sort of enjoyment from RPGs — not just D&D — are his progeny in some way.

For some reason, the news of his passing affects me more than that of his colleague Gary Gygax, who died just about a year ago. Perhaps it is because I heard the news through sources who had personal knowledge of it, rather than through the news media. Or perhaps because, unlike Gygax, I actually saw Arneson in person — at GenCon SoCal five years ago, at the Goodman Games booth.

But perhaps something else is at work. Gygax was synonymous with D&D and even became a minor celebrity; I remarked to some friends that I was a little surprised to see his obit get a prominent place on cnn.com and AOL's news feed; coming from the press, that's respect, when they consider your death to be big news. I will be pleasantly surprised if Arneson gets the same attention, although he deserves it as much as Gygax did. He was just as much an animating genius in the development of D&D; it’s just that he never got to play himself on Futurama.

At least Arneson, like Gygax, lived long enough to make a comeback. Joe Goodman had both the pastedGraphic.pdfgood sense and the class to publish a D&D 3E version of Blackmoor; hence his presence at the Goodman Games booth at GenCon SoCal to promote it. As Ken Hite put it in his “Out of the Box” eulogy today, “there should have been throngs of worshipers bestrewing his lap with rose petals, or a shaft of light from the Fifth Heaven, or an honor guard of bugbears, or something,” but I saw just one or two people at a time interested in talking to him, an unassuming older fellow with a good-natured smile and his white hair tied back in a ponytail. I really should have gone up to him and introduced myself. But I didn’t quite know what to say to him at the time beyond something like, “Wow. Dude. You’re Dave Arneson!” And now I regret passing on the chance to even say that much.

Hail and farewell.