Monday, April 20, 2009

D&D Essentials and Concepts

As a follow up to yesterday’s post discussing Truths and Expectations, I wanted to discuss briefly that other list I threw together during my exploration of D&D concepts and categories.

Sham’s Essentials of D&D

1. Characters (Race/Class)
2. Ability Scores
3. Hit Points
4. Experience/Levels
5. Mechanics/Randomization
6. Adventuring Groups
7. Exploration
8. Hazards/Challenges (Monsters/Traps/Tricks, etc)
9. Treasure (Monetary/Magic)
10. Fantasy Setting (Dungeons/Wilderness)

I began thinking about the concept of D&D in earnest when I learned of Dave Arneson’s passing. I hate to admit it, but I suppose it is human nature to react this way. I did the same with Gary’s passing, reflecting upon his body of work and appreciating it more once he was dead than before. Surely there is a term for this state of mind. The sudden realization that there will be no more. It’s rather pathetic, honestly.

As I mentioned before, the above Essentials were all present in Dave Arneson’s formative Blackmoor games (not to be confused with Supplement II, Blackmoor). From what I gather, much of what is considered D&D was defined by Gary Gygax into the form we recognize today. For that matter, Blackmoor was influenced by Gygax’s own Chainmail game. But as far as the nuts and bolts of D&D, I am under the impression that Gygax applied his vast war gaming know-how to Arneson’s Blackmoor features. Not to say that Arneson was not an accomplished war gamer. The fact of the matter is that Gygax was simply better at explaining things with the written word. And he owned a typewriter, as Dave put it.

Gygax’s Greyhawk campaign, which preceded OD&D, was born of Blackmoor. Gary heard about Dave’s Blackmoor game, and that it used some bits of Chainmail, and he witnessed the game for himself. Gygax returned home and began his own Blackmoor inspired game named Greyhawk. Thus Blackmoor and Greyhawk became OD&D when the two agreed to publish some rules. Perhaps it is best that the events transpired this way. Accomplished game writer meets visionary gamer, and the two agree to turn the idea into a reality.

Unfortunately, Arneson’s planned D&D add-on, Supplement II, Blackmoor ended up being something not quite expected. I cannot remember the exact details, but if I have it right Arneson submitted reams of handwritten notes for the Supplement. The story I hear is that it would’ve taken many man hours to make heads or tails out of the disorganized pages. Someone else extracted some bits and threw a book together, but in my opinion really screwed the pooch. Get your hands on Arneson’s First Fantasy Campaign to see what Supplement II probably should have looked like.

Dave later took a position with TSR in what would turn out to be a very short-lived period of employ. It ended rather abruptly, and then the lawsuits began over the future use of the D&D name in other TSR publications. Sadly, history threatens to forget that Dave Arneson created the Essentials of D&D, the concept itself.

The above list must be credited where credit is due. Thank you Dave Arneson for creating and sharing this concept with us. Your presence in the gaming world will be missed, but your impact will never be forgotten. I hope that the next time you log into World of Warcraft, dear reader, you will realize that the concept is all Dave Arneson’s. WoW is an MMO that in fact blends all ten Essentials of D&D together. There would be no such game were it not for that creative college kid from Minnesota who dreamt up the perfect, heady concoction for endless entertainment.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee


John Stephens said...

Whirlwind romance, bitter divorce, nasty custody dispute, kid grows up twisted.

Haven't we all heard this story before?

Sham aka Dave said...

Ouch. That analogy is very appropriate. Quite insightful, John!

Matthew James Stanham said...

World of War Craft? I am trying earnestly to avoid ever logging into that game! :D

I believe it was Tim Kask who edited the original Blackmoor supplement, and found it exceedingly difficult to make coherent sense of. I suppose Arneson was not available?

Sham aka Dave said...

I did the WoW thing for a while. There's a lot to like, but MMOs are not for everyone. I enjoy computer games, but it's in small amounts these days.

I'm not sure of the entire story surrounding Supplement II. Dave Arneson actually took on a job with TSR after the fact, but I get the feeling the end was near before then.

Someone at Judges Guild was able to work with Dave on FFC, so it should have also been within TSR's power to do so for Blackmoor. It's easy to speculate, and this was all before the information age, so everything was done with good old fashioned snail mail and land lines.

I never read any of the DA stuff which TSR put out in the 80's, but I feel that the company made some efforts in later years to get Dave involved again. I should probably track that stuff down sometime.

Gluvin said...

I stumbled upon this page, to pay respect to David Arneson.....I havent gamed in 13 yrs, but I remember some pretty twisted nights in college.....May your infinate ale bubble out of an orcs skull dave, cheers!

Sham aka Dave said...

Thanks, Gluvin. I truly hope that Dave Arneson is remembered for his impactful contributions to the greater gaming world.

riprock said...

Kask seems to have hated Arneson with a passion.

Arneson seems to have been highly educated but with a somewhat low EQ, emotional intelligence quotient. The rest of the TSR crowd seems to have been under-educated but highly intelligent in both with IQ and EQ sense.

Kask referred to Arneson as a toad. Arneson made nasty jokes about Kask's typographical errors. Hate at first sight.

The Kask-Arneson feud is posted somewhere -- I think on Dragonsfoot -- I need to find the link.

riprock said...

Kask's comments are extremely anti-Arneson:

I guess it is time to explain what has been perceived as a personal animus that I have for Dave Arneson, who some seem to think is some sort of persecuted saint, particularly on another site that seems to have declared jihad.

From the very first time I met him, I got the impression of a smirky, superior-to thou attitude of a person who could barely be bothered to recognize your very existence. The first couple of years I was part of TSR, I never had any sort of inflated opinion of myself, my abilities or my being part of TSR; TSR was still the upstart, new kid on the block. As anyone who knew me BITD can attest, I was a very gregarious and overtly friendly fellow. Without resorting to name-dropping, I can simply state that I feel very fortunate to have been friends with, or at the very least on excellent speaking terms with a good number of the founding fathers and leading lights of the gaming business. I seriously doubt that anyone that knew me back then will tell you that I had any sort of ego problems or inflated opinion of myself. For whatever reason, he barely deigned to acknowledge my very existence. (I certainly didn't feel that any sort of recognition was due me except in the most rudimentary human-to-human way.)

I was never once invited to play in any game of his. That hasn't made me bitter or envious or feel slighted, only puzzled. Why he felt like this I have absolutely no idea. Perhaps he thought I was a threat to his repute--I honestly don't know. I did have a rep of being a very good and very skillful gamer; I won all the miniatures tournaments that I entered at GenCon before going to work in LG, and was damned hard to beat in any boardgame I played. Hell, Gary saw that and I think that was part of the reason I got hired. The couple of occasions when I asked if I could play, I was told the game was already filled--who knows? Maybe it was. It was no big deal to me at the time. I was much more DM oriented than PC oriented then anyway...

The main cause of my animus has to do with DRAGON magazine. For some reason, Dave came to work in LG about the time TD was getting up and running. When the first issue to come out after his arrival did, all I got were tepid, snarky and vague remarks as feedback, with some bizarre reference to "doughnuts".

Next issue, same story and more gibberish about doughnuts.

Following issue got more of the same.

Finally, Dave Sutherland, with whom DA shared an office space, gave me the explanation about the doughnuts. It seems that on the night that each issue came from the printer, DA would take it home and pore over it looking for typos and anything else he perceived to be printing errors. As he circled each one, it became a doughnut.

About the fourth issue while he was still there, he had the unmitigated effrontery to present me with a box of cheap doughnuts in "recognition" of the latest issue.

I freely admit that THE DRAGON was a labor of love, second in my affections only to my family. I worked on it like a dog: writing, editing, re-writing, proofing, paste-up, art selection, photo-cropping--I did it all and loved everty minute.

When Dave gave me his smirky brush-off of the latest issue, I asked him very earnestly and honestly if he would like to help me proof it. I explained how hard it is to proof your own writing (God knows he should have known that) and that once you missed something, you were 80 to 90 percent unlikely to catch it on a subsequent proofing. (Stats from a Journalism course I took, not my own numbers.)

The barely civil response I got was that he was far too busy (doing what I have no idea as I never saw anything he produced during that time make it into print or production) and that as I was so obviously so bad at it that I should find someone else forthwith.

The Toad reference comes from his physiognomy at the time. Dave was very, very pale, and possessed no visible chin. His jowls ran from his cheeks to his collarbone. (Not his fault, I know; God has a perverse sense of humor when it comes to looks. And God knows I am no handsome devil myself.) Whenever Dave got snarky, he would make bug-eyed faces much like a toad might look just before he inflates his neck. Hence, the nickname in my mind.

So now you know the rest of the story.
There's more... much more...

Sham aka Dave said...

Riprock: Thanks for the comments. Clearly Arneson had his shortcomings, and apparently Kask and he were like oil and water. I often assume that Gygax and Arneson had the falling out. Perhaps Arneson simply didn't work well with others, Gygax notwithstanding.

Thanks a lot for the quote, and for the link. I'm off to do some reading at DF now!

The salient point is that Arneson captured lightning in a bottle when he melded the essential elements of what was to become D&D together in his Blackmoor game. Gygax was the influence and force that made D&D actually happen as a publication and gaming phenomenon.

I have immeasurable respect for the both of them, and for their creation, Dungeons & Dragons.

Havard: said...

When analysing people's social skills, it is worth noting that it is usually the case that there are faults on both sides. From a professional pov, it was IMO a terrible mistake of TSR that they were unable to comprehend Dave's genius. Imagine what they could have achived if they had been able to unite the creative forces of both Dave and Gary? They were the Beatles of RPGs.