Minnpost writes about Dave Arneson's Blackmoor game

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Minnpost writes about Dave Arneson's Blackmoor game

Post by Big Mac » Wed May 15, 2019 12:57 am

MinnPost have written an article about how Dave Arneson's Blackmoor game was created after Dave studied history at the University of Minnesota.

According to Jonah Lemkins's article, Dave Arneson was already a member of the Midwest Military Simulation Association and was playing historical wargames, before going to the University of Minnesota to study history and then returning to the Twin Cities to develop his Blackmoor game.

Does anyone know if Dave Arneson spoke to other people at the University of Minnesota about historical wargaming or Chainmail? Did he run or play in any games at the University of Minnesota?

Was there a gaming group at the university that took up Dungeons & Dragons? If so, did they play using Dave Arneson's Blackmoor world?
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Re: Minnpost writes about Dave Arneson's Blackmoor game

Post by Morfie » Wed May 15, 2019 7:24 am

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Re: Minnpost writes about Dave Arneson's Blackmoor game

Post by Havard » Wed May 15, 2019 9:08 pm

Morfie wrote:
Wed May 15, 2019 7:24 am
*waits for Havard* :D
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Big Mac wrote:
Wed May 15, 2019 12:57 am
MinnPost have written an article about how Dave Arneson's Blackmoor game was created after Dave studied history at the University of Minnesota.
Very nice article! Thanks for posting the link here. It is great seeing more attention given to Dave Arneson now, 10 years after his passing. I'm guessing the recent release of the documentary Secrets of Blackmoor may have contributed to this revival.

The article sadly makes the classic mistake of putting too much emphasis on the role of Chainmail in the development of Blackmoor, which I have written about here.

MinnPost wrote:Dave Arneson was not asked to join the company, in part because Gygax saw Arneson as a designer, not a businessman.
This is an interesting observation, that I believe came to light in one of the recent books on Gygax. It was previously assumed that Arneson showed little interest in helping fund a company, mainly because he was in his early 20s, still a student and probably did not have the kind of money Gygax needed from partners. The lack of financing was what lead Gygax to partner up with people who would eventually force him out of the company.
MinnPost wrote:In 1984, Arneson was elected into the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design Hall of Fame. Gygax contracted him to write adventures for TSR based on his original Blackmoor setting in 1986.
This was quite a curious turn of events that gave us the DA modules. It seems that TSR's serious financial crisis at the time was what may have spurred Gygax to contact Arneson about the Blackmoor modules. This, in addition to various other moves by Gary helped save the company, but resulted in Lorraine Williams taking control of TSR forcing Gary out. Apparently Williams was set to undo these moves by Gary, resulting in the DA module line being cut short. Various people have tried to portray either Gygax, Williams or Arneson as villains in the story of TSR, but I try to avoid that type of discussion. Still, the dynamics between them and the decisions made are interesting to a Blackmoor fan. I'm glad we finally got the Blackmoor modules, but it is a shame that Dave wasn't consulted for DA4 and that DA5 was cancelled even thought he script was completed.

Big Mac wrote:
Wed May 15, 2019 12:57 am
According to Jonah Lemkins's article, Dave Arneson was already a member of the Midwest Military Simulation Association and was playing historical wargames, before going to the University of Minnesota to study history and then returning to the Twin Cities to develop his Blackmoor game.
Certainly. Dave grew into becoming an important member of this group.
Does anyone know if Dave Arneson spoke to other people at the University of Minnesota about historical wargaming or Chainmail? Did he run or play in any games at the University of Minnesota?
Dave participated in many games and wargaming campaigns in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis & St. Paul, Minnesota) gaming community. He took part in Tom Webster's Atlantis Campaign, Prof. Barker's Tekumel Campaign, David Wesely's Naopleonics and Braunstein Games and more. He also ran a major Napoleonics Era Wargaming campaign. I don't think Chainmail was very big in the area, mainly because the Wargamers were mostly less interested in Medieval Era Gaming. They were mostly into Ancients (Antinquity era) and Napoleonics Wargaming.

There was some tension between older and younger members of the Midwest Military Simulation Association and Dave Arneson was one of the people who were really fed up with people who were supposed to play wargames, but ended up arguing about historical facts etc. This contributed to Dave looking into the possibility of incorporating fantay elements into his world and he began working on what he called a Medieval Braunstein Game set around a Castle called Blackmoor.

Was there a gaming group at the university that took up Dungeons & Dragons? If so, did they play using Dave Arneson's Blackmoor world?
I've heard claims that there were around 30 people running Blackmoor games in the 1970s. I believe most of these switched to D&D after it was published. Dave kept the rules secret from his players, so I think most people would have appreciated having a published ruleset.


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Re: Minnpost writes about Dave Arneson's Blackmoor game

Post by Havard » Thu May 16, 2019 8:00 am

Rereading the article, there are several mistakes in the article, many of which would probably seem minor to those outside the hobby, but more annoying for gamers. While I think the attention given to Chainmail is uneccessary, the article actually wrongly gives Arneson credit for changing Chainmail to single character units and also for adding the fantasy rules. We are talking about draft versions of the Chainmail rules here rather than the published version, but from what I understand those things already existed in those Chainmail rules, even if the fantasy rules were included as a few pages of optional rules by Gygax while Dave made his setting explicitly fantasy.

Again, I think the role of Chainmail in the development of fantasy RPGs is greatly exaggerated because it misses the point of what roleplaying games are and why they are fundamentally different from wargaming. D&D was a game that revolutionized gaming and created a new genre of games. Dave Arneson took inspiration from Chainmail, Braunstein, Diplomacy and a wide range of other games, but it was the way these were combined in Blackmoor that created the foundation that D&D is built on. It was when Dave demonstrated this game at Lake Geneva in 1971 that Gary realized that this was something they could publish as a brand new game. I don't think either of the co-creators really realized what they were about to do untill many years later.

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Re: Minnpost writes about Dave Arneson's Blackmoor game

Post by willpell » Fri May 17, 2019 11:31 pm

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Re: Minnpost writes about Dave Arneson's Blackmoor game

Post by Dread Delgath » Sat May 18, 2019 9:52 pm

I've seen videos on YouTube about Arneson's early wargaming days before Chainmail. Those videos claimed that Dave's main influence on his future RPG creations (pre-D&D, aka Blackmoor) was Diplomacy or Strategos, or variations on those rules.
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Re: Minnpost writes about Dave Arneson's Blackmoor game

Post by Havard » Sun May 19, 2019 1:02 pm

Dread Delgath wrote:
Sat May 18, 2019 9:52 pm
I've seen videos on YouTube about Arneson's early wargaming days before Chainmail. Those videos claimed that Dave's main influence on his future RPG creations (pre-D&D, aka Blackmoor) was Diplomacy or Strategos, or variations on those rules.
IMO it is better to look at this from a different perspective to include not just combat, but all the revolutionary elements of D&D that were in place in the Blackmoor Campaign:

COMBAT
It is difficult to say exactly how the rules worked because Dave kept the rules secret from his players, because he did not want the game bogged down by people arguing about rules, which apparently was a common problem among wargamers at the time. Different wargaming rulesets have been mentioned such as Strategos, "Korns" (Modern War in Miniature by Michael Korns 1966) and Chainmail (Gygax, Perren). Dave certainly adopted elements from Chainmail such as various units, monsters, spells etc, but greatly expanded on these. As to the rules himself, he says he quickly dropped most of the rules from Chainmail. It is possible that he had motives for saying this, but it is worth noting that the Blackmoor rules likely changed constantly. Players complained that their characters were killed after one hit (standard wargaming), so he added a hit point like mechanic etc.
Dave also added a proto armor class type system which he originally had created for a Naval Game that was never published.

ROLEPLAYING
Roleplaying was common in many wargaming circles as one would take on the role of ones "General" before a battle, but this was certainly a secondary feature and quickly dropped as the wargame part commenced. Arneson's friend David Wesely took this roleplaying element to an extreme in Braunstein. However, Braunstein was very different from D&D as it was a player vs player game with a defined end goal and was not played as a campaign. Diplomacy is another example of a game where negotiations style roleplaying is common. Blackmoor also developed characters with more depth than Braunstein's (since Blackmoor was a campaign rather than a oneshot), included early versions of the alignment system ("Good guys" and "bad guys", character's could have hobbies, goals, backgrounds etc.

CHARACTER ABILITY SCORES AND SKILLS
Blackmoor Character sheets looked different from modern D&D sheets, but many of the elements were in place including most of the currently used ability scores. Sheets also included something resembling skills. It is possible some of the ideas for the concept of character sheets might have come from various war games, including stats for General, but also for offspring which could be married off to form alliances etc. Braunstein also had character sheets, but those only included text information about the character, his goals etc.

CHARACTER ADVANCEMENT
Chainmail divided characters into Flunkies, Heroes and Superheroes (also Wizards), but there were no rules to advance from Flunky to Hero etc. These terms were used in the Blackmoor Campaign, but since unlike Braunstein, Blackmoor was designed as a campaign style play, Dave had to come up with advancement rules and gradually Levels.

DUNGEON CRAWLING
This is something unique to the Blackmoor group although Dave Arneson may have had help from his players such as David Megarry and Duane Jenkins. Dave Arneson was always ready to try out new ideas and was very open to suggestions from his players, epecially those from his core group.

WILDERNESS EXPLORATION
Avalon Hill's Outdoor Survival Game (1972) certainly influenced the way exploring the Wilderness now became an important part of Blackmoor, interestingly coinciding with the group being forced out of Blackmoor and to resettle near Loch Gloomen?

COOPERATIVE PLAY/THE MODERN DUNGEON MASTER
Another significant difference between traditional war games and modern RPGs is that earlier games had a neutral refree and that the game would focus on players vs players. Blackmoor also started like this with some players taking on "the good guys" while others, typically casual gamers would get to play "the bad guys". However, since gradually noone wanted to play the Bad Guys, Dave decided to take on those characters himself and let all the players run the good guys. Apprently such a rule exists in the "Korns" ruleset, so it is possible this is where Dave got the idea from?

THE POWER OF IMAGINATION
Really another core concept of modern RPGs is drawing on the power of imagination. Dave's decision to make his game a fantasy game is not a coincidence. He was tired of wargamers debating historical realism that kept bringing wargames to a halt. Using a fantasy setting allowed him to get the players into the mindset that anything was possible and that THEY could do anything. Although we soon after the publication of D&D also got to see RPGs from almost any genre, I think the decision to make his game fantasy was important in showcasing how RPGs truly were fundamentally different from what had come before.

The Blackmoor Campaign also included a bunch of other elements and I am sure much of it involved ripping rules and concepts from various existing games. Blackmoor included Warfare, construction of strongholds, Trade Wars, Naval Battles, Aerial Battles with Dragons, Crashed Spaceships, Vampire Hunts, Slavers, Time Travel, Word War II crossovers, Viking Raiders, Players achieving Godhood, Planar Travels, Journeys to Other Campaign Settings and much more.


Chainmail, Strategos, Korns, Braunstein, Outdoor Survival etc all undoubtedly influenced Dave Arneson, but I think the risk we run from these discussions is overlooking how fundamentally different D&D is from the games that existed before it and how many of those fundamentally new ideas were introduced in Dave Arneson's campaign.


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Re: Minnpost writes about Dave Arneson's Blackmoor game

Post by stebehil » Sun Aug 25, 2019 11:00 am

I don´t know if there is a thread dedicated to it, but I watched the documentary Havard linked above last night. From this, I get the distinct impression that David Weselys Braunstein games are indeed crucial in the development of RPGs as we know them today, even though they worked differently from what are RPGs today. In the end, there is no single inventor of RPGs, but a group of people playing with new ideas how to play games that are fun. Dave Arneson surely gave these ideas an unique twist with his Blackmoor game, and probably took the biggest step forward towards RPGs, but his work is based on a very special group dynamic. At least thats what I read from that documentary.

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Re: Minnpost writes about Dave Arneson's Blackmoor game

Post by Havard » Sun Aug 25, 2019 12:16 pm

stebehil wrote:
Sun Aug 25, 2019 11:00 am
I don´t know if there is a thread dedicated to it, but I watched the documentary Havard linked above last night. From this, I get the distinct impression that David Weselys Braunstein games are indeed crucial in the development of RPGs as we know them today, even though they worked differently from what are RPGs today. In the end, there is no single inventor of RPGs, but a group of people playing with new ideas how to play games that are fun. Dave Arneson surely gave these ideas an unique twist with his Blackmoor game, and probably took the biggest step forward towards RPGs, but his work is based on a very special group dynamic. At least thats what I read from that documentary.

Indeed, David Wesely was an important influence on Dave Arneson and Wesely's Braunstein concepts became integral to D&D via Dave Arneson. Braunstein introduced the idea of playing a single character with unique motivations, "Diplomacy style" roleplaying, etc. It is important to note that Braunstein games differed very much from D&D as well since they were based on the wargaming tradition of one player or one side winning the game (through reaching objectives), there were no ability scores or possibility for character advancement and there was no campaign play. Once the session was over, a winner was declared and the players would not return to those characters again.

In addition to the single character focus and roleplaying elements, I also think Dave Arneson really appreciated another aspect of Braunstein: The idea that your imagination is the only limit to what could be done in the game. Dave Arneson won the second Braunstein, The Banana Republic, by sheer ingeniousity and creativity which impressed the older Wesely.

Dave Arneson was AFAIK the first to introduce the Braunstein concepts to a medieval (later fantasy) environment that he called Blackmoor, while previous games had been placed in various settings.

RPG experiences are never the creations of the GMs themselves and I think for both Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax, credit should be given to their friends and players for many of the ideas that were brought into D&D.

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