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Troy’s Crock Pot: Arneson had the heart of a player

Posted By Troy E. Taylor On May 5, 2009 @ 6:06 am In Crock Pot | 3 Comments

What’s the Crock Pot? Just a simmering bowl of lentils and herbs, with a dash of DMing observations. Don’t be afraid to dip in your ladle  and stir, or throw in something from your own spice rack.

Back in the saddle again

First, thanks to Martin and the gang for allowing me to take a short hiatus.

Dave Arneson, 1947-2009

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to post my appreciation of D&D co-creator Dave Arneson shortly after his death on April 7. But I hope even a belated mention is better than none at all for the pioneer of modern roleplaying games.

Keeping the players involved

In the April/May 1981 issue of Pegasus magazine, Arneson did an interview with the late Bob Bledsaw of the Judges Guild — back in the day game masters were still called Judges, a holdover from the hobby’s wargaming roots.

The interview is extensive, and covers a wide range of topics. But I think this one question and answer not only provides good GMing advice, it captures how Arneson cultivated camaraderie around a gaming table:

Pegasus: When judging a campaign, do you allow your players to roll their own hits and saving thows? Why?

Mr. Arneson: Yes I do, because it gets them more involved. As a matter of fact, when a character gets killed, I let the player run the monsters that the party encounters. This way he or she stays involved, rather than becoming a spectator or leaving. When the party encounters intelligent monsters, I brief them on what the monster’s life goals are (usually “Guard this room, don’t let anyone in”). Then if the party wants to negotiate, they negotiate with him rather than me. That system also takes a little pressure off of me as a Judge. Besides, the players always feel that if they roll the dice, they are more likely to get the number they need.

The heart of a player

The man who developed the idea of having player characters explore dungeons also had the heart of a player. Arneson understood — better than most of us, I’d wager —that maintaining interest in a turn-based rpg required everyone to participate at all times, and to have a sense that they controlled their character’s destiny.

It’s a lesson game masters — Judges, if you will — should keep foremost in their minds. You want to honor Arneson? Run your games with that intent. I think you’ll find your game table to be a more rewarding place to be.

Last words

I’d like to recommend a couple of good reads.

Kobald Quarterly 9 did the last known interview with Arneson, which came out just days after his death.

History buffs should track down Jonathan Jacobs’ latest project, “Open Game Table: The Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs, Volume 1.” It has a four-page article by Ars Ludi’s Ben Robbins detailing the history of David Wesely’s Braunstein game — which was perhaps the first one player to one character (1:1) scaled roleplaying games — and the important role the Minneapolis-St. Paul-area gamers had in developing it. Notable among the membership of the Midwest Military Simulation Association in the 1960s was a young, wily player — by the name of Dave Arneson.

About  Troy E. Taylor

Troy's happiest when up to his elbows in plaster molds and craft paint, creating terrain and detailing minis for his home game. A career journalist and Werecabbages freelancer, he also claims mastery of his kettle grill, from which he serves up pizza to his wife and three children.




3 Comments (Open | Close)

3 Comments To "Troy’s Crock Pot: Arneson had the heart of a player"

#1 Comment By deadlytoque On May 5, 2009 @ 9:41 am

I love the idea of letting players run monsters in monster-bash games. I have always allowed players with no character in the action to run my NPCs, but never really thought of this adversity (in fact, in one game, I gave two out-of-play players the role of a team of cyborg El Doradan cops in a particularly gonzo game of Rifts and they ended up busting the PCs for various criminal acts and running their own little interrogation scene with no prompting at all from me. I always wanted to go back to those crazy, feather-bedecked, solid gold Robocops and find out what they got themselves up to).

#2 Comment By AndreasDavour On May 5, 2009 @ 9:55 am

Open Game Table suddenly became a lot more interesting for me! Thanks for letting me know.

BTW, I have posted about my impressions of the interview with Dave in Kobold Quarterly here if anyone’s interested.

#3 Comment By Martin Ralya On May 5, 2009 @ 10:18 pm

It’s good to have you back in the stewpot, Troy!


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