50 years ago today, a group of gamers gathered in the basement of the Arneson home in St.Paul, Minnesota.
They were there for the monthly meeting of their war game club, the Midwest Military Simulation Association. For the gamers who played with Dave Arneson, this night would be similar to every other game night. No one could have known that this would be the beginning of Fantasy Gaming as a hobby industry worth billions of dollars.
It is easy to romanticize an event such as Arneson’s first foray as a fantasy game master. To the Blackmoor Bunch it was just another Braunstein role playing game which was already a very familiar play style to them.
They had also been given some idea that this game would be different from the historical wargaming they had been doing due to a tiny announcement in the previous issue of their fanzine, The Corner of the Table Top.
I was not even two years old at the time. I started playing RPGs in September of 1982 when I asked for and received Traveller for my birthday and was introduced to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons that December. So the industry had grown and begun to mature by the time I got my start, and for a long time I was not terribly interested in the origins and the playstyles of the early days. But over time my appreciation for the way things developed and especially why they developed the way they did has become an increasingly-important topic for me, both out of historical curiosity and to be able to understand and run the game more like it was originally meant to be run.
As time has passed, I’ve discovered that many of the bits and pieces that I most enjoy about the game seem to be from Arneson’s contributions. And I sort of suspect that a lot of inspiration for parts of Traveller come from what we now see as “Arnesonian” ideas, though I have no facts to back that up. But I’ve been a little surprised to learn that when there were two ways to do things, I usually come down on the Arneson side of the line. It’s a little like one day suddenly realizing that your answer to the “John or Paul” question is “George.”
I’ve been wanting to re-watch the excellent Secrets of Blackmoor documentary again, and the passing of this 50th anniversary is an excellent reason.