Dave Arneson dies at 61; co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons

Dave Arneson
Dave Arneson was inducted into the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design Hall of Fame in 1984.
Associated Press

Dave Arneson, one of the co-creators of the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy game and a pioneer of role-playing entertainment, died after a two-year battle with cancer. He was 61.

Arneson’s daughter, Malia Weinhagen of Maplewood, Minn., said her father died Tuesday at a hospice care facility in St. Paul, Minn.

Arneson and Gary Gygax developed Dungeons & Dragons in 1974 using medieval characters and mythical creatures. The game known for its oddly shaped dice became a hit, particularly among teenage boys. It eventually was turned into video games, books and movies. Gygax died in March 2008.

“The biggest thing about my dad’s world is he wanted people to have fun in life,” Weinhagen said. “I think we get distracted by the everyday things you have to do in life and we forget to enjoy life and have fun. But my dad never did. He just wanted people to have fun.”

Dungeons & Dragons players create fictional characters and carry out their adventures with the help of complicated rules. The quintessential geek pastime, it spawned copycat games and later inspired a whole genre of computer games that is still growing in popularity.

Arneson “developed many of the fundamental ideas of role playing: that each player controls just one hero, that heroes gain power through adventures and that personality is as important as combat prowess,” according to a statement from Wizards of the Coast, a subsidiary of Hasbro Inc. that produces Dungeons & Dragons.

Blackmoor, a game that Arneson was developing before Dungeons & Dragons, was the “first-ever role-playing campaign and the prototype for all [role-playing game] campaigns since,” the company said.

Arneson and Gygax were dedicated tabletop war-game players who re-created historical battles with painted miniature armies and fleets. They met in 1969, and their first collaboration, along with Mike Carr, was a set of rules for sailing-ship battles called “Don’t Give Up the Ship!”

In later years, Arneson published other role-playing games and started his own game-publishing company and computer-game company. He also taught classes in game design. He was inducted into the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design Hall of Fame in 1984.

Arneson was born in Hennepin County, Minn., on Oct. 1, 1947. He was a history student at the University of Minnesota when he met Gygax at a gaming convention in August 1969.

Weinhagen said that in recent years her father enjoyed teaching game design at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Fla., where he taught students to make a solid set of rules for their games.

“He said if you have a good foundation and a good set of rules, people would play the game again,” Weinhagen said.

In addition to his daughter, Arneson is survived by two grandchildren.

Get our Today's Headlines newsletter