Dave Arneson, House Rules

Dave Arneson on Rules in Role-Playing Games

A young Dave Arneson looking to steal your girlfriend

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Dave Arneson.

When I first got into role-playing games back in 2004 he was the first mysteries I encountered (and not the last). I saw his name popping up here and there but there wasn’t really a context to him. His name was acknowledged in the 3.5 Player’s Handbook but that was really it.

Wikipedia, at the time, game him a bit of context but it was like grasping at straws. He helped create Role-playing, Dungeons & Dragons, and then he kind of . . . fell off the map. He was criticized on countless websites and often portrayed as though he were some kind of usurper to Gary Gygax’s legacy.

Then I found his website.

Dave Arneson’s website was basic but there was a glimpse into the depth of the man. I started reading an essay by him that first day and was captivated by his side of things. I followed it up by downloading everything he offered up for free on the site and reading all of it. I read the Original Dungeons & Dragons supplement, Blackmoor, at least a dozen times and soaked up a lot of Arneson’s aesthetic over the coming months as I read through everything he wrote.

As a result of discovering Dave Arneson I changed the way I played. I stopped being dogmatic when it came to the rules and started taking chances. I started following the Arneson aesthetic which is best represented best by this passage from an interview he had in Pegasus magazine:

Pegasus: So you think that there’s been too much dependence on trying to do everything in the rules, and getting away from the Judge’s own creativity?

Dave: Oh, yeah. Too many of them try to do everything, or they follow the official line of “You can’t change anything or you’ll destroy the rules.” Aw, forget it. That’s not the way things started, that’s not the way things should be. If something doesn’t work, get rid of it. If something works in another set of rules and you want to put it in your game, go for it. The [rules’] job is to make the referee’s life easier, so he can referee, not harder.”


The rules are supposed to make your life easier as a game master, not harder.

Steal everything. Steal every good idea, every fun rule, every exciting scenario and make it your own. Bring in Black Ogrun from Iron Kingdoms, Orcs from Warhammer, Bennies from Savage Worlds and everything else you love. Make it a Frankenstein’s Monster of goodness because it’s your game.


2 thoughts on “Dave Arneson on Rules in Role-Playing Games”

  1. I seem to be sharing this particular blog post about Dave Arneson as of late. The author describes spot-on what it was Arneson was like as a DM. http://beyondtheblackgate.blogspot.com/2011/07/dave-arneson-and-impartiality-in-temple.html

    As for the Arneson vs. Gygax debate, I almost wish I didn’t know that much about its history–but after reading Playing at the World and other sources, I belief now that Gygax got most of the credit for D&D… but he also got the most headaches. Meanwhile, Arneson, after a couple successful lawsuits, sat back and collected 6 figures a year until Wizards of the Coast bought him off.

    How does this sordid history influence my game?
    Not one bit… unless some angry grognard tries to chide me with this story (which would occasionally happen when I was younger.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I apologize for the long delay in responding Stelios. I had initially responded on my phone with the WordPress app but it appears that the comment never materialized.

      That said, what a fantastic post you shared! Really enjoyed reading it and I think you’re right about what Gygax and Arneson got out of the whole thing.

      Liked by 1 person

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