On paper Braunstein 4 looked like a wargame or a boardgame. Most of the players controlled units (army, the inland navy or the secret police) and filled out order sheets to send them places each turn. Want to take over the radio station? Send some soldiers!
And it might have stayed that way, except for the nefarious wiles of one player: Dave Arneson.
Dave Arneson: Gamer Ex Nihilo
“Peaceful revolutionary. Gets points for printing and delivering leaflets to each of his revolutionaries, and more for handing them out to other civilians (who may be agents or guerrillas of course…). Starts at home. (B-4)”
–Braunstein 4, Banana Republic
When you started gaming you read all these books, and they told you you could be a cleric or a thief or an elf (or a vampire or a Prince of Amber) and they told you you should probably pick a caller and set up a marching order and listen at doors and all that other stuff. You marched your character around and talked in funny voices. Sooner or later you may have realized that the rules didn’t drive the game, your imagination did.
But what if you never had any of those books? What if no one had ever explained to you what roleplaying was? Were you a good enough gamer to become a gamer without even knowing what a gamer was? Could you have just started being a gamer out of thin air, without anyone ever telling you how to do it?
Dave Arneson did.
He lied, swindled, improvised, and played his character to the hilt. He came to the game with fake CIA ID he’d mocked up, so when another player “captured” and searched him he could whip them out. Other players were still moving pieces around the board and issuing orders like a wargame while Dave Arneson was running circles around them and changing the whole scenario. He was winning the game entirely by roleplaying.
You may think of Dave Arneson as one of the godfathers of GMing, but even before that he was the godfather of players. He was, literally, the proto-player.
Modern Gamers: Teach Your Grandmother to Suck Eggs
“You’re the student revolutionary leader,” Wesely says “You get victory points for distributing revolutionary leaflets. You’ve got a whole briefcase full of them.”
Much later, having convinced his fellow players that he is really, perhaps, an undercover CIA operative, and that the entire nation’s treasury is really much safer in his hands, Dave Arneson’s character is politely ushered aboard a helicopter to whisk him to safety.
Far below the streets are still churning with fighting, plastic soldiers colliding with innocent citizens and angry rioters. In his lap sits the forgotten briefcase of revolutionary leaflets. “I get points for distributing these right?” And with a sweep of his arm he adds insult to injury, hurling reams of pages into the downdraft of the helicopter where they scatter and float lazily down upon the entire town…
Final score: Dave Arneson, plus several thousand points
Big whoop, you say, this is all old timey stuff. We modern gamers are way beyond dungeon crawls and listening at doors and all that primitive stuff. We have indie games and story games and narrative control and yadda yadda yadda.
Yes indeed. But even skipping the “standing on the shoulders of giants” argument or the “know your roots” argument, look again at what happened in that game: Dave Arneson was winning entirely by roleplaying. He isn’t doing tactical combat or playing some dumb-ass linear quest, he is making his own rules and being, for lack of a better word, an excellent player by any modern definition. He is making the game.
Don’t think Dave Arneson would kick your ass in some Sorcerer or Dogs In The Vineyard? Then you haven’t been paying attention. He would, as the kids say, take you to the net.
Modern gamers are pushing into new territory, but they’re also reclaiming old territory whether they know it not — the lands of their ancestors. If you’re an indie gamer or an avant garde gaming revolutionary, old school titans like Dave Arneson and Major Wesely are your peeps. They were trying things that had never been done before in their day too. They are your guys.
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