Thursday, March 15, 2012

Happy Birthday Dave Wesely!

This is really weird — I'm going back to being the king of Holland.
                                                                                                   -- Dave Wesely

Many readers of this blog know that role-playing games have their origin in the wargaming hobby.  Specifically, Dave Wesely is responsible for the wargame ‘mutation’ (so to speak) which wbecame the progenitor of all RPGs.  As such, Dave Arneson considered Wesely to be the inventor of the role-playing game.  Today is Wesely’s birthday, so your humble host deems it fitting that we look at Wesely’s contributions to our hobby.

Back in the day, Arneson’s parents’ basement served as a weekly gathering place for grognards in and around St. Paul, Minnesota (although the term ‘grognard’ may not have been in vogue at the time).*  It was there that Wesely orchestrated a ‘Napoleonic’ scenario about the fictional Prussian town of Braunstein.  Wesely served as an impartial referee; while not innovative, this concept would become central to RPGs.  Of course, in wargames, players control military forces; however, in Braunstein (as the game came to be called), each player adopted an individual role, not necessarily that of a combatant.  Each role had its own goal, not necessarily a military goal.  With a multitude of goals came a plethora of ways players attempted to accomplish those goals and Wesely had not anticipated the variety of activity upon which players had their characters engage.  It was necessary for Wesely to improvise rules in order to accommodate the players’ intent.  Wesely saw the result as a mess and did not consider his effort to be successful.  However, the players wanted more, so Wesely crafted further Braunsteins.

With the new scenarios, he thought that restricting the activities of characters would make for a better, more controlled game.  Alas, the players preferred the freedom of action (along with the 1:1 player-character ratio).  The fourth Braunstein used a stereotypical banana republic as the setting.  In this game, Arneson focused on playing his role as opposed to playing merely the game.  As such, he helped develop the rich potential inherent in a role-playing game.  When Wesely went to serve in the military, Arneson continued the Braunstein tradition and established a setting based on fantasy literature, but that's another story.

Legend has it that Wesely introduced his Minnesota cohorts to the concept of using platonic solids as atypical dice.  The notion of polyhedral dice was certainly not new, but if not for Wesely such dice may not have not become associated with RPGs.

With regard to other accomplishments in gaming, Wesely designed 'Valley Forge' and is co-designer of the underrated 'Source of the Nile.'  He is also credited with the development of several video games from the early ’80s.

If your humble host produced documentaries, he would be all over this dude like white on rice.  If you know anyone who makes documentaries, please clue them in to Dave Wesely.  The man had a profound (if unintentional) effect on the hobby and his insight is invaluable.  Oh, and be sure to ask him about the time he nearly killed Arneson.

*  Speaking of Arneson’s parents’ basement, that place ought to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Seriously, just consider the pop culture and sociological impact of role-playing games, even if only computer RPGs.


  1. Another outstanding post. Nice to see that there is a true effort to expose the roots of our hobby and appreciate them.

    Keep this up and it will be difficult to hold your efforts toward legitimacy against you.


  2. You know I find it interesting how far RPG's have infiltrated our pop culture in general. The concept of levels, hit points, alignment and so much more that filtered from RPG's through video games and then penetrated deeply into our culture so that so many people are familiar with these terms and ideas. I would argue that most video games from arcade games to puzzle games borrow from easy rpg ideas. The "standard" D&D world seems to me have changed from being a mish-mash of fantasy properties into being THE defacto generic fantasy type setting. I think that we would live in a very different culture if not for the ideas that came from that small group of gamers in the 70's.