Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Origin Stories from David Wesely

Last week, David Wesely was in town (Omaha) visiting family, and since we always try to get together whenever he does, we invited him to join us at PretCon 2016.  Luckily for us, the Major graciously agreed, taking time out to speak with his many admirers and to offer his inexhaustible store of gaming lore...

Because, you see, David Wesely was actually THERE...    

In Wesely's original (Braunstein) game, each player was given a character by the referee, each with their own goals and objectives within a single-session game.  This was the beginning of people controlling a single character instead of a whole army.  The origin of role-playing as we know and love it.

Incidentally, Braunstein is German for "Brown-Stone", and we eventually saw Arneson's "Black-Moor and Gary's "Grey-Hawk" as a play on this naming convention...

Braunstein became the working title for this sort of game, with references to medieval and third-world "Braunsteins" in the earliest correspondence between the original group.  And of course, this includes the game that would eventually become D&D, but only after going through a transitional phase, shedding its original properties for something both more familiar and standardized.

Major Wesely and Captain George holding a
copy of Olde House Rules' Barons of Braunstein in its (still
very limited) print form.  Maybe this will change...

Understand that in Braunstein, actions and outcomes were pretty spontaneous and subject to interpretation from Wesely (something we talked about in this post).  And Blackmoor began in a similar fashion, something underscored by this little story Dave shared with us at the gaming table at PretzCon 2016...

In the very beginning, players were still assigned characters per Braunstein.  Since Wesely was still in the Army and, alone, had combat training, Arneson made him a fighter (while others got to be magicians or something similar).  

So as Wesely tells it, the party was camping in the woods when a powerful troll emerged from the shadows.  And Wesely's fighter attempted to hamstring the horrid beast with his great sword, being trained and equipped to do this warrior stuff.  

But Arneson said "sorry, trolls are made of stone and your sword shatters against its leg."  This was an early act of refereeing by another of the founding fathers of the gaming hobby.  And it got everyone present demanding more detailed and objective standards for monsters, armor, weaponry, and gameplay in general...

Now it occurred to me then (and even now) that this seemingly innocuous moment between friends helped to propel the hobby into a more detailed and concise form, adding specific rules for what characters and monsters were capable of in the context of a game, and Wesely's story at PretzCon demonstrates this.

Interestingly, our own games are trending back to this earlier mentality, although some effort is made to preserve a basic thread of objectivity with regards to powers and enemies.  But we still emphasize human interaction, critical decision-making, and proper role-playing in a setting where powers and whatnot, although important in any fantasy game, come second to actual personalities!

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