RIP: David Lance Arneson


The world has lost another great nerd. David Lance Arneson, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons has passed away and I’m sure he would have wanted his obituary to claim that he failed to make his saving throw against cancer (well, maybe not). Having lost Gary Gygax last year, I couldn’t help but feel a flood of D&D memories spewing into my brain like the acid attack from an Elemental Drake. I’m pretty sure I got my D&D books around 1981, the same year I got my TRS-80 computer, an Atari 2600 and a Darth Vader helmet case for all of my Star Wars action figures. It was a banner nerd year.

I still have every one of those original books today: Dungeon Masters Guide, Field Folio, Monster Manual & Player’s Handbook. The drawings are crude and some parts of the books have a typewriter font that makes them seem more typed and photocopied than typeset. None of us really knew how to play D&D for a while – all the dice-rolling and looking-up of charts were confusing. That didn’t matter, because drawing Beholders on notebook paper was COOL. It wasn’t until I was a little better educated that I understood the game to be the ULTIMATE nerd activity because of its unholy marriage of two unrelated nerd institutions: fantasy and math. Girls LOVE those, right?

They should have. It had a dark side associated with it…You see, in the early 80s we were just coming out of an era where fundamentalist Christians were blaming backward masking on records for driving kids to kill themselves so D&D became the perfect new scapegoat. It never occurred to any of these people that maybe they just had inherently fucked up kids who could have just as easily justified suicide through Care Bears cartoons; my point is, SOMETHING was going to light their crazy fuses. The worst thing most D&D players did was to not excel in gym.

D&D was and is still awesome. It provokes intelligent use of imagination for problem-solving, something which should always be encouraged in kids. I loved it. Imagine my elation when, in 2003, I was approached by a few of my comedian friends to embark on a new campaign. I’ll help you imagine it: “Hey, Chris, we’re gonna play D&D. Wanna join?” “Yes. Yes I do.” I definitely shouldn’t name names because it’s really the business of Patton Oswalt, Brian Posehn, Blaine Capatch, Gerry Duggan, Chris Martin (NOT the Coldplay guy), Ken Daly and Scott Robison to tell you themselves. We agreed to play every Sunday and pretty much stuck to it for about a year and a half. Without question, those Sundays were some of the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. First of all, everyone playing was hilarious. That helped a lot. Secondly, our DM (who may or may not have been current G4 writer Scott Robison) was brilliant. His campaigns were creative, his manner engaging and his descriptions nothing short of cinematic.

We played the older, Advanced D&D version because that’s what we grew up with. A quick roll of some new characters and we were off on our journey through the realm of Ashath. I was a Lawful Good wizard named Blavidane, David Blaine’s name mixed up (he was up to another one of his grating attention-getting schemes that sooner or later is going to be SOOOO satisfying to Death if he fucks one up). Beyond that, I remember that Posehn was a ninja-thief with an unnatural obsession with pickles, Patton was a drunken dwarf called “Stumphammer,” Blaine was an elf and Gerry’s characters died a lot. My absolute favorite moment, hands down, involved Stumphammer. Since he was always fucked up, he would randomly burst into dwarfsong, which usually sounded eerily like crappy 70s pop music but with gross lyrics, e.g. “Zombie c*nts are very cold and their asses filled with vermin but they don’t have to breathe so their blow jobs leave you squirmin’,” to the tune of Terry Jacks’ “Seasons In The Sun.”

Ultimately, the game fell apart in a way that would seem hacky if you saw it in a movie: our DM got a girlfriend. Apparently he needed to “focus on his career,” blah blah blah. Sometimes we’d run into him and his gf in public and it was weird, like we were a collective crazy ex. After a few obligatory, “So…how’s it going”s, Posehn would uncontrollably launch an attack. “WHAT THE FUCK, BRO? When are you coming BACK?” Yes, we were all men in our 30s, clinging with chimp-strength to the extended adolescence that has been provided to Gen X.

Eventually, Scott and the guys did get the game going again but I bowed out. As much as I loved it, I got busy with work and had to think of the group first, as a Lawful Good Wizard would. A D&D group is like a band. A slovenly band of eating, cursing, drinking nerds. If one can’t make it, no one plays and I wasn’t going to be the dick that held up the game. The nerd of the many outweighs nerd of the one. It’s okay, though. Blavidane lives on. I still have the two Xeroxed sheets of paper with terms like “Armor Class” and “thac0” that comprise his hand-written DNA.

So thanks David and Gary. The genius nerd gift you gave us will live forever. Until we go extinct as a result of religious wars and the human-poisoned environment, of course. Shit. Maybe I should have been working on fixing that instead of leveling up “Magic Missile.”

When Chris Hardwick was twelve, he made his paladin stuff a kobold into his armor so he could have sex with it while on the go. That particular game never resumed. To this day, somewhere there exists a chafed Paladin and a very unhappy kobold. As penance for this crime against Nature, Hardwick founded The Nerdist.

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