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I’ve been the Sentinel’s technology reporter and columnist since June 2007, but I’ve been a fan of gadgets for years.

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    D&D co-creator Dave Arneson retiring from Full Sail

    Admit it, you've played Dungeons and Dragons for years. Don't be embarrassed, even celebrities such as Mike Myers, Robin Williams and Stephen Colbert have admitted to playing it.

    If you haven't played D&D,  maybe you've played one of the thousands of role-playing games out there, such as Microsoft's Halo 3. D&D is widely viewed as being the father of many of today's Internet, console and computer games.

    Dave Arneson, the co-creator of the popular fantasy role playing game, is retiring from his job as an instructor at Full Sail University near Winter Park. Arneson_3

    Arneson has taught at the school for the past eight years. Full Sail is holding a party for Arneson from 4 to 5:30 p.m. on Thursday in the Entertainment Business Lobby of Building Three.

    The event is open to the public and fans of the game can come meet Arneson and get his autograph. Copies of Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition will also be on sale.

    (Photo credit: Julie Fletcher/Orlando Sentinel)

    If you don't know much about D&D or Arneson, read this excellent profile of him (pasted below) that my colleague Wes Smith wrote in October.

    <p><p><p><p><p>Orlando Sentinel Document Delivery</p></p></p></p></p>
    Date: Sunday, October 7, 2007 Section: GOOD LIVING
    Edition: FINAL Page: F1
    Source: Wes Smith, Sentinel Staff Writer
    Type: FEATURE

    The dungeon master still reigns
    Dave Arneson gave the world D&D and now teaches at Full Sail.

    Imagine that your guitar teacher was Jimi Hendrix, or that your economics professor was Milton Friedman.

    Aspiring game-design students at Orlando's Full Sail Real World Education learn the mystical side of their high-tech craft from Dave Arneson, a white-bearded gaming guru celebrated worldwide as co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons.

    "I used to call myself the `father of all gaming geeks,' " says Arneson, 59. "But my granddaughter recently updated that to `grandfather of all gaming geeks.' "

    Still popular today, the 33-year-old medieval fantasy game known as D&D -- played with graph paper, pencils and dice -- is viewed as the father of many modern games played on the Internet, consoles and computers, including Microsoft's Halo 3.

    "A great number of things in Halo and most of today's games go back to D&D -- from the creation of characters to the different skill levels," says Peter Adkison, who secured the rights to D&D in 1997 for his Wizards of the Coast game company. Two years later, he sold it all to Hasbro in a $300 million deal.

     

    No need to make sacrifices

    No warlocks or wood elves lurk in his office, but Arneson is dungeon master in residence on the Full Sail campus. Student game developers must survive intensive course work in software engineering and programming before getting to the creative heart of their art in his Rules of the Game class.

    "Most of our classes are intensely technical, so by the time we get to Dave's, it's a breath of fresh air because he's the man," says student Mike Vittiglio, 27. "He gives you the creative stuff you really need to make a game fun."

    Arneson of St. Paul, Minn., and fellow game enthusiast Gary Gygax of Lake Geneva, Wis., published the first version of D&D in 1974. Their game -- in which players portray warriors, wizards, elves or dwarves -- sold millions of copies and created the role-playing game industry that continues to thrive as multimedia entertainment.

    Dungeons & Dragons also attracted controversy in its early days. Some attacked D&D as evil, just as others have claimed that Harry Potter books promote the occult. "Certain people didn't understand that we were just nice guys playing a fun game, not a bunch of introverts having human sacrifices," Arneson says.

    An estimated 20 million people have played D&D. Celebrity survivors include Vin Diesel, Robin Williams, Stephen Colbert and Mike Myers. Hasbro says it is still played by 4 million people each month.

    Given the game's global popularity, Arneson says he can't be responsible for the actions of all who enter its fantasy world. "I have enough trouble keeping tabs on the 30 kids in my class," he says.

     

    Playing on

    Hasbro will release a new edition of D&D next spring. The game also has spawned novels, magazines, a cartoon series and at least three movies. The first film, Dungeons & Dragons (2000), flashed a cameo by Orlando's gaming godfather.

    "After spending a week in Prague for the filming, I was on screen for eight seconds," says Arneson. "I was a magic user in the third row, and I threw fireballs at a dragon."

    He will not appear in the newest movie set in the world of D&D. Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight, an animated film, is scheduled for release this fall. But Arneson does regular stints as guest of honor for events such as GenCon in Indianapolis, which recently attracted 35,000 fantasy fans.

    "They scream and clap. I feel like a rock star, but by the time it is over, I'm worn out," he says.

    Soft-spoken and wry-humored, Arneson encourages his students to be creative by giving them rare playing time on board games such as Munchkin and Killer Bunnies.

    "Students love to be clever and make games more complicated, but I stress that they have to be fun; otherwise people won't buy them," he says.

    The Dungeon Master's class comes with a unique challenge: Any student who beats Arneson at a computer game, Age of Empires, gets an A. "I've had more than 2,000 students, and so far nobody has taken me up on it," he says.

     

    Fantasy rules

    Arneson played the usual childhood games including Candy Land, Monopoly, checkers and chess. A history buff, he later got into military strategy games -- a pastime he still enjoys Saturday afternoons at Sci-Fi City in Orlando.

    "We try to keep it low-key for him, but the moment any D&D players realize who he is, they get `celeb-ed' out," says manager Mark Packard.

    Arneson first delved into fantasy fare to stop the bickering over historical accuracy among his military game opponents. To shut them up, he sent his toy soldiers into deep tunnels where they encountered monsters and treasures.

    "That way they couldn't argue with me about accuracy because I'd made it up in the first place," he says.

    Delving deeper, Arneson created a medieval fantasy game called Blackmoor as a hobby until he teamed up with fellow fantasy gamer Gygax to create Dungeons & Dragons.

    "We thought we were crazy, and our friends thought we were crazy," he says. "But then with no advertising, we sold more than a thousand games in the first year."

    D&D's unexpected success set its creators to jousting over royalties. After a series of lawsuits, they settled. Arneson gave up his ownership in D&D but parted with enough to live "comfortably" in a Winter Park apartment with Cagney, a rescued mutt.

    Divorced, with a daughter and granddaughter in Minnesota, he moved to Orlando eight years ago to teach at Full Sail, where he'd been a guest lecturer. The job provides health insurance and other benefits while still allowing him to remain a player in the gaming industry.

    Arneson and fellow faculty member Dustin Clingman, who played D&D as an Orlando teen, are partners in Zeitgeist Games, based in Oveido. They publish Arneson's Blackmoor game along with nine others.

    "I was starstruck when I first met Dave at Full Sail because he is a game god," says Clingman, 35. "Then I started asking him all the D&D questions I'd stored up."

    Arneson and Clingman are designing advanced games for Microsoft and Nintendo. But Zeitgeist's best-seller comes from a realm of fantasy beyond the grasp of both D&D experts.

    It's The Soap Opera Trivia Challenge online game.

    "All I can say is that it pays the bills," says Arneson. "And thank God someone else provides the questions and answers."


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    Comments

    Recent rumors are stating that Mr. Arneson is near death himself? Is this true?

    While Mr. Arneson's health has not been great as of late, he is definitely not "near death" [bringing to mind the Mark Twain quote...].

    Roger, Laura - I was told that he is retiring because he is "ready to retire." But I imagine if he was near death, the school would not be holding a public ceremony for him where he will appear, greet fans, and sign autographs.

    You should check it out (if you are in the area) and report back.

    Etan

    Was anyone able to go to that? I was unfortunately unable to attend. Was there a good turn out? Did he look well?

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