Tuesday, December 14, 2021

On RPG play-styles, Part 1: Should you kill off the tourists?

Should you be acting out a part, telling a story, or playing a game?

My answer is Yes.

Players of RPGs do all of these things and more all at once, of course, in varying degrees. They always have. It's simply a matter of which aspects individuals enjoy more or emphasize that differentiates cliques and factions in the never-ending battle in quest of the Holy Grail: the Best Game Ever.

It's really all about personal preferences, not something that can be right or wrong.

Yet it's not rare to find discussions about which play-styles are correct or incorrect, or discussions of the hobby's journey from pristine purity to subsequent corruption. Sometimes these discussions are about the history of game mechanics or game companies or cultures of play. Sometimes they are finger-wagging lessons in the morality of play and aesthetics. All of these discussions have something to contribute. Sometimes, though buried in these discussions, and in the responses to them, are implicit questions like these:

  • What was the original RPG style?
  • How should we play?
  • When did play-styles first diverge, and over what issues?

Neat explanations make compelling answers.

Sometimes gamers plunge into answering these questions while covertly advocating for their own personal preferences. A few simply assert the original superiority of their own preferences without resort to evidence. Or whatever Gygax did, whatever Arneson did: that's the real thing. A frequent implicit idea is that if you find the original play-style, you have uncovered RPG play as it was intended. The discovery would show the way to play before something else came along and changed how the games work or even corrupted it with other people's less fun preferences. Still others try to leave old games behind and push the hobby to the pinnacle of novelty and evolution.

There's nothing wrong with experimenting with different kinds of play. It's a good idea, in my opinion.

What I want to say here, though, again, is that there was no original style of play, no primordial basic setting. You may ask how that is possible. D&D had a specific beginning, didn't it? Wasn't it played with a specific play-style at that beginning? Wasn't it designed for a specific manner of doing things?

No, not really! Let's take an early E. Gary Gygax--when he was still-bright eyed and not yet swimming in money while slashing at the competition--as an authority on how the game should be played, just one year after he published D&D. This is from July 1975 (Alarums & Excursions #2):

Dave [Arneson, the co-author of D&D] and I disagree on how to handle any number of things, and both of our campaigns differ from the rules found in D&D. If the time ever comes when all aspects of fantasy are covered and the vast majority of its players agree on how the game should be played, D&D will have become staid and boring indeed. Sorry, but I don't believe that there is anything desirable in having various campaigns playing similarly to one another. D&D is supposed to offer a challenge to the imagination and to do so in many ways.

Gygax goes on to give carte blanche to referees to make any house rules they wish.

Look: Gary Gygax said in 1975 that D&D will be boring if everybody played the same way. What else do purists and seekers of the legendary "old school" need to drop the issue?

Even the originators of the game played differently from each other, and said so. Gygax emphasized that no two games would be alike, nor would it be as fun if they were.

You may think that Gygax meant only house rules and not play-styles, those subtle aesthetic differences in emphasis and expectations that create considerably different experiences from group to group. But no, even play-styles differed distinctly from table to table from the very first reception of D&D and its spin-off kin.

Take the issue of lethality. This remains an abiding concern today. Experienced players know that the whole tenor of a game will change if player characters are vulnerable to a surprising death at any time or if they are expected to survive for a long campaign. Players must identify with their  characters to some extent, even small, if they are to play, frequently making the issue emotional. (The degree of identification is one of those varying preferences.) You don't have to look hard on the internet to find bloggers accusing referees of cheating or coddling their snowflake players if the PCs in their campaigns are not killed off quickly or at least in constant danger of death, or opposite accusations of abuse and making things severely and traumatically unfun and meaningless if PCs die at every turn. These exchanges can even take on a political tone reflecting our fraught times, with the murderous referees cast as right-wing conservatives and the lenient ones as "woke" liberals. (Sometimes it seems that the pre-existing political views of referees drive them into these camps of preferences, like to like.) Even advocates of balancing lethality with survival (whatever that would look like) are accused of manipulation of the game and have to justify themselves. The debate about lethality can finally explode with cries of "it's role-playing" against those who cry "it's a game!" Neither faction will likely concede that it's both: a role-playing game.

So let's come back to the questions.

When did this complex of issues turn into the basis for the development of a differing culture of play?

Was there a culture of "challenge-based play" that evolved into a culture emphasizing "role-playing"?

No. Even though individual players' styles of play change over the years, this variation was not a matter of evolution of the hobby. It was a matter of player preferences from the first games. These aspects of RPGs were present from the beginning. Already in 1977, gamer Lewis Pulsipher observed in White Dwarf #1 that there were already at least two cultures of play, gamers and fantasists:

D&D players can be divided into two groups, those who want to play the game as a game and those who want to play it as a fantasy novel, i.e. direct escapism through abandonment of oneself to the flow of  play as opposed to the gamer's indirect escapism. 

(Pulsipher divided these two further into two more subcultures of play.)

But we can go back further to 1975 to find the discrepancy of expectations emerging amongst some of the very earliest players.

In the science-fiction-fan zine-collection APA-L we have records of back-and-forth exchanges among some of the hobby's first players and Dungeon Masters and their reactions to the game. Their comments are revealing. They represent immediate, fresh efforts to seek standards and goals of play.

Mark Swanson (discussed here, scroll down) was one of them. At the time I'm referring to, he was a college student from southern California who had played wargames and loved science fiction. He started playing D&D at MIT in October of 1974. (The game had been published in January of that year.) Swanson was a major conduit for introducing D&D, which he encountered in the science fiction club at his college, back to the science fiction fans of Los Angeles.

Swanson created a dungeon called Gorree. He wrote about it on February 27, 1975 (APA-L 511), alluding to its lethality. So far, six out of seventeen PCs to enter it had died.

The next month, Ted Johnstone (a.k.a. Tedron) had gotten his chance to try this new game. He played an elf fighter named Khamsin. Afterwards, he was exuberant. Like Swanson a few months before, he was hooked. Johnstone wrote about it in APA-L 513 (March 13, 1975):

It's a hell of a game. It is, as I suspected, a new order, a new dimension, of game.

He also immediately predicted some aspects of the hobby:

I can see Dungeonmmasters of taste and imagination becoming in high demand. A D&D club may chip in to pay for a visit of someone with a highly reputed Dungeon -- or one to which they may have acquired a partial map from previous adventures. Weekends will be reserved months in advance by people who wish to experience a well-crafted Dungeon, and parties will seek each other out.

And he raised the issue of lethality. Mind you, this is someone who had played in just one exhilarating session. But he responded to Swanson from the month before with a statement of preference:

Six out of seventeen is a pretty high mortality rate. I'd say your Dungeon was a little too high-level too close to the surface. One fatality out of ten should be enough.

Immediately after this first experience, Johnstone was designing his own dungeon, like just about every other early player, and stating what he liked best.

Johnstone was also the gamer who devised the convention of referring to dice as D(number), such as D6 or D10.

Five weeks later, Johnstone had already formed a further opinion about what the game was about, relating this opinion specifically to the issue of lethality that I discussed above, which is still discussed constantly today. On April 24, 1975 (APA-L 519) Johnstone wrote, responding to Lee Gold, who was Dungeonmaster for his first game:

Remember, Lee, this is not supposed to be an adversarial situation -- the point of the game is not to kill off the tourists but to give them an exciting ride... Maybe our interpretations of the Game are beginning to drift apart. I would certainly avoid Swanson's Dungeon because of the vindictive air I feel in his constructions... 

Right there, 15 months after D&D was released, brand-new players were talking about different play-styles, different expectations, different opinions on character lethality, the role of the referee, and the purpose of the game as leisure entertainment. And these differences correspond exactly to some of the issues on which players are split still today.

For Johnstone, there was a not-supposed-to in D&D. The game was to give the players an exciting ride. The referee was not supposed to be adversarial. That meant few player character deaths.

To Johnstone's credit, he recognized that this was his interpretation of the game. This was a new phenomenon and it could be interpreted differently. Within one month, though he felt he had drifted apart from some of his friends on what the game was for, foreseeing the potential of a tasteful and skillful Dungeonmaster as an entertainer. (I think of the back cover of the 5e Dungeon Master's Guide, where it says, "Entertain and inspire your players.")

Johnstone's view was just the kind that some RPG commentators of recent years have excoriated as unoriginal, not proper to the game, against its purpose, a way that it was "not supposed to" be played. To these present-day gamers, players who whine about their dead characters are just wimpy snowflakes who don't know how to play real D&D. Deal with it, right?

Well, you can disagree with the long-deceased Ted Johnstone, if you like, and say he didn't really get how it was supposed to be, but that doesn't change the fact that from the moment gamers opened their first D&D sets, in the first year of D&D, they had different expectations, different needs, different concepts of how the game would work.

They still do today.

Play-styles diverged every time a rule book was opened and fell under a fresh gaze, every time a player was dissatisfied with his Dungeon Master's dungeon and decided to make his own, every time a rule made no sense. Some people got into acting out the roles. Some liked the tactical combat. Some liked the stories. Some just liked to laugh with friends. Same game, different preferences.

The fundamental debates about RPGs were baked in from the beginning. They are part of the nature of this kind of game. That's where the cultures of play diverge. It's documented.

I'll have more examples of these early variations and early examples of supposedly late developments another time.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Coins in D&D and Found Advancement

Every D&D adventurer is a coin collector.

Every old variety of D&D and similar games posit one game-mechanical goal for characters: collecting coins (and other treasure evaluated in coins).

Coins are a symbol in these games for the characters' trying experiences that explain their personal improvement. We all know that gathering gold does not make one a more skillful fighter or wizard or thief. The coins accumulated represent the achievement of the tasks, and it is carrying out tasks that serves as training in skills. As a symbol for experience, the gold piece has been pretty sufficient, as it's still widely used.

Adventure scenarios contain hidden and protected coins, and other treasures evaluated as coins, which are the inducement to adventure. Players are spurred by the knowledge that coins are out there to take risks with their characters, producing a fun social event with elements of gambling, risk-free vicarious danger, cooperative problem-solving, and role-playing. The game is a treasure hunt with obstacles in the way. And that's fun!

In D&D, then, coins are not really coins. They are vague, shiny rewards, findable units of experience.

If they were actually fully imagined as coins, they would have some of the characteristics of coins. Instead, in practice, they are generic.

The symbolic character of gold pieces in these games has kept the coin as one of their least examined and most generic aspects. For a game aiming at a fantastic-medieval ambience, this seems like several missed opportunities.

Weight and value

If we took the Roman silver (denarius) and late Roman gold (solidus) coins as models, then these were ideally about 4.5 grams each. That makes approximately 1 pound per 100 coins and 10 pounds per 1000 coins for either silver or gold. It's a neat equation for those who are tinkering with encumbrance rules.

There are other possibilities, if a referee wants to create complications. Coins can have varying weight but the same value if they are relatively debased (mixed with less valuable metals), for example. What if the coins in one realm weigh 150% or twice as much, but had the same value, as the coins familiar to the player characters? What if player characters exert a lot of effort to recover coins that turn out to be poor quality products and have less value on the market?

Mints and images

The symbolic nature of coins in D&D reinforces their vague and shiny lack of character.

Historical coins, by contrast with D&D coins, were minted by specialists entrusted with the precious metals by a ruler or government. A team of experts would pour the metal, strike the coin, cut the edges, and clean it up for controlled circulation.

Coins were issued by individual rulers. They showed the face or figure of the specific ruler, usually with a short legend stating the ruler's name ("of King X").

Coins often also showed an ideological image on the reverse: a religious symbol, the representation of a divinity or a temple, or another image legitimizing the ruler who issued the coin. The ruler's image vouched for the value of the coin and the coin attested to the legitimacy of the ruler.

Coins would often be marked with a symbol or abbreviation indicating where they were minted.

A major function of coins was originally to pay soldiers, who received these bits of precious metal embossed with the image of the man who paid them. Soldiers then spent coins at large, gradually monetizing the economy. Coins were also useful as units of exchange in collecting taxes.

New kings would gather old coins and have the material minted into new coins with their faces. Old coins became rarer because of that.

Coins plundered from one country would be melted down and turned into new coins for the conquering state.

Thus coins were marked for a time and a place. 

In developing spontaneously emergent game worlds, there is little time to whip up a historical backstory to the setting, and many D&D players have become averse to setting backstories (which do tend to be generic and boring). But without any established background, coins will remain faceless and without character, pure shiny symbols of hurdles overcome and not a part of a setting.

Coins that are merely symbolic, without the characteristics of coins, are practically metagame features intruding into the narrative. Coins without character or setting context are just experience points in symbolic form, as if you had a belt of spell slots or could see the plusses engraved on your magical sword.

Questions for your game

Once you consider that coins are marked by origin, many new questions can arise that may color your game.

When player characters spend money, do the coins indicate from which country they, or their currency, comes?

When they gather coins lost in old dungeons, will markets outside accept the coins stamped by forgotten kings? Will they be more, or less, valuable than current coins? Do they need to be exchanged for new coins (at a loss) to representatives of the state or moneychanging middlemen? Will they need to be melted down by somebody and sold as bullion?

Will trading ancient coins mark the adventurers as grave robbers?

Will government authorities take an interest in the sudden influx of strange coins marked with the faces of ancient or foreign kings?

Will dungeon treasure spent at a village near the dungeon not make the locals fabulously rich, to the point that they move away or retire? Will dungeon treasure spent locally create a boom town and a wave of crime? Won't the influx of coins inspire bandits who prey on adventurers returning from the local dungeon with low hit points and sacks full of jingling gold pieces?

Will local authorities attempt to confiscate illegitimate currency? Won't they claim a huge cut from adventurers plundering sites in domains that they claim as their own?

Can player characters rediscover lost history through the coins they recover? Can the discovery of coins minted under the rule of a long-forgotten Wizard King spur new adventures?

Would a map to the mint of an ancient state prompt a quest? Would a raid on a mint, run by humans or humanoids, not make an ideal adventure in a world in which coins symbolize the advancement of skill?

Would an effort to mint new coins by PCs who create their own freehold spark a war with an adjacent power insisting that its coins are the only valid ones?

If you search for images of "ancient coins" on the internet, what inspiration will you find?

Alternative tokens

The most familiar type of coin, in the shape of a little flat disk with images on its two sides, originated in the kingdom of Lydia (today, western Turkey) in the seventh century BCE. It caught on from there. The vast Persian Empire, which included Lydia early on, from the sixth century BCE, spread the use of coins far abroad.

But different kinds of tokens of exchange can be used in adventure games.

Loops of metal, cowrie shells, boar tusks, stamped bits of clay, and other units can be traded as tokens of value.

What if the players visit a country where gold or silver are not wanted, but shells or crystals are?

Rationales for XP = GP

A common way to bridge the narrative gap, to rationalize the increase in power that comes from finding gold pieces, is to say that player characters have to spend their treasure to gain XP and to gain a level.

One way is to say you have to spend your GP on training to get the XP. This implies the existence of high-level trainers, who themselves may become a "rare commodity." Maybe the goal of every adventurer is to retire to become a highly-paid trainer of lower-level adventurers in a cosmic experience point pyramid scheme. Soon you can earn whole dungeons worth of treasure without undertaking any danger, but collecting dungeon treasure from the lower-level peons who do the dirty work and pay you for training, so that they can retire and be trainers like you.

Another way is to say you have to spend the GP on fun and debauchery, to make the GP into XP only when it's "useless," and not for equipment or fortifications or the like. Only celebratory, wasteful expense gives XP. Personally, I find this odd as just another violation of story rationale (wasting money, or pleasure, makes a wizard into a better wizard?), but it works for some players.

Found advancement

The idea of giving experience points that accumulate gradually and with excitement until the joyous burst of a level-up reminds me of the video games about Sonic the Hedgehog. The blue critter runs and runs, collecting shiny gold rings. Every so often, the accumulation confers bonus powers. Clearly, the mechanic in this video game and others like it derives from D&D.

But what if we cut out the tokens and went straight to the power-ups?

What if adventurers were primarily seeking not gold, but rare objects or locations that conferred those level ups? Sure, gold is useful, but maybe the level-ups are separate.

I call this found advancement. Instead of discovering little bits of treasure that symbolizes the gradual training experience--which culminates with a sudden growth of power--and burdens us with a need to rationalize the gap between gold accumulation and power, player characters just discover [narrative symbols of] level-ups in the dungeon or wilderness.

What if, instead of collecting coins painstakingly, player characters were instead seeking the lost Shrine of Power? Anybody who enters the Inner Sanctum there gains a level. This may be more climactic than tallying up coins over long periods. It also creates a narrative that matches the momentary experience of a level-up with a momentary event (rather than a gradual accumulation leading to a momentary event).

You can use this method for games with levels, but also in games without levels (as I do in my home rules). It works wonderfully in games with narrative advancement.

Player characters who find the inaccessible Fount of Life and drink from its luminous waters gain a level, a hit die, a point of Constitution or Endurance, or whatever the referee has decided.

If they restore the Sacred Orb to the Temple of Fortuna, they gain a level... or a point of Luck, or Wisdom, or whatever the referee has decided.

The first one to touch the Heart Crystal, deep in the underdark, gains a level... or a new spell, or a magical ability, or whatever the referee has decided.

Players who destroy the Eye of the Lich release its pent-up accumulation of life-force and absorb a level-up, more hit points, or whatever the referee has decided.

Adventurers who reach the remote mountain of the Monastery of Mastery can undergo a test (or deliver an object) that will admit them into a training program, giving them a new level, a new ability, or whatever else the referee has decided.

Instead of populating your adventure settings with mounds and mounds of symbolic coins that have no character and little connection to the setting, you can create setting locations and objects that directly confer the bonuses that incite adventure, and that are intrinsic to the story of the setting.

Your sandbox world can have a bunch of these sites. Hide them in remote spots, under slabs of stone in ruins, behind dragons, in deep caves. If they are easier to find, then they can only confer a full level-up to a certain level; they give a smaller bonus to higher-level characters.

Found advancement doesn't make gold pieces useless. Players need cash for all kinds of things.

Found advancement can help you to put the focus on discovery over loot.

Populate your rumor table with references to lost magic, sites of power, and treasures that confer level-ups.

Experience shows that players are just as eager to push their characters to these kinds of discoveries as they are to impel them to seek treasure in the form of generic gold coins.

This is a way to handle experience points and levels, but it also works well for games with narrative advancement (what people sometimes call "diegetic advancement"). You don't need numbers for this.

Let me know if you try it and how your players respond.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

"Arnesonian" play

I have come across a number of discussions among those who seek to discover and recapture an original, "natural," unbounded, or otherwise pristine form of role-playing game. Some of them find the roots of this mode of play in the person of Dave Arneson, one of the two original authors of Dungeons & Dragons. These fascinating discussions have two things at stake. One is the quest to find a style of play that may add more to your current game, a never-ending quest. The other is the implicit, and occasionally explicit, notion that original is better, purer, more pristine gaming as intended, as originally conceived. Intended by whom? By the founders, by the discoverers of this new form of game, that's who. It's Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. Or else it's either Gygax or Arneson. Take your pick.

Generally, the pervasive notion seems to be that Arneson was a referee who made rulings on the spot, that he favored a "free-wheeling" kind of game. Gygax, by contrast, wrote about how he wanted a game that "controlled" its audience (which would be Advanced Dungeons & Dragons).

The term "Arnesonian" play, drawn up in recent years, evokes notions of free-wheeling fun, unfettered by a grown-up fetish with rules. Gamers are released into a childlike Eden of the imagination if they follow Arneson's spirit, and gaming becomes fresh again, even for jaded, middle-aged gamers.

It sounds good to me.

I have been curious about the attribution of a free-wheeling style of imaginative play unfettered by rules to Dave Arneson. After all, he did write rules: rules for miniatures warfare, rules for Dungeons & Dragons (where he gets credit for introducing experience points and levels, for example), and rules for the fantasy role-playing game he wrote (with much struggle and delay) after leaving TSR, co-authored with Richard Snider: Adventures in Fantasy (1979).

Take a look at Adventures in Fantasy. You can't tell me Arneson was all about playing "rules-light" or free-form. You'll find, for example, very complex rules for "taking courses" to learn skills, involving a formula with several variables:


Or check out the "combat matrix" from Adventures in Fantasy, in which the "body type" of the fighter contributes to determining the likelihood of hitting. What's your chance of hitting a "snake body type"?


There's a lot of this kind of thing in the game, which Arneson posited as the sort of system that he wished D&D had been, if it weren't for Gygax's role in writing it.

You can also look at the publication of sundry materials from his original Blackmoor campaign, that pre-existed D&D and which was released in 1977 by Judges Guild under he title The First Fantasy Campaign. Lots of rules, lots of keeping accounts.

These were not best-selling games books. They remind me of Gygax's Cyborg Commando.

Arneson published warfare rules, too. This is hardly "free Kriegsspiel," seat-of-your-pants gaming.

The common idea of "Arnesonian play" must therefore be a kind of myth.

So where did people get the idea that Arneson was a rules-lite guru?

It turns out they got the idea from Arneson himself, despite the many arcane game rules he published.

The answer is found in the context provided by Jon Peterson's new book, Game Wizards (which I just reviewed here). One topic the book covers is the acrimonious legal disputes over royalties from D&D sales. In that dispute, Gygax claimed greater credit for D&D by pointing out that Arneson and his Minnesota players had based their earlier Blackmoor campaign, which included the first D&D-style dungeon, on the Chainmail rules, miniatures battle rules of 1971 that Gygax had co-written with Jeff Perren.

Gygax argued that the basis for fantasy gaming was in his rules, and that Arneson just tinkered with them. This would mean that Gygax was the true founder of fantasy gaming, and that Arneson's role was trivial.

Gygax stated that Arneson had sent notes about his Blackmoor campaign to him, and that he (Gygax) had written them up.

Arneson's response was to say that his Minnesota group didn't really depend on Chainmail, but that they were more into "role-playing" (a term that had not yet been applied to these games when he was running Blackmoor). The term role-playing didn't start to show up in use for these games until 1975, after D&D was published, becoming more widespread from 1977.

There is a history to Arneson's shifting point of view. It was about money. Would Gygax get rich alone, or would Arneson have due credit, in the form of cash (a lot of cash), as co-author of record? How could Arneson make clear to the world what he had contributed?

It was only after Gygax insisted that he wrote the D&D rules and that Arneson had sent only notes that Arneson started to deemphasize the importance of rules and to claim to have invented the concept of this kind of game. As Peterson writes (pp. 156-7), discussing events of 1979:

The notion that rules mattered little became a common talking point for Arneson, a way of denigrating the process of actually writing the game, which Gygax had appointed to himself. The rules were an inessential development next to some ineffable role-playing concept that emerged from play; but the more Arneson stressed the argument, the more he implicitly acknowledged that his original contribution to D&D had not been to authoring its text.

I hope that readers will immediately see what this means.

Arneson loved rules. Just see the two little snippets I pasted above. Heck, what he sent to Gygax as his contribution to D&D was rules. Arneson did also love role-playing. He loved stories. But his argument that it was all really ultimately just about role-playing, not rules, was the product of his experience fighting for a fortune in royalties. Of course he would say that the rules didn't matter. Of course he would say that the he did not depend on Gygax's rules, that it was all about the spirit of role-playing. It mattered because he wanted to be rich, too. He had already been cheated out of royalties for his collaboration with Gygax before, when Don Lowry of Guidon Games managed not to pay Arneson any royalties for the game Don't Give Up the Ship!, which he had co-written with Gygax.

I think that Arneson deserved the royalties he received for D&D. But the idea that there was an "Arnesonian" rules-lite style of play that the man preferred is directly contradicted by the record. I'm sure he had his own style at the table. Like all referees, he certainly made rulings on the spot. But it wasn't rules-free or even rules-lite. They may not have been player-facing rules, but the records he published about his own play show that he also loved a different kind of table: tables upon tables of statistics and rules. And that's pretty typical wargaming stuff.

The idea that Arnesonian play is free-wheeling and rules-lite and entails a more unfettered imagination is based on the rhetoric around Arneson's legal battle. It's romantic wish fulfillment to think that the games started "pure" and trapped us in a cage of not-fun rules over time until the original style could be resurrected by rules-lite visionaries.

Now, all this is not to say that your rules-lite preferences are bad. It's how I myself play. And it's not to say that Arneson shouldn't get immense credit in the history of role-playing games.

What I'm saying is that the claim to ground one's favored rules-lite style in the antecedent of Arneson as a founding figure, as "the original role-playing style," the "natural" way to game, or another permutation of that, is misplaced. Nobody needs to resort to Arneson's claims, devised to win royalties, to justify playing without lots of rules and game mechanics, or to feel good about jettisoning useless stats and game-stopping procedures. Just play as you like.

Players who like lots of rules and mechanics are doing just fine, too. There's nothing wrong with their games, they're not "less original" in the sense of "less authentic."


There's another thing that comes out of Peterson's book worth mentioning while on the topic of Dave Arneson.

Already by late 1976, Arneson had conceived of something like GURPS. That is, he envisioned a genre-free universal system that would have its core rules in a "basic book." Then there would be "a line of role-playing game booklets" for each different "period or mythos." (Game Wizards, p. 104.) With this idea, he foresaw how much of the commercial side of the hobby would develop. He saw how role-playing game companies would keep players hooked and buying new products: core rules plus a long line of supplements with setting-based modulations. He was already imagining a multiverse of game settings for play based on a common set of mechanics, one rule-set to rule them all. As we know, it never happened, although there have been contenders over the years.