The Braunstein Game

Saturday, May 3rd, 2008

The Braunstein Game paved the way from the world of classical war games to world of role-playing games:

In 1967 [David] Wesely served as referee for a Napoleonic wargame set in the fictional German town of Braunstein. As usual, two players acted as commanders of the opposing armies, but because he was interested in multi-player games, Wesely assigned additional, non-military roles. For example, he had players acting as town mayor, banker, and university chancellor. When two players challenged each other to a duel, Wesely found it necessary to improvise rules for the encounter on the spot. Though Wesely thought the results were chaotic and the experiment a failure, the other players enjoyed the role playing aspect and asked him to run another game.

Wesely thus contributed to the development of RPGs by introducing: (1) a one-to-one identification of player and character, and (2) open-ended rules allowing the players to perform any action, with the result of the action determined by the referee.

Wesely’s Braunstein drew inspiration from Diplomacy, a game requiring players to negotiate in between turns. The idea of a referee was derived from “Strategos: A Game of War” (1871,1880) by Charles Totten. Wesely also read and cited as influential “Conflict and Defense: A General Theory” (1962) by Kenneth E. Boulding and “The Compleat Strategyst” (1954) by J.D. Williams.

Wesely subsequently invented a new role playing scenario in which players attempt to stage or avert a coup in a small Latin American republic. Dave Arneson, another member of the MMSA, took over as referee for this scenario, which was also known as a ‘Braunstein’. In 1971 Arneson developed a Braunstein set in a fantasy world called Blackmoor, a precursor of Dungeons & Dragons.

I enjoyed these tidbits from a forum post by Wesely:

By the way, I did not like the term “role-playing game” when it appeared, as “role playing games” that had nothing to do with what we were doing, already existed: The term was already being used for (1) a tool used to train actors for improvisation (an example being the Cheese Shop Game since imortalized by Monty Python) and (2) a tool used for group therapy and psychiatric analysis (“Pretend you are an animal. What kind of an animal do you want to be? How does your aniimal feel about Janet?”) And using this already overloaded name did not help us look less nutty. I favored “Adventure Game” but that was siezed-upon at the time as a replacement for “Hobby Game” or “Adult Game”, and now we are stuck with “RPG”.

Even before I went off to the Army in 1970, Dave Arneson was re-running the Latin Amerca “Braunstein”, which we had set up at his house, and he soon started inventing new scenarios. Eventually, he expanded them to include ides from “the Lord of the Rings” and “Dark Shadows” which were the “in” book and TV show for us college students in 1968-1970. This led to Blackmoor and then D&D.

While I am beating my own drum, I would like to lay claim to having “invented” polyhedral dice. I was the first person to USE what were then being sold as “Models of the five regular polyhedra” (for mathematics teachers to show to their students), AS DICE. I have since seen a book that claims that the Japanese were already using three D-20s, numbered 0-9 twice, to generate 3-digit decimal random numbers at some time before 1976. So it may be that they also invented this use for polyhedra, but I was unaware of them so I am at least an independant re-inventor. And it was my introducing the D4, D8, D12 and D20 to our gaming group in 1965 that led to them being used in RPGs and D&D.
Back in 1965, I read the rules to a game published in 1880 that said one could use a “12-sided teetotum” instead of a 6-sided die, for resolving odds of 6:1, 7:1 etc up to 11:1, but did not explain what a teetotum was or how to make one. I had seen a set of models of the regular polyhedra in my High School trig class, and decided that a “12-sided teetotum” must be the 12-sdied thingy (a regular dodecahedron) I had seen in the set. Wanting to try out the game, I went to school, got out the “Edmund Scientific Supplies” catalog, and ordered one set of the polyhedra from them for $6.00 (gasolene was $ 0.20 /gallon then, so that would be about $66.00 in today’s money). This set of five polyhedra came with the faces already numbered, to make it easy to see that there were 12 sides on a dodacahedron, or 20 on an icosahedron, which made them easy to use as dice. So they became the ancestors of all the D4, D6, D8, D12 and D20 sets ever sold.

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