MINNEAPOLIS – David Arneson, one of the masterminds who created the original version of the award-winning fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, died Tuesday in St. Paul following a two-year battle with cancer. He was 61.

Arneson teamed up with co-creator Gary Gygax in 1974 to create Dungeons & Dragons, which remains one of the best-known and best-selling role-playing games of all time. An estimated 20 million people have played the game in which players create characters who embark on imaginary adventures within a fantasy setting.

The game became wildly popular with wargamers at its debut and soon after became a favorite of high school and college students. Since its debut, several editions of the game have been released, and it has been turned into an animated television series, movies, computer games and a host of other role-playing games.

As a University of Minnesota history student in the late 1960s, Arneson developed an interest in naval war games and recreating battles complete with miniature armies and fleets. He had begun to design Blackmoor, a role-playing game of his own that involved medieval miniatures exploring the dungeons of a castle inhabited by monsters, when he attended GenCon in 1969, said Wizards of the Coast, the subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc. which produces the game. That is where he met Gygax and, along with Jeff Perren, they collaborated to create a game of sailing-ship battles called “Don’t Give Up the Ship.” They swapped ideas and came up with the script that eventually led to Dungeons and Dragons.

“He developed many of the fundamental ideas of role playing: that each player controls just one hero, the heroes gain power through adventures, and that personality is as important as combat prowess,” according to a statement released by Wizards of the Coast. “His Blackmoor was the first-ever role-playing campaign and the prototype for all role-playing campaigns since. All of us in the industry and hobby owe a great debt of thanks to Dave Arneson and his groundbreaking Blackmoor game.”

In his later years, Arneson published other role-playing games, including Adventures in Fantasy, started his own game-publishing company (Adventure Games) and a computer game company. He also taught classes in game design. Arneson, was inducted into the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design’s Hall of Fame in 1984. Pyramid magazine named him as one of “The Millennium’s Most Influential Persons”

In an e-mail statement released by his family shortly after his death Tuesday, his daughter Malia Weinhagen, of Maplewood, Minn., said “the biggest thing about my dad’s world is he wanted people to have fun in life. I think we get distracted by the everyday things you have to do in life and we forget to enjoy life and have fun.”

Besides his daughter, Arneson is survived by his father, John, of St. Paul, and two grandchildren.

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