The Braunstein was a type of informal miniatures wargame introduced by David Wesely circa 1969, and modified by Dave Arneson. Although the game itself was never published, its development influenced Arneson's ideas on role-playing games, which led to his involvement in development of Blackmoor and the Dungeons & Dragons game.
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's Braunstein drew inspiration from Diplomacy, a game requiring players to negotiate in between turns. The idea of a referee was derived from Strategos: The American Game of War (1880), by Charles Totten. Totten's book also inspired Wesely with the idea of having a game master who invented the scenario for the evening's battle. Wesely discovered the idea of "n-player" strategy games from The Compleat Strategist (1954) by J.D. Williams. Wesely also read and cited as influential, Conflict and Defense: A General Theory (1962), by Kenneth E. Boulding.
Braunstein contributed to the development of role-playing games by introducing a one-to-one identification of player and character, and open-ended rules allowing the players to attempt any action, with the result of the action determined by the referee.
Wesely subsequently invented a new role playing scenario in which players attempt to stage or avert a coup in a small Latin American republic. He and Dave Arneson, another member of the MMSA, took turns acting as the referee for repeated stagings of this scenario, which was also known as a 'Braunstein'; Arneson took over as referee after Wesely was drafted into the Army. They invented new variations in the perpetually unstable nation of Banania.
In October 1970, Wesely, who had enrolled in Army ROTC at the University of Kansas, was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant and ordered to active duty. Arneson continued to run Braunstein and invent new scenarios. Duane Jenkins, another gamer in the MMSA, collaborated with Arneson to create another series of "wild west Braunsteins" set in "Brownstone Texas". The "Brownstone" games introduced the concept of giving the players their own "player characters" with a history that they could develop from game to game, rather than starting over each time the game was played.
Arneson eventually expanded the Braunsteins to include ideas from The Lord of the Rings and Dark Shadows. Arneson adjusted his Braunsteins to use Gary Gygax's Chainmail rules and allow players to play themselves in the fantasy Barony of Blackmoor, which included delving beneath "Castle Blackmoor", a castle that originated in a plastic kit that Arneson had of a Sicilian castle. In 1971 Arneson developed a Braunstein set in a fantasy world called "Blackmoor", a precursor to Dungeons & Dragons.
- A forum reposting of The Secret History of Dungeons and Dragons by Don Whetsell. Whetsell says his information was gathered during the making of an unreleased documentary called Dragons in the Basement.
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- "GaryCon – My Harrowing Trip to Braunstein". Paul's Gameblog. 2018-03-12. Retrieved 2019-08-27.
- Shannon Appelcline (2011). Designers & Dragons. Mongoose Publishing. p. 6. ISBN 978-1-907702-58-7.