On May 25, 2020, Arnold Hendrick, the creator of the revolutionary board game Barbarian Prince and the revolutionary computer game Darklands, was taken by cancer, just shy of the three-score-and-ten years the Psalmist allots us. “It is too soon cut off, and we fly away.”
I never met him; I know next to nothing of his life story. But all the same, Mr. Hendrick had a direct and significant impact upon me. Fallen Gods is inspired by both Barbarian Prince and Darklands. Both games are marvelously inventive and brilliantly realized. Sometimes works of fantasy are called “escapism.” To “escape” literally means to shed one’s cloak. (One can ponder the age of brigandage when slipping a robber’s clutches in that manner was frequent enough to coin this expression and put it in common currency.) Mr. Hendrick’s games were the opposite—the player does not shed his cloak so much as garb himself in another’s clothes. Contrary to the genre’s name, most RPGs do not achieve this effect. The player’s role is not that of a hero, but that of a hedge fund analyst, crunching numbers, maximizing upside and minimizing downside. But in Barbarian Prince and Darklands, the player is immersed in the characters and the setting. For a while, he sees a different world through different eyes. A person is greatly enriched by such an experience, while merely shedding a cloak—in contrast—leaves one a little poorer, even if we sometimes need to escape to survive.
When I began designing and developing Fallen Gods years ago, I tracked down Mr. Hendrick’s email address. When our game was ready, I wanted to show it to him as tangible evidence of the impact and inspiration of his work. But I kept delaying the email because I wanted to make sure Fallen Gods was worth his time. Now there is no time left.
So I must end where I started: I never met Arnold Hendrick; I know him only through his published games and articles about game design. To me, all of them bespoke an abiding curiosity, a creative vision, and an overflowing generosity toward his players. The man put 136 saints in Darklands. May they speed him to his Maker.