Friday, September 19, 2008

Interview: Tim Kask (Part II)

Your foreword calls Supplement IV "the last D&D supplement." In a certain sense, you were correct in saying this as there were no more OD&D -- back then, just D&D -- supplements in the offing, but it wasn't the end of "official" game material from TSR. What happened between the time you wrote this in 1976 and the appearance of the Monster Manual a year later?

Since meeting, and becoming fast friends with, Frank Mentzer, I have come to see that he and I shared a position at TSR that was unique; that of Gary’s sounding board, idea-bouncer, collaborator, consultant and friendly goad. We talked D&D nearly every day; bouncing ideas off of each other and examining the rules system as it existed at that time.

From the time we were working on Eldritch Wizardry, and preparing for Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes, we knew that we were no longer just adding new stuff but also refining old stuff and changing things a little bit here and there. It was getting pretty confusing, and we had to do something about it. We also had other concerns, chief of which was how to conduct fair tournaments. Before the term came into vogue, we were marketing TSR virally; I was a perfect example. I played the game at a con, bought one and took it back to my group and infected them.

As the nature of the game dictated, it was meant to be only loosely bound by the rules as printed; they were originally meant as suggestions and guidelines. Finding 30 DMs to run a tourney for us was a big task in and of itself; finding 30 that played the game the same was impossible as each one ran his own campaigns as he saw fit.

Gary Gygax thanks you in both the AD&D Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide. What role did you play in the development of these two books or indeed the entire AD&D project?

Continuing in the same vein as the answer to the previous question, we constantly bounced ideas off of each other. There came a time when we started to list all of the revisions and contradictions.

We had other problems to address: level and gold piece inflation being two of them, as well as a too-steep learning curve. In the early days, we sold our game to college age buyers, bright high schoolers and the occasional socially challenged older gamer. As bright as they were in general, many of them had complained of the steep learning curve and seeming contradictions in subsequent supplements. No matter how much I tried to drum home the idea that these were suggestions, examples and guidelines in the Forewords that I wrote in each, people wanted to see them as new rules. And, we were starting to hear from parents that had bought the game as a result of their child’s cajolery, badgering or whining, only to find that it was too complex for their precious darlings to jump right in. On that point, I can certainly testify; had I not confidently announced that my club was going to have a go at this new game I was so enraptured with, I might not have spent three weeks trying to grasp enough of it to begin. And I had the benefit of having played it twice. All of these things Gary and I talked about, and more. It was decided to consult with someone with some background in child psych, and J. Eric Holmes came into the picture.

So Holmes was brought in because of his background in child psychology? What was the rationale behind this?

I can only say this, and it is all secondhand, what Gary told me, what I picked up, etc., as I was NOT part of this. Holmes was brought in to try to enable us to get a handle on a number of different things. Since I got my M. Ed., I understand much more of the rationale behind it. We needed to know such things as : What's too scary for young (9 to 14) kids to handle? We didn't want to cause nightmares. How complex can the rules be for that age to enjoy playing? How do we write "how-to-play" rules for players that young? We were dealing with the problem of the present rules being pretty complex and mystifying to kids a lot older. What kinds of magic were too complex for younger players, or less experienced.

We had come to the point that we knew our new market would not be well read in Fantasy, and would be starting out at a disadvantage compared to the earlier adherents of the game. We needed to know how to overcome that.

Returning to your role in the development of AD&D ...

One Thursday, Gary told me to wrap up whatever I had going on at the moment and free up my days starting on the next Monday. Intrigued, I said sure. When I came in on Monday morning, Gary asked me into his office (we were still in the old grey house and had offices next to each other), then told whoever was answering the phone that neither of us was to be disturbed for anything but the direst emergency, or a call from our wives. He had about six sets of the small books and had put up several extra cork bulletin boards in office. For the next eight or nine days, we re-made D&D.

We tinkered with various bits and pieces, changing and tweaking damages from various weapons and spells (Magic Missile comes to mind). At the end of that period of time, we had two files of papers and cut-up booklets; one was Basic, the other AD&D. Much less was left to interpretation; more was spelled out in charts and tables. We were looking at tourneys. We must have rolled several hundred different confrontations while we tinkered with HP and DAM. We cut up those books and stuck stuff all over the walls. From that came Basic D&D and Advanced D&D. I was like the midwife at the birth.

12 comments:

  1. Thanks for these interviews. Very rad!

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  2. I'll second that.

    Incredible insight into a time that most of us weren't "there" for. And sadly, the old guard is passing, so it's wonderful to get the "history" from those who were there first hand while it's available.

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  3. I knew that Holmes had a background in psych, but I wasn't aware that child pyschology was his area of study. That suddenly sheds a whole lot of light on why he was the editor chosen for a basic distillation of the rules, at least for me.

    I had always assumed he was a gamer who just happened to have a degree in psychology. Learn something new every day,

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  4. This is incredible stuff. That makes perfect sense about Holmes. Has anyone read Holmes' 1980 article "Confessions of a Dungeon Master" from Pyschology Today? I can't find an online version, and I've been resisting ordering a hard copy from the magazine people.

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  5. belst8: someone posted a link to the Holmes article over at OD&D Discussion just recently.

    Also I laughed out loud at "the direst emergency, or a call from our wives".

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  6. Has anyone read Holmes' 1980 article "Confessions of a Dungeon Master" from Pyschology Today?

    I have not, but I plan on hunting down a copy.

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  7. Also I laughed out loud at "the direst emergency, or a call from our wives".

    Me too. What a terrific line.

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  8. I've got a copy of Fantasy Role Playing Games, by Holmes. It's an interesting read, as it is clearly intended as a kind of introduction-cum-explanation about his take on D&D.

    "In 1974, I persuaded Gygax that the original D&D rules needed revision and that I was the person to rewrite them. He readily conceded that there was a need for a beginner's book, and 'if you want to try it, go ahead.' I went through the original three booklets and the first two supplements, Blackmoor and Greyhawk, of which Gygax's Greyhawk is the greatest help. Trying to use the original words of the two game creators as much as possible, I edited a slim (48 page) handbook for beginners in role playing, published by TSR in 1977 as Dungeons and Dragons and usually marketed as 'the basic set'." (p. 68, Fantasy Role Playing Games, copyright 1981 by J. Eric Holmes, MD, Hippocrene Press, NY)

    (and you really do need to see the photo on the back cover jacket)

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  9. (and you really do need to see the photo on the back cover jacket)

    Special is it? :)

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  10. "In 1974, I persuaded Gygax that the original D&D rules needed revision and that I was the person to rewrite them...

    That date is wrong. Blackmoor didn't come out until well after that date.

    "...He readily conceded that there was a need for a beginner's book, and 'if you want to try it, go ahead.' "
    Gary did not "readily agree"; we had no idea who Holmes was or what credentials he had when he first contacted us. We learned that he was a psychologist that played D&D, and he told us that he specialized in child psych. I was present at one of the earliest meetings.

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  11. Dear Tim (and James) - oh, I know. You're quite right, Blackmoor didn't come out until summer or fall of 1975, yes? It might have been a typo in the book, but I suspect not. There are a number of other errors in the book, not the least of which was that Holmes refers to The Strategic Review as The Dragon Rumbles at one point. Even so, it shows what Holmes was thinking at the time - a lot of the book is essentially an introduction to the entire hobby, not just D&D.

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  12. Tim:

    I find it interesting that you flat out say AD&D was developed for tournament play, when other more unreliable sources lately have said that sounds like hogwash.

    Good interview.

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