Friday, March 13, 2009

Words from the Past

If the time ever comes when all aspects of fantasy are covered and the vast majority of its players agree on how the game should be played, D&D will have become staid and boring indeed. Sorry, but I don't believe that there is anything desirable in having various campaigns playing similarly to one another....I desire variance in interpretation and, as long as I am editor of the TSR line and its magazine, I will do my utmost to see that there is as little trend towards standardization as possible. Each campaign should be a 'variant', and there is no 'official interpretation' from me or anyone else.

--E. Gary Gygax, Alarums & Excursions #2 (July 1975)
Thanks to Victor Raymond for providing me with this quote.

43 comments:

  1. That's my favorite Gary Gygax right there. :D

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  2. Something I learned in later years: Gary said a lot of stuff.

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  3. This is presumably the quote that lurks at the top of a long essay on the pernicious effects of the cash/market nexus...?

    That mountaintop air sure is crystalline and clean, but all the crops grow down in the dirty valley, I guess.

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  4. I see this as a very positive series of quotes, indeed. By comparison, the idea of uniformity he suggests in the DMG introduction is, IMO, consistent with any system as open as AD&D was. Chaosium had theirs, Tunnels and Trolls, et al. This did not stop integration of house rules, but defined a pattern of exchange where the game was then more readily understood across a wide spectrum. The greatest thing was that you could still play in another person's game then and they'd say, "this is how I do it," just as Gary did. The base rules were thus uniform, the rest falling outside of that, additional. Nope, we don't use that. Yep, we do. You do? Well we don't. Everyone could still have their take, or stay to the rules verbatim (I never saw one of those, no surprise there). It may seem a dichotomy, as he goes on to give open license to the DM in many ways and in so doing embraces the concept as well, both publicly and privately. The real concern was a language of accord on the base level, certainly a rigid intent to defy IP raids and D&D clones (all too near then), and to build consensus as the premier role playing game in the face of rapid, nay, enormous and shocking growth.

    As James has mentioned earlier, this indeed led to the advent of the RPGA, which in turn put thousands of gamers into contact with each other (like this blog does).

    Great quotes from a great person.

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  5. That's my favorite Gary Gygax right there. :D

    Yeah, it's kind of like Bible quotes, you can pretty much find what you want when you want it. :)

    But in all seriousness, it is a nice sentiment, and it's the version of D&D I took to heart. In fact, I can say I never played any version of D&D by the book.

    Personally, I think home-brewing should be part of any good design philosophy. IMO, if your going to bother to make a 'new' RPG, consider how players might go about home-brewing it. They are going to do it, so you might as well make a game that allows for, if not enables home-brewing.

    I think D&D has wandered from that path since the core of 2E.

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  6. I like this Gary Gygax much more than the "D&D YR DOIN IT WRONG" one from the preface to the DMG.

    Verification word: stfulos = St. Fulos, patron saint of d30s.

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  7. It's a real shame that there isn't an archive of all the issues of Alarums & Excursions available on the net. I've always heard of it yet have never seen a copy.

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  8. "Each campaign should be a 'variant', and there is no 'official interpretation' from me or anyone else."

    Wow. I mean... wow. It's too bad that such an attitude is essentially anathema to product growth in a consumerist environment.

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  9. Gary seems to go through some really odd shifts as time went on - someone quoted Gary a couple of days ago about how games *should* be uniform and consistent and he was rather vociferous about it. Any reason why he showed such shifts, or was he writing for a specific audience?

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  10. Gary said a lot of stuff.

    That he did. My feeling remains that there were two Garys: Gary the Gamer and TSR Gary. The first is the Gary I choose to remember, because he really was just one of us. He was the Gary I got to know and love over the year or two before his death. The second is the Gary a lot of other people remember and whose legacy is, in my opinion, more mixed. TSR Gary certainly did a lot to promote roleplaying and he's directly responsible for untold millions of people entering the hobby. But he's also the guy whose dicta in Dragon and elsewhere turned people off D&D and still negatively color their perceptions of both the game and him.

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  11. This is presumably the quote that lurks at the top of a long essay on the pernicious effects of the cash/market nexus...?

    Possibly, but not under my byline. I think we all know my opinion on the matter and I think we're all aware of how difficult it is to retain one's ideals about a hobby once it becomes one's business.

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  12. The real concern was a language of accord on the base level, certainly a rigid intent to defy IP raids and D&D clones (all too near then), and to build consensus as the premier role playing game in the face of rapid, nay, enormous and shocking growth.

    I can accept the idea of the AD&D rules as the functional equivalent of the Major League Baseball rules. I see much utility in this approach. The problem is that, whatever Gary's intention might have been, that's not how a lot of gamers perceived the AD&D rules. They were instead treated as normative, not just for convention play, but for home play as well. Gary and TSR were treated as oracles, whose words were the words of the gods themselves and I think this weakened the vibrant culture of early gaming, creating a much more homogeneous one as its successor. Again, that might not have been Gary's intention but that is what happened in the 80s and beyond.

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  13. I think D&D has wandered from that path since the core of 2E.

    Naturally, I'd slide the date further back than that, but I see your point.

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  14. I like this Gary Gygax much more than the "D&D YR DOIN IT WRONG" one from the preface to the DMG.

    I think most of us do. The DMG preface is one of those things that's hard to reconcile with Gary's prior statements on the same subject. I can accept that the notion that his preface was misinterpreted, but, if so, the fault doesn't lie entirely in the people who misunderstood his meaning. Even now, knowing what I do, it's hard to read the preface and not see it as an invocation of One True Way®.

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  15. It's a real shame that there isn't an archive of all the issues of Alarums & Excursions available on the net. I've always heard of it yet have never seen a copy.

    You could always subscribe or buy some back issues from Lee Gold: http://thestarport.com/xeno/aande.html

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  16. It's too bad that such an attitude is essentially anathema to product growth in a consumerist environment.

    That's the lesson I draw from this as well. More's the pity.

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  17. Any reason why he showed such shifts, or was he writing for a specific audience?

    I can't even begin to say for certain. I think both the legal wrangling with Dave Arneson and the rise of products, like Arduin, that were piggy-backing on D&D's success took their toll on him and at least some of his shifts are attributable to that. It's hard to say, though, since it was a long time ago and memories of it are fading.

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  18. I believe that the product shifts were consonant with the times as then being expressed, By comparison, we have another poster here in another thread which Jame's quoted stating that their game, a re-imaging of OD&D,
    was taking roads never thought of in the "old days". Doesn't this shift the focus, thus, to an expanded or "Advanced" idea?

    By reiteration, none of the former markets truly died in the shift, and fan-elements rose within its varied levels, and as much as folks
    were given a definitive set of rules with ADD, many if not all that I met (excepting at con tournament play) never embraced each and every concept as written in these.

    So, in reality, I do not see where the culture was ever lost, but in fact it was merely expanded upon in different ways, notwithstanding TSR's exhortations to the contrary.

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  19. As you are always on to something with your ideas, Ive been trying to think what might be to blame for the trend towards standardization that you accuse the AD&D DMG of facilitating. As someone disconnected from the North American scene I can assure you it is nothing inherent to the three core AD&D books as my own game was/is very different to any game descriptions I read about, as should be case and as was the case in the earliest days of the hobby.

    I offer up the beloved (not by me) TSR modules as a worthier scapegoat. Surely the idea that the exact same adventure was being played out at many different gaming tables did more to homogenise the gaming experience across your continent. Not only did players unknown to each other share identical experiences but DMs probably learned to construct scenarios similar to those they had bought.

    Imagine no AD&D and the TSR modules published for use with OD&D and I believe you would have seen the same standardisation of game-play. The OD&D rulebooks would have been blameless.

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  20. The DMG preface is one of those things that's hard to reconcile with Gary's prior statements on the same subject.

    The 1e DMG was my first-ever D&D purchase (we were using a friend's PH) and I read that intro in the car on the way home from the store. I knew nothing of the history of the game, nothing of things EGG had said previously, and nothing about the theory/schools of gaming. All I thought was "what a jerk." I was 12 or so.

    That feeling took a long time for me to overcome, and I think I was much the worse off for it. But that's the effect it had on me at the time.

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  21. Oh, and if my jaded/cynical self picked up a game today and read "if you don't do it this way you're not really playing the game" it would be GAME OVER right then and there.

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  22. Sigh. The whole is perhaps worthy of a "pedantasist's" dream. The games in their many forms were in fact at the extreme non-inclusive or at the other end all-inclusive in keeping with the rules or their component parts, like modules. With so many involved in the varied inputs deriving from that, with the Dragon and Dungeon and RPGA being focal points towards understanding a rapidly developing market, it becomes a wonder that so much was accomplished to prove the game's ultimate worth and open-endedness on so many levels and for so many differing PointsOV arising at that time.

    D&D's glory is not in turn its weakness, no matter which vocal point is adhered to, and there are many. That its creators _also_ had additional visions that built upon its foundation is of consequence, for the overriding point is that the vision was spread and spread widely, impacting millions of people. From my POV, literally, nothing more need be said or understood other than to extol all of the good derived from that.

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  23. me: I think D&D has wandered from that path since the core of 2E.

    James: Naturally, I'd slide the date further back than that, but I see your point.


    Yeah, I wouldn't argue I have a rock-solid case for my belief, as 1E contained some 'wandering' as well. However, I see the Priest Magic Spheres, the Thief Skills, NWPs and Wizard Specialization of 2E as a genuine effort to engage the players in creative exploits. -Not to say I agree with how it was done, but I liked it in spirit.

    To me, I think the problem with these later 'customizable versions of D&D' was that the customization process itself was codified. People then started talking about character builds and balance and bleh. IMHO, customizing within the rules was a powerful thing advanced by 2E. But customizing 'of the rules' is a very big part of the 'old school' (or TRUE D&D) spirit as I see it. This is the part of D&D I felt disappeared precipitously after the 2E core. (IMO, what is worse, I think many people see these as inseparable qualities, blaming the advent of greater customization within-the-rules with the loss of customization of-the-rules themselves) -Hope that makes sense.

    Anyway, in my mind, I think this spirit is where we have some common ground, James. Sorry for the ramble, but it's a topic of great interest to me.

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  24. I think it's always a mistake to look for "original sin" in the field of D&D. The reality is, there was no one point when it suddenly flipped from hobbyist to commercial as a game. It was a process of hobbyists becoming people running a game company, and different parts of that showed through in different products. There are hobbyist strains in the releases put out to this day - they're just not that important or influential.

    Thing is, it's finally feasible for the hobbyist layers of the game to come together and coalesce and do interesting things and discuss and play the game the way we love it. The act of determining when D&D "went bad" is fine for the kind of armchair discussion that hobbyists always have, but I don't think it should distract us from important things like creating content.

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  25. If one argues that D&D was inherently a success, and therefore nothing more need be said, then I think that overlooks the trend that it had as primarily a boom-bust cycle over a very short period of time in the early 1980's.

    Yes, players like ourselves visiting these forums keep the candle alive, but we're generally older hobbyists. We have to admit that the number of newcomers to the game has shrunk consistently (from all the numbers I can dig up) since that "fad" era.

    My opinion is that it's precisely the multitude and size of different published rulesets (OD&D, AD&D, Basic line) that split the player base and made so many camps that cannot communicate with each other in meaningful ways. Personally, I think that a project circa 1978 to (a) clarify OD&D, would have been best split from a project to (b) bulk up the game through many more options. Mixing the two projects in AD&D was an unfortunate conflation of events.

    My estimate for some time has been that D&D will cease official publication sometime around 2018. So its largest success was that of a "boom town". I think it's honest to consider alternatives that might have allowed for more consistent growth, and more solid connections between gamers of different generations (much as both old and young baseball fans can easily enjoy the same game today). The original designers were truly great, but they also had tragic Greek flaws which in some ways sowed the seeds of the game's own destruction.

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  26. We will agree to disagree here, as it was not the designers who sowed those seeds, but in fact the majority stock holders who rammed their position of greed down the vision-worker's throats at TSR. One might also note, by your comparisons, that the introduction of different games and game lines, such as Metamorphosis Alpha, Gamma World, or others further split the D&D camps as parts fractured here or there to their favorite types and forms. To each their own, and so it goes.

    As far as connections between players of different generations, they were all there, for indeed the Dragon and RPGA were great catalysts for that, as well as the many conventions spawned by its growth and not only those run or sanctioned by TSR.

    I am not arguing that D&D was a success, as the facts prove it without argument, of course.

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  27. I offer up the beloved (not by me) TSR modules as a worthier scapegoat.

    That's an interesting thesis. I'll have to give it some thought.

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  28. Anyway, in my mind, I think this spirit is where we have some common ground, James. Sorry for the ramble, but it's a topic of great interest to me.

    No need to apologize. This is the place for rambling :)

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  29. The act of determining when D&D "went bad" is fine for the kind of armchair discussion that hobbyists always have, but I don't think it should distract us from important things like creating content.

    Agreed. It's a conclusion I've been coming to as well, which is why I'm ramping up my productivity on the creating content front. I'll still be doing lots of pondering imponderables about the history of the hobby, but I'll also be providing lots more gaming content too, because, ultimately, that's where the old ways live or die.

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  30. The original designers were truly great, but they also had tragic Greek flaws which in some ways sowed the seeds of the game's own destruction.

    Indeed. My feeling is that, by examining those flaws and seeing how they played out, we might better be able to avoid making the same mistakes this time around. Goodness knows I need the benefits of hindsight.

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  31. We will agree to disagree here, as it was not the designers who sowed those seeds, but in fact the majority stock holders who rammed their position of greed down the vision-worker's throats at TSR.

    If this is the case, then that's an interesting story in itself. I'd dearly love to know more about this, as it's a story that seems largely untold. There are bits of it here and there, of course, but more than that is a great hole in my historical knowledge.

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  32. Evening James.

    Here's an interesting link:

    http://www.thekyngdoms.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=37

    I of course was there with Gary on so many occasions to hear of this first hand, as a free-lancer, senior lead designer for the Greyhawk Project (with Eric Shook and Terry Kuntz), 1979-1980, and then in 1985 when he took back TSR briefly from the Blumes only to have his feet undercut by Lorraine Williams. At that time I was working on Stoink and his plan was to bring me aboard as the World of Greyhawk Brand Manager and lead designer, though that, of course, never came to pass due to politics.

    Cheers!
    Rob Kuntz

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  33. Here's an interesting link:

    Wow that was a very nice surprise. Thanks!

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  34. Here's an interesting link:


    Thank you for that find. There's a lot of interesting stuff there.

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  35. My feeling is that, by examining those flaws and seeing how they played out, we might better be able to avoid making the same mistakes this time around. Goodness knows I need the benefits of hindsight.

    This is true, James. However, we posess the same, or similar flaws. So that, if we do not repeat the mistakes of the past, we will at least make all new ones.
    Just imagine the neo-grognards of thirty years into the future trying to fix the errors of the first old school renaissance.

    "Those crusty old bastards! they should have left well enough alone!"

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  36. Regarding TSR Modules as a potential contributor or cause of a kind of pre-generated narrative play - we''ve talked about that before.

    :)

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  37. Here's an interesting link:

    http://www.thekyngdoms.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=37


    Interesting indeed. Thanks for pointing it out.

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  38. However, we posess the same, or similar flaws. So that, if we do not repeat the mistakes of the past, we will at least make all new ones.
    Just imagine the neo-grognards of thirty years into the future trying to fix the errors of the first old school renaissance.


    And I hope they do! I'm not a utopian and I don't really believe in progress, so I don't think it's possible, even with the benefit of hindsight, to avoid making mistakes. We'll certainly make them and that's to be expected. My only hope is that we'll make different mistakes and ones that are more congenial to the style of play we prefer.

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  39. Interesting indeed. Thanks for pointing it out.

    That is the interview that appeared in OD&Dities issues 9 & 10, back in 2003. They can be downloaded from Dragonsfoot easily enough. I am truly surprised that so many people here appear to be unfamiliar with it.

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  40. I am truly surprised that so many people here appear to be unfamiliar with it.

    Speaking only for myself, I don't spend much time at Dragonsfoot and never have, so I miss a lot of things available there.

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  41. Speaking only for myself, I don't spend much time at Dragonsfoot and never have, so I miss a lot of things available there.

    You are missing a treat with OD&Dities; Dragonsfoot only hosts that now long (maybe five years) defunct fanzine, but it is well worth downloading all twelve issues, as they start right on the cusp of the D20/3e revolution. Perhaps even more interesting is why it ceased distribution:

    http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=18058

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