Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Last week I made a post in which I clarified an imprecision in my usage of the term "wargame" with reference to the historical background out of which OD&D arose. This led to some interesting comments, including one about the way that many in the old school movement downplay the importance of miniatures, sometimes to the point of denying that they were ever used.
I can certainly understand why some might wish to do this. The WotC editions of D&D became increasingly reliant on the use of miniatures and so miniatures are an easy target to lash out against as the locus of where those editions "strayed" from the original vision for the game. This is made easier by the fact that so many old schoolers didn't use miniatures in their games. We know, from accounts by his players, that Gygax didn't use miniatures in his home campaign. Likewise, OD&D, as written, doesn't require the use of minis; even large combats can be adjudicated easily without the need for them. Consequently, it's not a great leap from there to argue that miniature figures aren't part of the heritage of the game.
That would be a mistake, though, a mistake I've of which I've been guilty too. I rarely used minis in my early D&D campaigns. I owned lots of miniatures, as I've said, but they were mostly used as "toys," not something we used as part of play beyond visually establishing a marching order or the like. At the same time, we knew of several gaming groups that used miniatures religiously and, again, we know from contemporary accounts that Dave Arneson did use miniatures in his home campaign. There was thus a lot of variation from group to group and the fact that miniatures continued to be bought and sold shows that someone must have been using them and likely putting them to heavier use than I ever did back in the day.
In any case, my point here is not that miniatures are an inseparable part of "the D&D experience" or anything like that. You can easily play old school D&D without the use of miniatures. Rather, my point is that it's a mistake, as some do, to look on miniatures as somehow aberrant or not a significant part of the heritage of D&D, especially in its early days. Roleplaying grew out of miniatures wargaming; that's a fact of history. Many of the hobby's most durable ideas and practices can be linked backed to similar ideas and practices in miniatures gaming. To deny this is to deny history.
At the same time, I'm not arguing, as others have done, equally in ignorance, that D&D was (or is) a miniatures wargame. The truth is a fair bit more convoluted and messy and it's difficult to say just where miniatures wargaming ends and roleplaying begins, but I hope we can all agree that the border lies somewhere within those three little brown books, even if no one at the time quite realized this. Trying to piece together this history is part of why I started this blog. It's an ongoing process and often one that's fraught with setbacks and re-evaluations. Lately, I've been giving a lot more thought to the miniatures side of things, so expect more posts on this in the future. I hope anyone who has more extensive experience with miniatures wargaming in the 1970s will chime in with their insights, since I have so little of my own to offer on this score.