Thursday, September 23, 2010

Friendship and RPGs

I think it's fair to say that one of Gary Gygax's most widely derided editorials appeared in issue 67 (November 1982) of Dragon. Entitled "Poker, Chess, and the AD&D System," it's generally understood to be Gary's strongest statement against adding to or subtracting from what's between the covers of the various AD&D rulebooks. For example, he says:
The AD&D game system does not allow the injection of extraneous material. That is clearly stated in the rule books. It is thus a simple matter: Either one plays the AD&D game, or one plays something else, just as one either plays poker according to Hoyle, or one plays (Western) chess by tournament rules, or one does not. Since the game is the sole property of TSR and its designer, what is official and what is not has meaning if one plays the game. Serious players will only accept official material, for they play the game rather than playing at it, as do those who enjoy “house rules” poker, or who push pawns around the chess board. No power on earth can dictate that gamers not add spurious rules and material to either the D&D or AD&D game systems, but likewise no claim to playing either game can then be made. Such games are not D&D or AD&D games — they are something else, classifiable only under the generic “FRPG” catch-all. To be succinct, whether you play either game or not is your business, but in order to state that you play either, it is obviously necessary to play them with the official rules, as written. Thus, when you get information in these pages which bears the “official” stamp, that means it can immediately be used in game play.
A lot of interesting discussion could be had from mining just this one paragraph, but that's not my purpose here. I wanted only to present a single illustrative example of the kind of rhetoric that was quite commonplace at the tail end of the Golden Age, although, if one looks carefully, one can find similar statements going all the way back to the inception of the entire AD&D project.

Now, as regular readers will know, I don't think much of the attitude embodied in the above quote, but, having spent a long time reflecting on it, I think passages like this need to be viewed within a larger context. Gygax gave an especially clear expression of that context in the preface to his Dungeon Masters Guide, which also, not coincidentally, is looked upon with similar disdain by gamers of a certain philosophical bent. He says:
Returning again to the framework aspect of ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, what is aimed at is a "universe" into which similar campaigns and parallel worlds can be placed. With certain uniformity of systems and "laws," players will be able to move from one campaign to another and know at least the elemental principles which govern the new milieu, for all milieux will have certain (but not necessarily the same) laws in common. Character races and classes will be nearly the same. Character ability scores will have the identical meaning -- or nearly so. Magic spells will function in a certain manner regardless of which world the player is functioning in. Magic devices will certainly vary, but their principles will be similar. This uniformity will help not only players, it will enable DMs to carry on a meaningful dialogue and exchange of useful information. It might also eventually lead to grand tournaments wherein persons from any part of the U.S., or the world for that matter, can compete for accolades.
Again, there's a lot in this paragraph that one could use as a touchstone for discussion, but, for my present purposes, the important point is this: Gary is here talking about the advantages of uniformity for the player. What he's imagining is a situation in which a player can go from campaign to campaign all across the world and know, when he sits down at the table, that the DM will be using the exact same rules as the ones he used back home, just like you can go anywhere in the world and start playing Western chess with a total stranger and be reasonably assured that you're both playing by the same rules.

I think, understood in this context, Gygax's frequent intemperate eruptions about "uniformity" and "official" rules make a bit more sense, even if I still think they're ultimately absurd. The reality is that, both before and after the arrival of AD&D, not only players but characters moved easily from campaign to campaign. "Drop-ins" were very much a part of the early hobby. Heck, such things were still pretty common when I first entered the hobby, five years after the appearance of OD&D. What I remember was that, since each campaign was different, operating under different rules interpretations and assumptions, "visiting" with your character often meant having to make some adjustments to his stats and equipment. That was the way of things and no one really seemed to expect otherwise.

But, of course, then, as now, I rarely played D&D -- or any roleplaying game -- with total strangers. Now, maybe I'm weird in this regard, but I don't think I am. I suspect most gamers play with people they consider friends, with whom they'd spend time even if they weren't roleplaying together. Except for the occasionally "game day" every few months, I never "dropped in" on a campaign with whom I didn't already have some friendly connection. So, if the referee of that campaign ran D&D differently than I did, I trusted he'd make plain all those differences and not try to take advantage of my ignorance of the "local laws." And I returned the favor when friends from other campaigns dropped in on mine.

Truth be told, that's how I deal with my own players too. I mean, we're friends and, while I do derive a lot of fun by tricking and confusing them in the campaign, it's no different than the fun I derive from friendly, animated "debate" or some other social activity predicated on fundamental trust. When I look at the corporate development of D&D, what I see is an ever-larger series of hedges against the fact that gamers won't be playing in an atmosphere of trust, that they won't be playing the game with friends. That's why I am baffled by the elevation of "don't be a dick" to the level of wisdom in gaming circles these days. That, for example, Raggi felt the need to include this advice as "Rule One" in his Referee Book speaks volumes about the assumptions of the contemporary gaming scene.

Maybe I've just been spoiled all these years, gaming with friends and people I trust implicitly, I don't know. That's why, even though I think I have a better sense of what Gary was probably getting at in his various editorials, I still don't really "get" it on a gut level. Advocating an "according to Hoyle" approach to Dungeons & Dragons seems to me a solution in search of a problem or, more cynically, a way to fix a "problem" that also conveniently keeps gamers dependent on TSR -- and its products. I think player mobility in a vacuum is an imaginary issue. In my experience, outside of conventions, players just don't wander about and randomly alight on an existing gaming group to whom they have no prior friendly connection.

And that's what this is all about, in the end: friendship. Gaming is for me an outgrowth of friendship, a social activity in which I engage with people for whom I have an affection and whom I trust enough to "open up" in the way that roleplaying can sometimes require. In such an environment, there's no need for officially-mandated uniformity. I just don't believe that's any different now than it was nearly 30 years ago when Gary Gygax penned that editorial.

49 comments:

  1. Honestly, that Gygax thought AD&D would eliminate house rules is pretty darn delusional.

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  2. I like gaming for the sake of gaming.I really get into head to head competitive gaming, but that's not RPGs.
    RPG style gaming is a great way to make and keep friends. In my regular weekly group the only people I haven't known for over 20 years are my son and another players son.
    I play irregularly in a couple other games and in every game someone has known at least one other player in the group for at least a decade.

    Pretending to go places you shouldn't, kicking in doors, defeating monsters and looting is a great way to make and keep friends.

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  3. It gets me to wondering though, when Gary says D&D is a set of guidelines, in OD&D, did he really believe that? Or was he merely aping Arneson's game-table dictums, in the interest of bilateral relations? Alternately, was it the incessant rules-questions being mailed to him that finally made him snap and put him over the edge?

    I presume Gary had come full circle by the time of his passing, once more fully within the "play it your way" camp.

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  4. According to that, not only have I never played AD&D, I've never met anyone who has either.

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  5. The statement, "The AD&D game system does not allow the injection of extraneous material" should have been followed up with, "In this issue, we provide rules to do the following in your AD&D game..."

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  6. It's telling that every picture I've seen of Gary DMing, he's got the original (1974) books nearby and not the AD&D books.

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  7. Is it really so unusual or strange to think that the originator of something would want people to stay within orthodoxy?

    I mean, it's not like the Pope is famous for saying "go ahead and do your own thing, it's cool with us". Of course not; you either toe the line or take the consequences (including immolation in some time periods).

    There's always a tension between those who create a system and those who then want to tweak, customize, trick-out, or otherwise move it over to an "open source" concept and make their own changes.

    (Isn't that the basis of fan-fic?)

    I just look at this as an artist/businessman trying to control his invention against the inevitability that others will take it and make it over in their own particular images.

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  8. Early in my gaming history (late 70's), you gamed with whoever was available to play, even if you did not always see eye-to-eye with everyone. Why? Gamers were rare in our part of outer Houston - there were no grognards and if you got too picky about who you gamed with, you didn't game.

    Once I got to college (mid-to-late '80s), the pool of players was significantly larger and selectivity became an option. This to me seems to be the norm until sometime in the '90s.

    Except in those few areas where OD&D had some history...

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  9. The "no houserules" would have been a more defensible position if AD&D had been a complete game system, but without initiative or encumbrance rules (while at the same time expecting initiative and encumbrance to be factors in play) it was literally impossible to obey the exhortation to play only BtB.

    I think the intro to Gods, Demigods, and Heroes gives a strong insight into the background to the first quoted passage. Tim Kask says that the book is "our last attempt to reach the 'Monty Hall' DM's. Perhaps now some of the 'giveaway' campaigns will look as foolish as they truly are". Well, perhaps it wasn't quite the last attempt.

    Gygax's view was that players sitting down with a DM simply didn't know what they were going to get - Monty Hall or Scrooge, or anything in between. That's the motivation; but ultimately it was futile to try to tie DM's hands - the bad one's aren't going to suddenly become quality refs anyway and the good ones shouldn't be tied up in the first place.

    But, as I said, it hardly matters as AD&D was impossible to play without houserules anyway.

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  10. From what I understand AD&D to be was, in fact, a standardizing of the rules designed for tournament play, and in those regards, he is correct in his statement. But he also mentions D&D, which to me means OD&D, Basic D&D and stated within those rules (guidelines) is almost the exact opposite of what Gygax is implying. At that late point in the early history of the game I would interpret the above as more from a marketing standpoint.

    D&D and AD&D are two different games. D&D at it's core is begging it to be taken to other places. AD&D on the other hand is meant to be the be all - end all of a closed rule system.

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  11. @Nagora. AD&D had initiative and encumbrance rules
    Initiative page 104 PHB. page 62, 63 of DMG
    Encumbrance is part of the weight allowance modifier with Strength.
    page 9 PHB. pages 27&225 of DMG.
    Encumbrance also gets mentioned here and there throughout the rules in association with movement.

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  12. I think there is a degree that you played AD&D as written or played a variant of AD&D. Playing AD&D had an assumption that you would be taking part in some quasi-medieval world filled with strange races and magic, you would fight monsters and accumulate experience points, you had a class, a race and a level. Get too far out of that assumption and you were running something not AD&D.
    Whatever the case, no one I knew or played with played AD&D quite the same way. NPC classes as PC classes, variant rules on armor adjustments and weapon speeds or unarmed combat were often part and parcel of playing with different groups. Usually these groups were close friends of old hands who had been playing togather for a time or were newbies starting out. Again, regardless of the case you were there to have fun and play a game. Whatever rules you used or changed. AD&D was the game that I played the most and had little to do with how you played by the rules but more how you played it to have fun.

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  13. I can see two sides to your point about friendship. All of the players I play with are good friends and bright, well adjusted, intelligent people, and thus we operate at a fairly high level. And thus when it comes to matters like rolling up characters without anybody around watching or following or breaking rules, it's largely drama free.

    On the other hand, I've heard and seen plenty of situations where groups of people form who might not be so abundantly blessed. I've heard of GM's that take their personal grudges out on players, heard tales of players actively trying to cheat by sneaking looks at the GM's material, and so on. A lot of these tale originate in high and middle school, where *nobody* is well adjusted.

    (I don't say that to denegrate the younger folks at all, it's just my belief that everybody is or was a magnificent dumbass when they're a teenager in their own way. Myself included. We're all bozos on this bus...)

    But that pretty much boils down to the "rules are for people who need them" thing. I'm largely with you on the point you make above, this is a social activity, played with good friends.

    You don't need to be certified by a ruling body or check up on each other to screen for cheating. Friends don't do that to friends. It's supposed to be fun, right?

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  14. @JDJarvis: I'll ignore what I assume is a joke about initiative, but encumbrance is often overlooked as one of the gaps in the rules. What is the effect of carrying a heavy load? What about when you're wearing bulky armour? What about shields? What about magic armour? What actually is the base amount to which encumbrance modifiers are applied?

    The encumbrance rules are simply not finished. It's not as bad as the situation with initiative, but it's something that every single DM has to houserule on eventually.

    To go back on-topic for a moment: it is entirely possible to play with friends and then discover that one or more turn into dicks in certain situations, on either side of the screen.

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  15. Did Gary ever explicitly address this article/statement before his passing? It just doesn’t seem compatible with the comments I’ve read by him on Dragonsfoot and other places. It doesn’t sound like the same guy who lamented implementing certain rules and was quite vocal about how he didn’t use them in his campaigns (e.g., weapon vs. armor type, psionics, et al).

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  16. I remember reading that editorial at the time and thinking "what horse____!" But I and my group did have fun doing dramatic readings from it. Our assumption was that a) TSR was trying to grow and lock-in a market for official material and b) create an expectation of uniformity for the then-new RPGA and its tournaments.

    Regarding friends, you're right. I don't think a regular game can be played unless all are at least somewhat friends, and the game is infinitely more enjoyable when they are.

    (And, FWIW, I miss the old TSR.)

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  17. While that was a rather disastrous essay by Gary, its notion of 'shared experience' presages something that we see much more of today, only in MMOs rather than paper-and-pencil RPGs. You can put 1,000 WoW players in a room and all of them can talk about their raid on the Dragons of Nightmare. There's been nothing, or very little, like that in D&D since the earliest adventure modules. I suspect that this sense of communal experience is part of what drives the popularity of packaged settings like FR. Sure, a packaged world saves the DM work, but it also makes the players feel part of something bigger than their little campaign. It's an extension of the friendship theme in a rather subtle but important way.

    Steve

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  18. I view it part of Gygax's reaction to the popularity of D&D filtered through the lenses of phone calls, letters, and attending conventions.

    When I look through Judges Guild convention modules for OD&D there are several pages of rules defining the form of D&D that is to be played at the convention. If this is what you are seeing as part of TSR to me that make Gygax reaction understandable.

    I still think he missed an esstential point of why people liked playing RPGs and focused too much on fixing the convention issue. But that is hindsight. Not really sure any plausible alternative exist giving the circumstances.

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  19. I think a lot of it comes down to age, or at least to maturity level.

    In my games now, I pretty much game only with friends, or with friends of friends (who end up becoming friends through the course of game play). We all love to play PRGs, but the game itself really becomes the "excuse" for hanging out. We're all older with spouses, kids, jobs that require working more than a typical 8 hour day, etc. If it weren't for the regularly scheduled bi-weekly game, we probably wouldn't hang out as much. It seems absurd to put "hanging out with friends" on the calendar and expect everyone to understand that it's a sacred time that you've set aside. But it's much easier to put "D&D Game at Sean's" on the calendar. My wife understands that I'll be going to that game and we make plans for babysitters or whatever accordingly. It becomes my "social time" with my buddies. And because of that, no one is "being a dick." We all play whatever game the referee wants to play (Cthulhu, AD&D, d20, whatever) and we just all get along a play.

    When I was younger, back in the early 80's when I first learned to play, I would end up joining games with people I didn't know well because none of my close friends played the game and had no interest in it. This is where I ran into the issues of jack-ass DMs who feel that the world has wronged them and they're out to prove how cool they are by beating up on the PCs. It's extremely un-fun and even a little boring. It almost drove me away from the hobby. However, I'd like to believe that most of those lame DMs I had as a kid outgrew those problems and became normal, well-adjusted adults who (if they still played D&D) wouldn't act like that.

    As for the point about the "official" rules, I can see what Gary was getting at. But, I think it's a litte short-sighted of him to think that people would play that way. RPGs by their very nature attract creative and intelligent people, and those types of people are going to want to tinker with the rules and house-rule things. I've never met anyone who played any version of any RPG who didn't change the rules to suit their own personal gaming style.

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  20. On the friendship front, I've had the exact opposite experience. It's been rare that any of my friends were interested in gaming, so most of the campaigns I've run or joined have been with complete strangers. Fortunately, over time, these people become friends or at least friendly "colleagues" in a joint enterprise. I've always viewed the core books as the presumed norm, with subtracting or adding from house rules okay if announced in advance and with the consensus of the group.

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  21. Maybe I've just been spoiled all these years, gaming with friends and people I trust implicitly, I don't know.

    Here's an interesting casual observation about my own gaming habits: Many of the people I consider a close trusted friend I met on the job. I work with a lot of people who are inclined to be interested in D&D (we make video games, it makes sense). If you were to draw a venn diagram of coworkers who were already active D&D players when I met them vs. coworkers who I've actually played D&D with, the circles would just barely overlap.

    There must be a reason I prefer to make friends first and invite to D&D second.

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  22. @Nagora, you said AD&D was without initiative or encumbrance rules and it clearly had them as I demonstrated. You'll note I did not claim they were comprehensive and concise.

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  23. For what it's worth, Dave Hargrave's Arduin sessions seem to have included players who didn't necessarily know each other, as some players would bring in friends for single sessions. This is obviously an anomaly, though, since getting to play with Hargrave was obviously an attraction.

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  24. I see what Gygax is getting at, both from a finacial aspect ("Use only genuine TSR approved parts!") and from a player-friendly gaming aspect. Particularly when you consider the ever increasing mass-marketing of D&D in whatever form by TSR at this time, new and inexperienced or much younger players might want to expect some sort of standardization that they could take with them from game to game. Probably made it easier to bring new players in.

    And, especially if you envision the rise of tournaments as an outgrowth of mass-marketing, having an official "standard" makes even more sense.

    FASA had several levels (3) of Battletech rules (ranging from utterly simple for beginners, to advanced rules regarding things like indirect artillery fire and so forth), but only Level 2 rules were acceptable in "Official FASA Tournaments". It left out lots of fun rules and options I used in everyday games (double-blind games were great), but it made sure everyone was on the same playing field.

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  25. 4e D&D is the first game I've played where it actually feels easier not to houserule and just run it BTB. 4e is not very accepting of extraneous materials. 1e by contrast benefits from a good dose of house-ruling.

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  26. Like Jeremy, I have often had to go outside of my friendship circle to find gamers. One of the first things I did when I got to college was to look up the campus gaming group. Next, I put up fliers at the local comic/game shops. I played a very entertaining, but short, Bushido game with the campus group. Unfortunately, the GM moved away and I wasn't prepared to take over the duties.

    The comic shop netted better results. I met a guy who introduced me to a group that I ended up playing with for the rest of my college career. Ironically, the guy I originally met turned out to be a complete tool and we dropped him after a couple of months.

    After spending most of the ‘90s playing once or twice a year with visiting friends, I was again relegated putting up fliers at the local shops. This time I also had the benefit of the internet. Through the Iron Crown web site I met someone who was local and shared my love of Rolemaster. He was actually looking for players to start a Classic Traveller campaign. We arranged a meeting at a coffee ship and I’ve been playing with that group weekly now since 2004.

    It is definitely a hit or miss situation when you are blindly shopping for a game group. For instance, I have found that it is a good idea to arrange an “interview” at a neutral location such as your FLGS or a coffee shop. Sometimes, you just don’t click with people. Even with my current group, it took a few years for me to be completely comfortable.

    I would love to have the luxury of gaming with good friends again. Those who can should consider themselves lucky!

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  27. This is very timely. I'm not comfortable gaming with anyone but my closest friends. Since I started grad school there has been no gaming with anyone but my children- until the last few weeks, that is. Using skype at first, and now webx, I'm able to game weekly with my two best friends, each of whom is in a different state. Because we're all well adjusted adults we can do dice rolls via the honor system, and there is an atmosphere of complete trust. I am looking forward to playing this way for the next several years. It is nothing short of completely awesome.


    That article led to a metric shit ton of arguing in my adolescent group. None of it was productive.

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  28. I was never really interested in switching from 0D&D to AD&D... Didn't see a need.

    Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, from page 36 of the 1974 Whitebook:

    Afterward
    There are unquestionably areas that have been glossed over. While we deeply regret the necessity, space requires that we put in the essentials only, and the trimming will oftimes have to be added by the referee and his players. We have attempted to furnish an ample framework, and building should be both easy and fun. In this light, we urge you to refrain from writing for rule intrepretations and the like unless you are absolutely at a loss, for everything herein is fantastic, and the best way is to decide how you would like it to be, and make it just that way! On the other hand, we are not loath to answer your questions, but why have us do any more of your imagining for you? Write to us, and tell us about your additions, ideas, and what have you. We could always do with a bit of improvement in our refereeing.

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  29. Wow James, you sure know how to grab that low-hanging fruit don't you. Going after "Chess, Poker & AD&D"? Please. Of all the stuff Gary may have said to raise eyebrows, you pick the palooka punch. There are so many other issues you could've taken up as your rallying cry: Gary's love/hate relationship with APAs, eschewing power-gaming and yet publishing Unearthed Arcana as word and law. But no. Chess, Poker and AD&D. And how many DECADES after the fact? Did it kick your sandcastle over that hard, James? What's next, an in-depth scathing report on Gary's secret dislike of Dave Arneson as evidenced by the name "Nosnra"?

    LET.

    IT.

    GO.

    You can pontificate all you want to, but the fact is, more people can and do love and use the Dungeon Masters Guide than don't, and it's contradictions (and yes, they're there, I won't be so intellectually dishonest as to suggest there aren't any) can be looked or played around. After all, isn't it all about being a good DM and taking what you want and doing stuff with it?

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  30. Nah, James. Don't listen to the above. Keep doing what you're doing. Looks like pretty much everybody else on this thread was interested in what you said and didn't think you were writing a "scathing" attack on anybody.

    I'd say, after this long a period of time, if people can't quite grasp your sense of style and your philosophy, then they probably shouldn't be reading your blog.

    Hey, Bill. Did you know that they make decaf that's just as tasty as the real thing? You should try it out. Seems like you're a little on edge there.

    :)

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  31. It's telling that every picture I've seen of Gary DMing, he's got the original (1974) books nearby and not the AD&D books.

    I'm sure others better skilled in Google-fu than I can find a quote or three where Gygax admitted that he didn't play AD&D, even back in the day. For that matter, I recall he disavowed various aspects of its rules by stating that they were the ideas of other people and put into the game and their insistence, not his own desire to do so.

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  32. Is it really so unusual or strange to think that the originator of something would want people to stay within orthodoxy?

    Not at all. If it really been about orthodoxy, I don't think these editorials would rankle so much. It's far more likely, though, that Gary's real concern was shoring up TSR's bottom line and, while understandable, it's still a bit disappointing.

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  33. Gygax's view was that players sitting down with a DM simply didn't know what they were going to get - Monty Hall or Scrooge, or anything in between. That's the motivation;

    That's an interesting perspective; I hadn't considered that, especially in light of Kask's intro to Supplement IV.

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  34. D&D at it's core is begging it to be taken to other places. AD&D on the other hand is meant to be the be all - end all of a closed rule system.

    That's certainly the line that Gary adopted in distinguishing between the two games even back in the 70s.

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  35. The encumbrance rules are simply not finished. It's not as bad as the situation with initiative, but it's something that every single DM has to houserule on eventually.

    I don't think I ever used the AD&D encumbrance rules, such as they are, and I know I didn't use the initiative system. We used a hybrid of Holmes (which was our first rulebook) and Moldvay, even when supposedly playing "AD&D."

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  36. Did Gary ever explicitly address this article/statement before his passing?

    He might well have. If he did, I'd be amazed if he hadn't disavowed it. Once he no longer had a vested interest in the success of the D&D "brand," I found his perspective much more reasonable.

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  37. (And, FWIW, I miss the old TSR.)

    Strangely, I do too, but I suspect that might just be nostalgia talking.

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  38. While that was a rather disastrous essay by Gary, its notion of 'shared experience' presages something that we see much more of today, only in MMOs rather than paper-and-pencil RPGs. You can put 1,000 WoW players in a room and all of them can talk about their raid on the Dragons of Nightmare. There's been nothing, or very little, like that in D&D since the earliest adventure modules. I suspect that this sense of communal experience is part of what drives the popularity of packaged settings like FR. Sure, a packaged world saves the DM work, but it also makes the players feel part of something bigger than their little campaign. It's an extension of the friendship theme in a rather subtle but important way.

    These are some interesting observations. Thanks.

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  39. I view it part of Gygax's reaction to the popularity of D&D filtered through the lenses of phone calls, letters, and attending conventions.

    I'm sure that had something to do with it, too.

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  40. There must be a reason I prefer to make friends first and invite to D&D second.

    I'm exactly the same way.

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  41. For what it's worth, Dave Hargrave's Arduin sessions seem to have included players who didn't necessarily know each other, as some players would bring in friends for single sessions. This is obviously an anomaly, though, since getting to play with Hargrave was obviously an attraction.\

    True! Amusingly, Arduin is probably the poster child for exactly the kind of variant rules that Gygax was inveighing against. The vacuous grimoire anyone?

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  42. Because we're all well adjusted adults we can do dice rolls via the honor system, and there is an atmosphere of complete trust. I am looking forward to playing this way for the next several years. It is nothing short of completely awesome.

    To me, this is the only way to play a roleplaying game.

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  43. Wow James, you sure know how to grab that low-hanging fruit don't you. Going after "Chess, Poker & AD&D"? Please. Of all the stuff Gary may have said to raise eyebrows, you pick the palooka punch.

    You know me, I only go for the easy victories.

    There are so many other issues you could've taken up as your rallying cry: Gary's love/hate relationship with APAs,

    That's a post for next week. Thanks for reminding me of it.

    eschewing power-gaming and yet publishing Unearthed Arcana as word and law.

    I think I've already covered that, but, if I haven't, I can probably fit it in sometime in October.

    But no. Chess, Poker and AD&D. And how many DECADES after the fact? Did it kick your sandcastle over that hard, James?

    Actually, it was a reproduction of the City of Brass in sand, not a castle, and I'd thank you very much for not reminding me of the disastrous summer of '81.

    What's next, an in-depth scathing report on Gary's secret dislike of Dave Arneson as evidenced by the name "Nosnra"?

    Now, this I know I've already posted about.

    LET.

    IT.

    GO.


    You first.

    You can pontificate all you want to, but the fact is, more people can and do love and use the Dungeon Masters Guide than don't,

    Did I imply otherwise?

    and it's contradictions (and yes, they're there, I won't be so intellectually dishonest as to suggest there aren't any) can be looked or played around.

    Actually, I think the DMG's contradictions are part of what makes it such a charming book.

    After all, isn't it all about being a good DM and taking what you want and doing stuff with it?

    Again, I never said otherwise.

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  44. It gets me to wondering though, when Gary says D&D is a set of guidelines, in OD&D, did he really believe that? Or was he merely aping Arneson's game-table dictums, in the interest of bilateral relations? Alternately, was it the incessant rules-questions being mailed to him that finally made him snap and put him over the edge?

    I think it's pretty clear, if you examine the record of Gary's shifting statements over the years, that his embrace of official-ness maps closely to the rise in the success of D&D and thus TSR. I won't say it was only about money, but money definitely had a lot to do with it.

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  45. One thing to keep in mind, too, is that many of D&D's early competitors started out as houseruled D&D games. From a business perspective, it's not hard to draw line from houseruled campaign --> new competitor. Nor had that stopped by the time this article was published: The Palladium RPG pretty clearly had its rules in someone's D&D houserules, for example.

    Of course, an insistence on not houseruling may have driven some players to turn away from D&D in favour of other games, but the doctrine of unintended consequences is always in effect...

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  46. What tends to get overlooked is the context of the editorial as a whole, something which I have only just now realized as I re-read the section you're quoting for the umpteenth time.

    The essay/article/editorial in question starts out like this:

    "A few individuals consistently voice misconceptions about DUNGEONS & DRAGONS and the ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS games with respect to the whole of the genre of fantasy role playing in general and TSR in particular."

    And near the end of it he writes:

    "Certainly, even those groups who adhere strictly to the rules may develop certain rule extensions or cases WHICH DIFFER FROM WHAT IS WRITTEN. These individuals are notable, for in a tournament they are heard inquiring about how certain rules or situations will be handled. They play D&D or AD&D games and fully understand what that means. I do hope that all Good Readers are now as well grouned in the facts of the matter." (emphasis added)

    I've never been a Gygax apologist, but I think he's unfairly tarred for an editorial who's purpose is misunderstood and its content quoted widely and frequently out of context. Gygax was ultimately making two points:

    (1) You can change the rules of Monopoly or Poker or Chess. But if you do, the game you are playing is no longer, strictly speaking, Monopoly or Poker or Chess. And it would be a misconception to judge Monopoly or Poker or Chess based on your variant rules for those games.

    (2) The official rules are the foundation of the game. They're the common ground that all (A)D&D players share. It's okay to change things or add things. Just remember that you ARE, in fact, changing and adding things.

    I think some of these points are obscured by Gygax's typically ineffectual rhetorical skills, but I think the actual meaning of this column is often misinterpreted to mean things which the column itself explicitly contradicts.

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  47. We didn't stay "Orthodox" but we certainly moved about campaigns back in the day. I think it is just that most of the "house rules" were ones that were agreed on as a whole, and thus characters could 'port about as needed. Things like hit points, classes, races etc. were just kind of generally accepted amongst the loose "group" of about 10-20 which composed our main local scene. Arduin, AD&D, Judges Guild, Dragon magazine & most supplements seemed to all be fair game.

    On the few occasions where something unbalancing showed up one of the more experienced DM's always seemed to find a way to knock things down to scale; either that or the uber-mensch characters would find themselves suitably rewarded and retired for their mighty deeds.

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  48. "While that was a rather disastrous essay by Gary, its notion of 'shared experience' presages something that we see much more of today, only in MMOs rather than paper-and-pencil RPGs. You can put 1,000 WoW players in a room and all of them can talk about their raid on the Dragons of Nightmare. There's been nothing, or very little, like that in D&D since the earliest adventure modules."

    Actually, this was my exact experience with Living Greyhawk (3.X). It is interesting that 3.X seems to be what Gary was looking for with AD&D, a game that is played the same no matter where you go. Of course, I play a couple of 3.0/3.5 games where we "ignore" parts of the rules, especially the 3.0 game ;).

    "I suspect that this sense of communal experience is part of what drives the popularity of packaged settings like FR. Sure, a packaged world saves the DM work, but it also makes the players feel part of something bigger than their little campaign. It's an extension of the friendship theme in a rather subtle but important way."

    Again, the Living Greyhawk campaign was just this, except pen and paper. All the PC's in any of the games (all over the world mind you) would be taking place at the same time. Now I know some groups did the LG as a group of friends in their weekly/monthly gaming group, but I went to many "game days" sort of a "mini-convention" where I would sit down and play with complete (or mostly so) strangers with the same character and switch tables with another group to play a different module with the same character.

    Of course this was only possible because of the added LG rules for PC accounting/auditing (gold and "stuff") because of the very "trust" issues mentioned above.

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  49. So, my experience was that, when I was a teenager, we were pretty much all jerks. Our sessions were full of arguments and rules lawyering and such. The thing is, we really enjoyed that.

    There was one guy, though, who was a real jerk. He made the game less fun. So, we stopped inviting him. Problem solved. And honestly, I don’t think he was having much fun either. It never seemed to bother him that he was no longer invited.

    (And he is still a jerk. Just a few years ago he once again jerked around the one of us—a saint—who still put up with him and put the final nail in that coffin. Late-30s and he still hasn’t caught on. sigh)

    And that’s been my experience: Jerks don’t tend to hang around too long.

    As we matured, things changed. We didn’t need rules to reign in our jerkitude. We just needed maturity.

    The people I game with become my friends. (Or I wouldn’t continue to game with them.) I thought gaming with friends was the only way to game.

    Then I went to NorTexRPG Con this year. I played with complete strangers. (Plus a few people I knew from the net and one person I’d met a couple of times.) A bunch of them. It was a blast and nobody was a jerk.

    And—get this—the whole time we were playing these games without “reign in the jerks” rules that I keep hearing are so necessary. Yes! Complete strangers having fun and not being jerks with classic D&D and AD&D! Amazing...but true!

    ^_^

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