Monday, April 19, 2021

The High Priest of the Fantasy Movement

Over the past few days, I've been deluged with early newspaper references to roleplaying games, specifically Dungeons & Dragons and, believe it or not, Empire of the Petal Throne (the majority of them sent to me by Thaddeus Moore, one of the creators of the Wizard Funk fanzine). 

An August 31, 1975 article, entitled "From Hussars to Hippogriffs" about GenCon VIII, which appeared in the pages of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is the first one I'd like to talk about. The article's coverage of GenCon and the wider wargaming hobby is itself quite fascinating and probably worthy of its own post. Naturally, it's the discussion of the still comparatively new D&D that is probably of most interest to readers of this blog. Take note of this paragraph, which introduces Gary Gygax.

As you can see, the article calls D&D "a free-form, do-it-yourself game" consisting of "three books of rules that are really guidelines for putting together your own game." That's a remarkably astute description of OD&D, I'd say. In another paragraph, the relationship between D&D and Tolkien – or at least Gygax's personal take on it – is briefly touched upon.
I appreciate quotes like this, because I think they lend support to my long-held contention that Gygax was not simply trying to downplay the influence of Tolkien on Dungeons & Dragons for legal reasons but because he himself was genuinely not that keen on Middle-earth. 

Equally interesting to me is that the article makes mention of Empire of the Petal Throne, which had only just been released by TSR. Gamers often forget how early EPT was published and how significant its release was at the time. 
Perhaps not the most accurate description of Tékumel I've ever read, but it's also far from the worst!

10 comments:

  1. EPT is a wargame? Man, I've been playing it wrong all these years. :)

    Although to be fair, Legions of the Petal Throne was one of my first minis wargame rules and one I'll still happily go back to given the opportunity. There have been a fair number of minis rule sets for Tekumel over the decades, but none of them have really made me want to switch from Legions yet.

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    1. Bear in mind, this article is from 1975 before the use of he word "roleplaying" was commonplace. I'm pretty sure that it doesn't appear anywhere in EPT.

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  2. Yeah, I've never understood the resistance to the idea that Gary was not a big fan of Tolkien. Gary rather liked The Hobbit, disliked The Lord of the Rings, and (to the best of my knowledge) never read anything else by Tolkien. And it's not hard to believe that Gary genuinely preferred the tales of Conan, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Elric, the Dying Earth, the lost worlds of Merritt, etc. to Bilbo and Middle-earth. I'm genuinely baffled why anyone would think Gary would fib about such a thing.

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    1. The Hobbit is much more D&D than LotR. The DM of the Rings is a great welcoming that hilariously points out just how different LotR and D&D truly are.

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    2. D&D and AD&D still have plenty of LotR in them. Rangers, Wraiths, Wights, Treants, Orcs that fight among themselves unless united by a greater power, cursed artifacts and relics, Balrogs er, Balors, and a party of mixed classes and races finding adventure in the deep places of the world.

      Heck, Gollum even makes a cameo appearance on the cover of Secret of the Slavers Stockade.

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    3. "...why anyone would think Gary would fib about such a thing."

      He would fib to avoid a lawsuit from the Tolkien estate over his game of dwarves, elves, hobbits, wizards, orcs, goblins, glowing magic blades, dragons and treasure.

      Just like he fibbed about AD&D being a completely different game than D&D in order to avoid a lawsuit from Dave Arneson.

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  3. James, has anyone sent you a column titled "Greek city-states fight in Schenectady on Thursdays" from the Troy, NY Times-Record of Mar. 15, 1976? It contains another early mention of EPT, quite accurate and also fairly amusing.

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    1. No, they have not. That sounds very intriguing.

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    2. Correction: yes, I do have that article. I simply hadn't read it carefully till now and so forgot that it's already in my file.

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    3. That sounds interesting. I'm local to the area and was in 1976 (although I was all of ten years old at that point) and I assume the article is talking about the Schenectady Wargaming Association. Wonder if they were playing at the Studio of Bridge & Games that early...I was never sure when that had started up, didn't go there for my first time until maybe 78 or 79.

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