Thursday, April 22, 2021

"Virtually Incomprehensible"

As I continues to sift through the deluge of newspaper articles Thaddeus Moore has been sending my way, I came across a lengthy article from July 27, 1981 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer entitled by "Leaping Lizards! Who Let the Dragon Out?" by Bob Schwabach. In the middle of the article, I saw the following paragraphs:

I won't deny that I chuckled a little when I read this, despite what seems to be a cheap shot at Gygax's expense. Based on what follows, though, I wonder if the comment might have been in jest. Regardless, I'm once again impressed by the writer's recognition that D&D's rules were intended to "provide the ground rules for an ongoing process of imaginative jousting that can be endlessly expanded and embellished." If that weren't the case, I doubt I'd have stuck with this hobby for as long as I have.

13 comments:

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    1. It's a good thing he didn't try reading the DMG.

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  2. He's really not. I started with the Holmes blue book. If I'd started with the LBBs and no wargaming experience, I'd likely have thrown up my hands.

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    1. But what he's describing seems to be Holmes Basic: one 48-page book, not three little brown books, and "a picture of a sample dungeon" (which I guess is B2?). I wonder a bit whether he actually read the rulebook.

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    2. The "sample dungeon" is likely a ref to the Tower of Zenopus (which contains no actual tower, just the dungeon below where it once stood) don't you think? It's right in the back of the Holmes Basic rulebook.

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    3. If he's talking about Holmes, then he's wrong. We comprehended it without any outside assistance.

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    4. @Dick McGee: It would make sense that he was talking about the Tower of Zenopus. I suggested B2 because he mentioned the sample dungeon separately from the rulebook.

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  3. That "former shoe salesman and failed novelist" description is almost word for word the same as in the New West article you linked a couple weeks ago. I wonder if the author of this article read and lifted it from that one or if, for some bizarre reason, that was the official press-bio TSR was sending out for Gary at the time - maybe as some sort of weird joke by Brian Blume (who seems to have had a peculiar sense of humor in this vein, like when The Strategic Review #5 included bios of all the TSR staff and Brian's was a sort of MadLibs parody of Gary's).

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    1. No "seeming" cheap shots or jesting here. This is a tactic the print media has used since the dawn of time. When you want to run down a subject, cherry pick some details from their life to ridicule -- blue-collar employment is an especial favorite. They generally stick with a descriptor initiated by another writer because there is power in repetition. I am reminded of a local politician who for decades was invariably described as a "failed TV repairman" in the opening sentence or two of virtually every article that criticized him. The truth? After WW2 he worked at a TV repair shop for about 5 months until he received money from the GI Bill and went off to college. He subsequently got a BA and went on to become an IBM executive. But the "failed TV repairman" right up front is telling you that this is a person to be dismissed. The delicious unintended irony of that D&D review -- failed, little man Gygax has produced a document that is "virtually incomprehensible" to the reporter, but has been mastered by children and young adults.

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    2. I'm still not sure. On the one hand, it certainly sounds deliberately dismissive and disdainful. On the other hand, neither article reads as unsympathetic to Gygax or to roleplaying, which is why I wondered if, as Trent suggests, it was some sort of in-joke. Gygax was often very self-deprecating, which is why I can't quite make up my mind.

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  4. I remember reading that article multiple times as a kid, absolutely thrilled that D&D had received attention from the town's main paper.

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  5. Many of us learned English by deciphering tangled messes of photocopied 1st ed. AD&D tomes, armed with an outdated dictionary and nothing more. Truly a testament to post-communist youth!

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