Tuesday, November 11, 2008

D&D Cover to Cover, part 1

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Men & Magic

At the end of the very first paragraph in the Forward to Men & Magic, Mr. Gygax’s enthusiasm is evident with this sentence:

"Its possibilities go far beyond any previous offerings anywhere!"
A boastful assertion, perhaps? Far beyond any, anywhere? These are the strongest words possible, and ones I believe were carefully considered and chosen by Mr. Gygax. I am certain that no one can dispute these claims, not in 1974, nor in 2008.

"While it is possible to play a single game, unrelated to any other game events past or future, it is the campaign for which these rules are designed."
In my opinion, what Mr. Gygax is saying here is that the rules for fantasy conflict are explained, and that it is possible to use the game for determining the outcome of opposing sides in such a melee. When I first read this sentence, I assumed that it referred to one-offs or one-shot adventures, much like those one might enjoy at a convention. I now believe this statement references D&D’s CHAINMAIL roots. In other words, the mechanics of resolution are presented within, but the thrust of D&D is the ongoing game, the world in which such conflicts occur, the surroundings with which the player characters will interact, the obstacles to be overcome in order to gain experience and wealth, the methods of progression within the setting that reflect success, and how continued play influences the fantastic world within which the characters adventure, this then is the campaign.

"The campaign referee will have to have sufficient time to meet the demands of his players, he will have to devote a number of hours to laying out the maps of his “dungeons” and upper terrain before the affair begins."
The term campaign is further defined here. It is not simply a wargame or table-top miniatures simulation. It is, in fact, what we now consider to be D&D. A predetermined setting, mapped out, and ready to be explored by the player characters. What is not specified is the magnitude of work or time required. Then a one-shot or convention game can be referred to as a campaign? Not quite. I don’t believe the concept of using D&D in such a way had even been considered when this Forward was written. This was Mr. Gygax making a clear distinction between D&D and other wargames. Battle simulation, ala CHAINMAIL, was only one possibility of D&D.

"The longevity of existing campaigns (notably “Blackmoor” in the Twin Cities and “Greyhawk” in Lake Geneva) and the demand for these rules from people outside these campaigns point towards a fantastic future."
Indeed it did. But why? Anyone opening Men & Magic in 1974 would still not be clear on the points Mr. Gygax was making. Is it a wargame, or not? Indeed D&D was written for wargamers. The concept developed by Gygax and Arneson had not, at that time, carved out its own gaming niche. In 1974, it was a wargame, albeit one that was written with the campaign in mind. Within a few years, D&D had certainly created its own gaming genre.

"But those whose imaginations know no bounds will find that these rules are the answer to their prayers."
I cannot argue with this assumption whatsoever. D&D has, for me, assuredly lived up to these expectations. The idea of a campaign, which is the concept of a referee detailing and mapping a fantasy world, and allowing players to explore it with their characters, has undoubtedly provided me with decades of enjoyment. It is a creative outlet which provided endless possibilities like no game before it. What made it reasonable to claim that “Its possibilities go far beyond any previous offerings anywhere!” was this very distinction. I thank Mr. Gygax and Mr. Arneson for publishing this innocent little wargame that changed the gaming world forever.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee


Jonathan said...

Nice! The "blog metamind" strikes again though... I also published a post this morning with somewhat of a similar vein - although I'll be focusing on religion and clerics in the game and their evolution through the decades. In any case, I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series

PatrickWR said...

The metamind grows -- I wrote about my intent to start reading Gygax's ouevre last week, and just yesterday I posted the first entry (a review of Keep on the Borderlands).

What makes my series a bit different than yours, Sham, is that this will be my first time ever reading Gygax. I entered the gaming hobby in the 1990s and never had occasion to read his early D&D stuff -- until now.

I'd be curious to know what you think. Meantime, keep up the good work here.

Jonathan said...

Haha! Mike Mearls is also doing this:


The Metamind grows!

Sham aka Dave said...

You know, it is kind of scary at times. I decided to start a 'read and comment' on the LBB's a couple of days ago after noticing a few tidbits that caught my fancy in Men & Magic: Clerics and Alignment, and Langauges. Lo and behold Jeff Rients did a Language post, Jonathon is doing the Clerics and Religion thing (which I am looking forward to following), and now I see a Clerics/Anti-Clerics post on Fin's OD&D forum! I'm looking forward to hearing what you think of Gygax's early TSR works, Patrick!

Reminds me of the theory that millions of monkeys with typewriters and an infinite amount of time will eventually spit out A Tale of Two Cities. I'm probably misquoting the original, but you get the idea.