Monday, September 12, 2011

Reading Rob Kuntz Part II

The story thus far:
  • Rob Kuntz makes is clear that Original D&D was designed under the assumption that the players & GMs would do the creating of worlds, adventures, races, classes, monsters, treasures and the like.
  • AD&D and subsequent iterations are based on an entirely different model that makes the game publisher responsible for creative endeavors and the players just end users of those products.
Now, time for some analysis of this assumption. Dungeons and Dragons in most versions still encouraged, at least in prose, creation of your own worlds and adventures. However, Gary made it quite clear that rules tinkering might be out of bounds. Change things too much, he explained, and you might change the fundamental nature of the game. I can't count the times I have used that very reasoning to defend a staunch interpretation of the "spirit of D&D" whatever that means. Now I understand that the decision to formalize the ruleset was not, as Gary said, to facilitate tournament play. But rather to make production of commercial products usable by the D&D gaming consumer. In other words if everyone was busy custom designing their own version of the game then commercial modules might not be usable in their highly personalized versions of the game. Hence sales would suffer. But if everyone plays under the same rule structure and game assumptions then the modules should be usable by great numbers of AD&D gamers. Hence sales would be higher.

Now, are we to assume that Gary was lying when he said formalized rules would facilitate tournament play? I don't think so. But in business the consumers don't need to know the whole truth. I certainly do now believe that the decision was at  least in part an economic one. And it would have been ridiculous for Gary to admit that to his gaming fans. The tournament idea is basically true and it plays much better with the gamers at large.

So does this mean that all gamers stopped creating? No, I don't think so. And obviously Gary wanted to keep that element as part of the game. However, we are now being guided to create within definite bounds. The core rules had been released for AD&D and most people didn't stray too far from those bounds. Get too weird or create monsters or magic items that weren't in the books and somebody might call you on it. Now, to be fair, there was still a lot of free wheeling creating going on in the early AD&D days. I personally think the early ethos had a holdover period. And for lots of people they just kept doing what they always had in the original edition. Some people must have taken this better than others. I know my gaming circle was always a little reluctant to accept homebrewed stuff into our "official" AD&D campaigns.

In fact the ultimate truth of this changing ethos of TSR delivering gaming edicts from on high is enshrined in The Knights of The Dinner Table comic book and Hackmaster. It is an ethos I was very comfortable with and that I accepted as old school. It was gaming as I knew it. And as much as their is truth is satire, KODT hits the nail right on the head with Hard 8 Enterprises and their Nazi-like control of the gaming world. We all laugh and find it funny, especially when Gary Jackson makes gamers out to be unwitting market dupes. Yeah laugh all you want, but it was more true than we may want to admit. Of course that's what make parody so successful as a comedic form. We can all sense the truth behind it.

I even think of my own gaming angst over the loss of gaming "community" that was so clear when TSR was king Gary ruled the roost and the RPGA was the official gaming world. We hungrily scanned the shelves every month for new gaming modules and supps. Like junkees looking for a fix from their game dealers. Did we create for ourselves? Sure we did, but it always was seen as second best. Even when the end product was twice as good as some of the stuff coming out of "official" publishers. We just didn't trust ourselves. Because the ethos of the game when I came in was that there were the gaming gods and the gaming worshippers. Gaming gods lived on mount TSR and the best we could do was wait like grovelling serfs for the granting of divine boons from on high. *Whap!* Thank you sir, can I have another? And we ate it all up.

Now, at the time I never really noticed this. I would never have questioned it. But it's as if the curtain was pulled away and the man behind the screen isn't very god-like. In fact it's all just a bit of a put on. And I can't help but wonder what I've been missing out on all these years. For the first time I begin to see the old school movement in a different light. As Rob makes clear, we're really just perpetrating the same model in our clones and variants that were perpetrated on us so long ago. Even OSRIC was a tool for creating marketable supplements. We wanted more gaming food. Why couldn't we just plant our own gaming gardens and grow it ourselves? And that community we so longed for? It was an illusion born of the creation of a market segment. It took the power from us and gave it to the sole hands of TSR and the gaming companies.

This model has continued today to the point that home brew is more rare than ever in 3.5, Pathfinder and 4e. In fact so much material comes out so quickly that there's little need to look beyond this month's shipment of new gaming books. The whole system is set up to work against spontaneous creation. We are more like actors in a play instead of playwrights and authors of our own gaming destinies. Are there those that still create in 4e and PF? Sure there are, but the system is now even more tight that before. It is an even more strict system within which you have to work in order to let your imagination run free. And yes, there is still prose about creating your own stuff, but do they really want us to, or do they want us to go out and buy their stuff? Do I really need to answer? The point is the whole system is geared away from spontaneous and original creation.

Rob speaks to this at length in his interview and in many of his own blog posts. And for me it is like a game shattering revelation. And it makes me wonder if this is really what I needed. For the longest time I'd been adrift in gaming land. Uncertain if I should try and go back to my roots, try and stick with OGL clones, move to a new game. I was a lost soul. This recent discovery has cause such a massive paradigm shift for me I can never really look at gaming the same way. The gaming I did or that I now want to do. In many, many ways it speaks to the truth of my heart. A truth I was never able to admit to because I was so busy letting others tell me what my own heart said. And interestingly enough Rob has some links and video clips on his blog about creativity, what it really is and how to develop it that are inspiring and game changing as well. This goes so much deeper than just gaming. And right now I'm still just trying to take it all in.

Part III and how Matt Finch fits in very soon ...
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