Monday, September 12, 2011

Reading Rob Kuntz Part I

Wow. First I owe a debt of gratitude to ADD Grognard. His last comment in response to my post The Story's The Thing opened my eyes to an incredible world of D&D insight via Rob Kuntz. Likening the experience I've had this weekend to a game changing epiphany would not be overstating the issue. And coming as it does on the heels of the rather unfortunate and emotional  cancellation of our school's gaming club it has had an even more profound effect on me. I'm not exactly sure of the full import of this revelation for me personally. But the implications are such that I wanted to start brainstorming about some of them here.

First some caveats, if you'll bear with me. You will want to read Rob Kuntz's interview on The Hill Cantons.  I want to thank Rob for doing this interview. It was very enlightening and I must say I'm really looking forward to his book project where he will evidently continue his thoughts on this and other gaming related matters. I also have the utmost respect for Rob Kuntz and for his as yet understated influence on D&D and the creative world. So as I write on these topics, whatever I might say, there is absolutely no disrespect intended to Rob Kuntz or anyone else. For me this is an open exercise in reflection. I don't want for anyone to inadvertently take offense because I have a tendency to put my foot in my mouth. I'm just beginning to wrestle with some of these ideas, so your pateince and indulgence is much appreciated. Alright, nuff said about all that. On with the idea mill ...

As to my original thought expressed in my story post. I don't think that anything I've learned thus far mitigates against RPGs being story driven. I've been reading quite a bit lately on Rob Kuntz's blog and he makes it clear there as well as in the interview that storytelling skill is critical for GMs. I can only assume that it has always been thus. Not the railroaded storyarc I mentioned before, but creating a good story, even if improvisationally, anytime they GM. Rob even makes it clear in several places that GMs should work at developing those skills that promote being a good and engaging storyteller. So any idea that story isn't old school is wrong in my opinion. I don't think there was a tendency to "start at the dungeon door" so to speak. I mean sure it could have gone that way, but to hear Rob tell it the campaigns were as richly developed then as they are now. In fact even moreso.

And there's the rub. The more I read Rob's writings on LOTGD the more I am impressed by his point of view. And that point of view is reinforced by the fact that Rob was there. He was in at the very start of the game, playing with and even GMing Gary Gygax. The amazing revelation of course was that I was totally wrong about my concept of the development and purpose of D&D. Well, I suppose I can't say totally. There may have been elements of my pseudo history that were close to the mark. Like publication dates and the like. But when I try to intuit motives to the creators, I am a much less reliable source than someone like Rob a close personal friend and codesigner with Gary. No, Rob wasn't in on everything, but I respect his voice on the matter much more than most.

And the primary fact that I and it seems just about everybody else got wrong was that  Original Dungeons & Dragons was built under an entirely different structure and theory than later iterations of the game. On top of that my late introduction to the game in 1981 was under the new design ethos. I never even comprehended the initial purpoe and scope of D&D, because by the time I entered the hobby that idea had been closeted. I was schooled to have TSR and other companies feed me my creations for the game. I was as Rob calls it an "eager dependent."

I don't know if many of you felt the same way I did when I read through this concept and slowly understood it, but for me this was a game-changer. The whole establishment of D&D is currently built upon the model that caters to the "eager dependents". And for this reason the true nature of D&D is lost amidst the now saturated RPG marketplace. But the model itself is doomed to failure or to at least a short shelf life. As companies need new cashflows they have to rewrite or recreate the systems to provide new products for the consumers to buy. But the problem goes deeper than this.

The original idea for D&D was built upon a perspective of ultimate creative freedom resting in the hands of the players and GMs. TSR and teh creators never plannde to release tons of support material for the game. They planned to make their money producing other games on top of D&D. None of the original creators had ever thought that consumers would want someone else to do their imagining for them in the context of the game. This idea came up with the submission of the first for publication module; and with the demands for creator campaign material--most notably with Greyhawk and Blackmoor. This was not a new idea for me. I had run into this comment before in an online history about the development of the Greyhawk campaign. Gary himself was evidently surprised people would want to play in his world and not one of their own devising.

The original design ethos was to promote player imagination.  You were supposed to do the creating. TSR wasn't supposed to do it for you. But the moneymaking opportunities didn't escape the notice of Gary and others. Pretty soon the whole game is redesigned for a number of reasons; not the least of which is to consolidate and solidify official rules so that commercial supplement offerings can be facilitated. AD&D then was not a rennovation of a faulty game it was a marketing ploy!

Part two coming soon ...
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