Wednesday, September 14, 2011

That Was Then This Is Now

So, if D&D was focused on free form creativity placed completely in the hands of the players and DM initially, what did it become? And did any of this element stay with D&D over time?

Evidently the advent of AD&D was born out of several needs. First there were issues involving Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax that related to lawsuits and the like. Gary needed a game that was distinct from what had come before. Even though the original rules were formalized by Gary much of the initial work was forged by Dave. I personally see the work as a synergy, but that's just personal commentary from the outside. Whatever the case, lawsuits were one reason Gary needed to create a distinct game. This had to do with intellectual property rights. But I really don't see the problem other than maybe Gary and Dave didn't get along. Or maybe Gary saw the game as his or Dave did. Hard to say. And I'm not sure exactly how this worked, because the original game was published through like 1979 when AD&D was finished, but whatever.

Second, there was the revelation provided by Rob Kuntz that AD&D was a response to the commercial opportunity to market supplements, modules, campaigns and the like to a hungry and very eager audience. Rob mentions this idea being spawned by the receipt of a submission module. But there seems to be other indications that Gary already was aware that people wanted content. Greyhawk was the first, then Blackmoor and shortly after Eldritch Wizardry, Gods, DemiGods and Heroes and Swords & Spells. Strategic Review and Dragon Magazine were also providing supplemental info since 1976 or so. The disconnect for me is that like most human decision this was a complex one. Could be that the module submission was the first time they really considered module creation, but the idea of creating content seemed to be a part of D&D early on.

So how and in what way was AD&D different? Well, first of all we get a complete rewrite of the rules, additions in numerous areas; more detailed class descriptions; addition of optional rules like psionics & the bard; exposition of basic cosmology of the D&D universe; lots of design helps for dungeons, wilderness, aerial, and campaign types. Combat was kept basically the same, but the charts changed and lots of additional rules were added. We get quite a bit of prose about how the D&D universe works in terms of basic physics, magic and the like. We also get a bigger and still strongly Greyhawk flavored list of magic items, and spells. The rules are presented a little more organized than the original books. The game is basically the same in theory only more detailed, complex and content rich.

The effect for me is that AD&D is a more limited fantasy game in scope. But only slightly so. What I mean by this is that the realm of AD&D is understood to be a Medieval European Fantasy setting with some of the universal structure inherent in the game. You can opt of just about everything: the Greyhawk flavored elements, optional rules, additional combat rules, the cosmology. Pretty soon you are playing a fairly basic game. But you do this by cutting away from the game. We didn't play this way. We used all the magic items, artifacts, cosmology charts, tables and on and on. We didn't use weapon speed, but just about everything else was added in the mix. Our game was sort of the standard AD&D world. Fairly well written out, explicated and contained in the 3 main AD&D books.

We did create dungeons, campaigns, npcs, worlds, magic items, and other stuff. So why was what we did different from what 0e people did? Well, the difference was in terms of scope in my opinion. AD&D implied a sort of carbon copy series of worlds that all felt pretty much the same. Bigby's Crushing Hand, Mordenkainen's Disjunction, Rary's Mnemonic Enhancer, Baba Yaga's Hut, The Hand of Vecna were all there regardless of what dimension your world might exist within. Even when you left those elements out a D&D world carried a sort of default definition from AD&D on. Now it didn't have to be this way, and I have talked with others who did it differently. It wasn't until much later in my gaming career that I began to step outside of that box.

Personally I think AD&D reinforces that kind of narrowly defined play. That's not necessarily a fault, and it certainly doesn't proscribe other types of play using the system. Gary himself makes it clear that cross genre games are possible and TSR has produced for your gaming pleasure: Boot Hill, Top Secret, Metamorphosis Alpha, Gamma World ... well you get the idea. Gary also speaks at some length about designing your own adventures and campaigns. So this model still existed within AD&D, but the game itself was fairly narrowly defined within the classic high fantasy route. I also know that there were many that continued the old approach to gaming and took AD&D apart and reassembled it to their liking. I suppose, for me and my early gaming friends, we were accepting the game RAW as the model designed to play. Straying outside that box was only to be performed with caution. An idea Gary himself reinforced within the DMG and his later book RPG Mastery. This was a clear departure from the earlier approach.

Subsequent editions increased this divide until we get to DnD 4e where rules for balancing encounters and constructing adventures, properly disseminating treasure value and XP are so tightly constructed that it is clear you may only create within a narrow tunnel of design. Now, technically nothing prohibits you from straying outside this structure. You can still do just about everything you want, but try and change core mechanics or structure and you usually get rebellion. Take powers out of DnD for instance and players often complain or refuse to play. Limit race and class selection and grumbles, groans and outright refusals are received. The game is what the game is, don't screw with it. Try and amp up an encounter or throw something in unexpected and 4e gamers chide you for not balancing the game. Can't be too hard, or too easy. Has to be "just right". You can try to change things, but the ethos works strongly against the free wheeling, creative anything goes days of 0e.

Now, if you can find a group willing to allow you free creative license with whatever version you play then great. Like minds make for progress. But why play a game where most players don't like that appraoch? Wouldn't it be better to play a game where everyone understands that they are entering an unknown and unexplored region of the imaginative landscape? Where the familiar tropes and landscapes are left behind as they sally forth towards a realm of high strangeness and unexpected danger. A land where you can truly let your imagination soar.


Lord of the Green Dragons said...


In doing follow-up searches on my interview I stumbled upon your blog and those articles related to my Q&A at Hill Cantons.

I have read all of your reflective inquiries. These either hit the mark, raise more questions or shy away due to missing information.

As I offered to AD&D Grognard, I would be willing to answer your questions regarding same, a follow-up interview of sorts, best concluded by phone, if you so choose to accept the offer. If you are so inclined you are welcome to solicit my email address from AD&D Grognard for the purpose of establishing contact to pursue the matter.

As an aside, and not that this matters TOO much, my last name is spelled "Kuntz" (prn: 'Koontz' in the Americanized German), not Kunz as you have in two places. No biggy. I myself am bad at remembering names; I never forget faces, but names often dog me.

Thanks for taking time to openly reflect upon my interview. I hope it has not caused you too much trouble.


Robert J. Kuntz

ADD Grognard said...

Hey big guy, glad to see you out and about. I think this has all been a wake up call to Chris (and myself as well). Forgive his name faux paux...he has been under a bit of stress lately (see posts about rpg club and you've read his more cathartic moments).

And I had a quick question-are there any other posts or interviews online of yours? I have been compiling and reading as I go and just thought the other day about it.

Thanks again for sharing with us. I have truly enjoyed being able to see that formative period from its many angles. It has helped me to clear away the noise and get to the signal in my own work.

And just email me when you get a chance for the address.

Gentlemen, back to the silicon mines :)

Lord of the Green Dragons said...


I could direct you to other interviews, yes, as they are scattered here or there. Would that be of any help in understanding my past to present synthesis of RPG gaming as lightly touched upon in the interview? Doubtful.

I'm not sure how many true artists go through this synthesis, but I am currently doing so and for many personal and professional reason unrelated to commerce. In choosing to do so I have eliminated me as a part of the problem, understand that. My adventure design days are ended, I closed my Dragonsfoot Q&A, etc. If people want to know why this is important they will ask and thereby find in answer my synthesis of the past to present RPG situation, which in my estimation has progressed little but in the wrong directions, and I make no apologies or excuses for that view. This will ultimately be considered controversial if not out and out blasphemy by many; but if you take a clear look you will note that those who complain the loudest about my view have more invested in the roots of "Pre-fab" imagination.

What I have to say these days, here or there, online or eventually in print if that happens, IS NOT for personal gain, though it is aimed at personal satisfaction. I do hope that someone follows up on the interview, as I feel it's not only important to expose these views for what they mean for gamers, DMs, game design and the industry of gaming at large, but for people and their individual goals as they see them.

As much as my former interviews always stressed that, I am now more explicit and to the point as to WHY that is important.

As for the signal-to-noise ratio, I have a reasoned and cultural-historical view on that as well.

Best, RJK

Chris said...

Hey Mr. Kuntz!

I'm honored you stopped by! Thank you so much for taking the time to read through my thoughts. In no way have they been trouble for me. On the contrary, they have truly been like a breath of fresh air. More than that they have enabled a paradigm shift for me. I'm already considering changing the whole presentation of my blog for this reason. Though I must say I'm still absorbing the import of all of this for me personally.

And I would love to do an interview! I'll email ADD Grognard today and get your contact info from him. And we'll see what we can set up with your schedule. I'm very curious about several things, and would love to hear your ideas and get your perspective.

I'm most intrigued by your focus on real creativity and how that relates not only to gaming, but to life as well. I'm a writer, and have struggled with finding my voice amidst all of the genre specific noise out there. Getting noticed or read is much harder when your creativity runs purposefully cross genre. I wish we were still literarily in the 20's when the genre was just weird fiction. That fits my style much better than scif fi, fantasy, swords and Sorcery, blah blah blah. I hate being pigeon-holed.

It was only after reading through some of your writings that the problem really became clear to me. Because AD&D and the gaming industry post 1980 has really colored how I approached life. This "stay within the lines" sort of thinking has actually been at the root of a lot of my problems. I mean I don't want to gush or anything, but this applies to so many areas of my life.

For this and more gaming specific reason I'd love to talk. I'll email you as soon as I can get your address from ADD Grognard.

thanks again so much for being willing to reach out--

Oh, and I fixed the name errors--sorry. My posts have been pretty fast and furious of late, and my editing not up to par. My teaching job has been busy to say the least.


Lord of the Green Dragons said...

Hello Chris--

As I am semi-retired I am flexible with my schedules, so whatever works for you. It is interesting that you are a teacher, so expect a few questions from me regarding that. :)

As for staying within the lines, I will say this prior to our discussion: All of D&D's play-testers and designers, myself, EGG and Arneson, etc. before or after its publication never stayed within the lines. The last time EGG and I DMed together was at Milwaukee Gamefest, 2003(? from memory for the date) and that still held true for both of us then. We did it the way we had been doing it during the play-tests. The general way of stating what "that" was is "by way of our house rules," but that ultimately falls short in explanation as it was a distinctive yet variable (and principled) form rather than a set-in-stone set of rules.

Its upshot would have been interpreted, if one had been a fly on the wall, then, as, "Do as I do, Not as I Say." This dovetails into the rules as "guides only."

The main point of this intuited philosophy addresses singular FORM and not aggregate FORM-U-LA. And any time you address form the discourse cannot discretely avoid ART. And so goes the thesis until it addresses individuality, which is the conduit for all self expression.

I will check my email now and then for your comm.

In between I wish you well.

Best, RJK

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