Saturday, September 17, 2011

We're Not In Kansas Anymore Toto

Long Ago L. Frank Baum wrote a series of books that took the world by storm. His first The Wonderful Wizard of OZ was a resounding success and introduced the world to the magical world which Baum often maintained was a real place. Himself the Royal Historian of OZ. He transported millions of readers to these realms in their mind's eye and helped their imaginations soar to new creative hieghts. It is no small debt that CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien owe to Baum for first showing the world the keys to such incredible realms. And Baum himself owed a great debt of gratitude to the nursery rhymes, folk stories and fairy tales of the world. Thus we stand on the shoulders of giants in everything we do.

Thus it was years ago still that Dave Arneson, Gary Gygax, Don Kaye, Rob & Terry Kuntz and others began playing a game with what seemed endless possibilities. This game would come to be called Dungeons & Dragons. It too took the world by storm. Another key had been discovered that allowed us all to play with our imaginations in ways we had never really before considered. We owe a debt of gratitude to these initial explorers. And truly all that has come after has been by standing on the shoulders of giants who came before. The true tribute we give to these men is that we continue to play, that we continue to enjoy and we are still creating almost 4 decades later.

Any who follow my blog regularly know that I have been in a time of transition. My slightly rebellious nature has not let me stay idle as I look to recapture what I felt all those years ago when I first played AD&D. It was a time of endless wonder and magic. No one could see the ends to the depths of possibility that lay before us as we reveled in this new playground opened by those early pioneers. For several months and even years now I myself have wondered exactly what was that magic in a bottle that Gary, Dave, Rob and others passed onto us. Where was my magic and where was my game.

Recently I have had the pleasure of conversing with one of those pioneers. An unassuming man with little pretense, Ron Kuntz has some profound and deep ideas about what exactly RPGs are and specifically what D&D is all about. He is a man that has stayed true to that early artistic spirit he first felt as a boy and has journeyed far and wide to see where it has led him. This has made him controversial to some who might like to cast D&D into hard and fast definitions. But it has also made him a light for the truly artistic and creative souls that pursue something deeper than easy answers to questions that plague many gamers today.

For now I reserve much of the details of our exchange, as it is still ongoing; With his help I hope to present some of his ideas here in the forms of interviews and the like. But for now I simply say Rob has helped me see the moon. The metaphor to which I allude is that once expressed by Bruce Lee. "It is like a finger pointing the way to the moon. Don't concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory." Let's just say that I have been staring at the finger. I think lots of us have. Hopefully Rob is pleased with the metaphor, and doesn't want to kick me in the pants. Because Rob does not like the idea of being set up as some sort of gaming guru. He'll tell you when you first meet him he's just another human, just like you.

The thing that Rob does have is an innate scholarly nature. His knowledge on gaming design and the current research in this field and several others is impressive. For this reason if not for a host of others, Rob has something sorely missing in today's gaming world. long term experience and knowledge in gaming design. Not the redesign of already existing games, but the design of new, original games. Of searching for new keys that might lead us to new realms of creative discovery and simply fun.

The problem now in teh gaming world is that we've all been hanging around in OZ so long that it has become just like Kansas. And we're so busy telling people not to leave state lines we have limited ourselves in discovering new creative lands. Don't limit the human potential. Don't tell people they can or can't. Let them discover for themselves. Otherwise we begin to lose that initial wonder the creators first unleashed those years ago. I now worry in retrospect if I have not damage many new andd young gamers impressions of the possibilities of the game by my own concretized ideas and advice.

D&D is a simple concept and a simple game. But it is also infinitely profound. The glory and wonder and detail of it all is in the playing. Not in how well we can draw or describe or scientifically detail the finger. Let's get back to shooting for the moon. Grab a game, any game and play. Play the way YOU want to, the way YOU feel like. Take D&D to realms it has never been--because only YOUR imagination and creativity know the way.

1 comment:

J.D. Higgins said...

For my part, I grew up an Oz nut. (I read all of the famous forty in the canon before I was a teenager.)

Lewis's Narnia was a sorry disappointment compared to the sheer wonder of Oz (and that's just my having read it as a child, setting aside entirely how repugnant I now find his theology).

Tolkien, OtOH, which I didn't really discover until junior high, I just considered something entirely different, and awesome in its own way. But it was pretty clear that Tolkien and Lewis owed much to their predecessors -- not just Baum, but also Dunsany and MacPherson! (Can't forget them!)

PS, while Oz (especially Thompson's Oz books, which tended to be more "medieval fairy tale" than Baum's slightly steampunkish Americana) have certainly influenced my gaming and my DMing indirectly, I have only a scant few direct Oz references in my OSR materials. The only one I can think of off the top of my head is that in RETRO PHAZE, I used Kalidahs as a replacement for owlbears!

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