Friday, March 1, 2024

Dungeons & Beavers: Was I wrong, or was Gary wrong?

The Gaming Culture essay I opined on yesterday led me in a couple of interesting directions. One was a post by Grognardia, in reference to a Dungeons and Beavers comment Gary made long ago. The origin of the quite was a reference to an early D&D gaming group at CalTech in which they had introduced some new ideas into the game. Gary was talking about how the game could be taken in any direction a GM, its players, or the group as a whole desired to take it. Incidentally the CalTech mascot is the Beavers, which someone in Grognardia's comments pointed out. But Gary's point was there were no boundaries or defined direction of the game. The sky wasn't even the limit. Granted, at that point, Gary could afford to be creatively magnanimous--after all is was just wargaming supplement of sorts, right? 

My point in bringing it up is whether my general "Gary says" approach and my "AD&D is the pinnacle of what the game was supposed to be" opinion seem at odds here. But I've covered this before. The Zero edition crowd were a wild and wooly bunch. There was no limit to the genie that had ben let out of the bottle with those three little brown books. This Gary readily admitted. I don't argue with that, nor decry those in the Old School Renaissance (as opposed to revival, now that I'm informed enough to make that distinction) who love still playing in that sandbox. 

What I do say is that AD&D was created for many very compelling reasons, only a few of which were expedients. Sure 1e allowed a differentiation in rights between Gygax and Arneson. But that was not the only reason. I posit here several as, if not more, important reasons for the creations of the system:

  1. People were clamoring for more created content, especially in the vein of the Greyhawk and Blackmoor supplements.
  2. There was a need for a common understanding if groups were to intermingle. This was mentioned in Grognadia's above mentioned essay as well.
    1. "... some degree of standardization is probably necessary, if only to ensure a "common language" for communication between players. If everything is open to individual interpretation, "Dungeons & Dragons" will quickly cease to be meaningful."
  3. In the vein of number two there needed to be hard and fast rules in order to facilitate tournament play.
  4. And in the vein of number one a solid game base enables production of more material in a cohesive fashion.
It's been reported that in the Fantasy Hobby Shop, which served as the outlet for early TSR HQ, it was AD&D that was generally played and abided by. Listen to Luke Gygax or his brother Ernie and they'll tell you the same thing--AD&D was the thing, it was those rules everyone played with, including their Dad. Having said that, sure, Gary didn't always use all the rules. This too is well attested, but the system he was playing from was First Edition. 

As in many things D&D, there are seldom absolute truths about gaming opinions. I am not a historian, nor a professional game designer. But clearly the Beaver reference, and Gary's assertion that D&D has no borders was very true in it's time, and in a way is still true today. That is part of its endurance. However, there was also a clearly defined D&D game that the majority of the D&D world adhered to. This doesn't mean that people didn't play Holmes Basic, B/X, BECMI or RC. They did all those things, and in great numbers. But the flagship of the game was always AD&D, and Gary asserted as well that fact many times. The One True Faith and all that. Even though we know the truth was a lot murkier than neat analytical dimensions. So, was I wrong, no. And Neither was Gary ;-)

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