Thursday, December 31, 2009

Is It The Future Yet?

Soooo....I'm guessing 2010 still isn't going to be the year of astrobabes with jetpacks?


Do you think I might at least get Hawk the Slayer on Region 1 Blu-ray?

Yeah.  That's what I thought.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Whence D&D?

As I mentioned, my current M&M:W&W (how's that for an abbreviation!) is a an attempt to create a "D&D world" outside of the D&D ruleset. It's largely a continuation of my last GURPS game which utilized the then-brand-new Dungeon Fantasy line.

In getting ready for that game, I did what one should always do when trying to emulate another work. I took a look at said work's inspirations. This led me to revisit Gygax's Appendix N from the Dungeon Master's Guide. I focused particularly on what he called "the most immediate influences on AD&D."

The list is heavy on pulp authors. I've read that the pulp revival of the late sixties-seventies was due to a publishing hunger for fantasy in the wake of the sixties popularity of Tolkien. Given Gygax's age, he almost certainly had an earlier exposure to these authors than that. He may have began reading the Gnome Press editions of Conan from the fifties. Maybe he discovered Frtiz Leiber's Fafhrd and Gray Mouser in the 1957 collection, The Two Sought Adventure, or perhaps he read some of the stories from the pages of the pulps themselves. The De Camp/Pratt "Incomplete Enchanter" stories extant at the time had first appear in the pulps in the forties, but had begun appearing in collections or novel expansions that were likely still around soon thereafter. Vance's The Dying Earth had first been published in 1950. Wherever he encountered them, Gary Gygax was widely read in the fantasy genre as it existed at that time.

Let's just look at the biggest influences and see what they have in common: Leiber and Howard are "sword and sorcery" with protagonists out for personal, material gain--certainly not out to save the world. De Camp and Pratt, Vance, and Leiber, often have a humorous, ironic tone (perhaps owing a debt to James Branch Cabell who unfortunately doesn't make the list). De Camp and Pratt's Incomplete Enchanter series has a mechanistic, rational approach to the irrational (magic). Merritt gives us "lost worlds" with characters encountering exotic, hidden locales (like a lot of gaming modules). Lovecraft has outre monsters, and subterranean weirdness (as does Leiber in at least a couple of stories). Vance's and Leiber's tales are often picaresque.

So here's what, it seems to me, made it into D&D:

1. Interest more in material gain (treasure) and personal advancement (becoming a person of quality/leader of men--but perhaps not succeeding). This is in contrast to the more "epic hero" goals found in Tolkien and most modern series fantasy.

2. Gritty, lower powered heroes, rather than empowered demigods/epic heroes.

3. Weird/fantastic locales (often ruins of another age or subterranean realms) where dangers may be encountered and treasures gained.

4. (from Vance and some De Camp/Pratt) well defined "rules" of how magic works making it rather mechanistic, and putting magic into the hands of "heroes" not just depraved antagonist "sorcerers" or enigmatic wizardly advisers.

A good starting point for a game of fantasy adventure. Sources to conjure with.

But Gary and crew didn't stop there. Over the evolution of this phenomena called D&D, the game became a thing unto itself with its own tropes and characteristics not found in the source material--or at least differently emphasized. Without these innovations, D&D wouldn't be D&D, as it's commonly conceived.

Next time, I'll try to identify what I think these might be.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Argument and Introduction

Ok. Here we are. Welcome.

So what I’m trying to do here (at least for now) is look at tabletop role-playing, genre fantasy, and all the other geekery and pop culture marginalia that might conceivably intersect or inform those things.

In my personal pre-history (which is to say the mid-seventies to the dawning of the eighties), there was already in my brain a nascent cauldron of fantasy abubble: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz conjured by the voice of a babysitter, King Arthur for boys illuminated by NC Wyeth, four-color barbarians on spinner-racks, Myth and legend sifted by Bullfinch and Harryhausen, singing hobbits and rotoscoped orcs, power swords split in twain on not one, but two, alien worlds; an elf, a dwarf, a giant--and a slayer named Hawk, the doom that came to Vermithrax Pejorative, fantasylands with oracular pigs and messianic lions.

Somewhere in there, I read a couple of TSR Endless Quest “choose your own adventure” style books. My interest is these led an older cousin to introduce me to AD&D. Though I don’t remember completely, I suspect my first character borrowed a bit from the elven protagonist of Rose Estes’ Mountain of Mirrors. Pretty soon, I introduced a couple of my friends to role-playing and was dungeonmastering with a Moldvay basic set purchased serendipitously by our gifted program teacher.

1983 dawned and the castle gates were thrown wide with the Dungeons and Dragons toyline (and their poor relations the Dragonriders of the Styx), the D&D cartoon, and the short-lived Wizards and Warriors TV show. Maybe it was that Christmas (or at latest, the one after) that I got Monster Manual II, the new Elmore cover Player’s Handbook, and the old Sutherland cover Dungeon Master’s Guide.

Contrary to common parental fears of the era, gaming didn’t turn into a destructive obsession--quite the contrary. D&D led me to, or at least strengthened my interest in, interests beyond gaming I might not have got otherwise. Lists of inspirational readings in game manuals and Gygaxian asides led me to Howard, Leiber, Moorcock, and Burroughs. Searching for works by those authors led me over the years that followed to more obscure—but no less rewarding—finds: Karl Edward Wagner, Manly Wade Wellman, CL Moore, and Leigh Brackett.

Ok, so those are all pulp writers. Maybe they're not the best representatives of the educational merits of gaming—though reading at all is probably meritorious, these days. In addition to fictional inspirations, though, creating my owns towns, cities, cultures, and ultimately worlds led to an interest in history, culture, comparitive religion, and linguistics. It's no hyperbole to give gaming the credit for a large portion of the nonfiction books in my collection that usually impresses visitors, and keeps me buying new bookshelves.

Those interests stayed even as gaming faded. By high school I was playing GURPS and Mayfair's DC Heroes irregularly. AD&D was already a thing of the past. Throughout my college years, I gamed only a hand full of times (FASA Star Trek, with some Trek-loving, gaming naive friends). The year between college and medical school, saw me playing revisiting 2nd edition AD&D briefly before gaming disappeared from my life entirely throughout medical school.

Nine years, five moves, 5 years of residency, and 2 jobs later, reading Old School related blogs stirred up nostalgia led me to get a group who had gamed briefly in residency back together. While I have a lot of sympathy with the Old School Movement, I can't say that I'm a strict adherent (always assuming that there was a consensus on what that might be). Our current game is Mutants & Masterminds: Warriors & Warlocks. We're playing a sort of "rationalized D&D style world" (more on that to come).

On this page I hope to share things from our game, and ideas I've had I didn't use. I'll review books and just about anything else that I've found inspirational, and maybe others will to. One thing that's always seemed decidedly "old school" and Gygaxian to me is a highly promiscuous approach to inspirations.

So, we'll see where it goes. Hopefully, some place good.