Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The Gygaxian D&D Implied Setting Recipe


I present this only semi-seriously, and I'll admit to a less than unassailably rigorous methodology--but I think I have identified the key ingredients and steps involved in creating a D&D setting that would have the true old school D&D (as opposed to Old School Rennaissance) vibe. These steps were developed from pondering the various inspirational reading lists supplied by Gygax, including some forum responses regarding the most important works there in, and comparing it to the implied setting of the manuals and the explicit setting of Greyhawk.

Here's what I came up with:

1. Take Middle-Earth and excise the human nations/cultures, gods and history.

2. Replace with the relevant material from Howard's Hyborian Age (making sure to keep the ethnography and mass migration) and add additional nations/cultures and deities as needed from the Elric Saga and the fantasies of de Camp.

3. Work in a cosmic struggle between Law and Chaos, derived from Anderson with seasoning from Moorcock

4. Place at least one Lankhmar stand-in urban center.

5. Sprinkle in lost worlds from Burroughs and some extra dimensions from Theosophy and de Camp.

5. Strain out any pulp magic in favor of a "logical" and pedantic magical system flavored with Vance, but with a foundation in de Camp/Pratt.

6. Downplay any doomed or destined, great heroes in favor of a cast of scoundrels rounded up in Vance's Dying Earth and Leiber's Lankhmar. 

7. Pull monsters from anywhere and everywhere, including science fiction (particularly post-apocalyptic). 

8. Emphasize underground environments with a hint of St. Claire and Leiber's Quarmall.


James Mishler said...

Chef's Kiss!

Excellent distillation.

Now I know what my next campaign setting project will be... If only I knew what rules to use....

JB said...

Pretty darn succinct.

I go The Last Unicorn over Tolkien (more human-centric as opposed to elf-centric), and Asprin's Thieves World over Lankhmar but, hey. good use of Appendix N.
; )

lige said...

It's like you broke into the vaults at Coke headquarters - that is the secret recipe! Maybe just add a heaping tablespoon of puns and anagrams of the lowest kind.

JB said...

@ Lige:

Ha! Yeah...more "dad jokes."

Trey said...

@James - Thanks! That's always the question, isn't it?
@JB - Sounds like a solid variation to me!
@lige - Can't forget those.

Dick McGee said...

Accurate. Don't forget to save plenty of Lanier's Hiero stuff for Gamma World. :)

Kyana said...

No Zelazny and no Brackket? These are the best parts for me.

Trey said...

@Dick - Absolutely
@Kyana - Both are great--Brackett in particular is dear to my heart, but I don't see alot of their influence on the implicit setting of D&D or on Greyhawk.

Gus L said...

Excellent analysis, though I think you have underplayed one of Gygax's primary sources:

Osprey Publishing's offerings. Most importantly whatever the precursor to its recent "WPN: European Polearms 1000–1800" was.

With slightly more seriousness, one of the things about early D&D's implied setting is the seriousness that it takes arms and armor with (even if it's a myopic seriousness derived from a particular hobbyists viewpoint circa 1974 - see Gygax's comments on spears as the tools of "primitive peoples" in Strat Review for example). While obviously this is all pretty funny, especially where the obsessions show (polearms) or where odd bit of 19th century romanticism show through (AD&D's armor), I suspect it's one of the ways that D&D managed to balance the fantastical and root its combat mechanics in something that could feel "real", coherent and functional as a game rather then the literary flights of its fictional source material.

Trey said...

That seems to show up more in the rules than the setting. Still, your point is well taken that it suggests a certain level of technological development and a European version of it.