Friday, March 14, 2008

Bashing the Gygax

I don't think you have to like D&D to respect the contribution it made in the realm of gaming, both tabletop and electronic. I don't like jazz or the blues, but I respect that rock took its roots from these forms, and I like rock. The second wave of Gygax articles have been pretty critical of the game and the man. It starts getting into a Microsoft/Linux kind of debate. There are always those critical of what's popular, who will only eat vanilla because everyone else likes chocolate, or indie this or that. It's just immature, contrarianism.

For a really well done Gary Gygax biography, check out this article by Wired.


  1. Irony: ranting about a man's bad taste when that man died eight days ago.

    I think that's all that needs to be said about Erik Sofge.

    In case you haven't seen it yet, Chris Pramas which does a much better job of summing up Gygax good and bad:

  2. Grrr, this is one of the things I don't like about blogger, trying to put a link in the comments. Just go to his blog and you can find the post.

  3. This is good enough:

    I do read his blog. It's one of only a couple I read. I wonder if he's reading the same negative stuff? Monte Cook actually went to the funeral in Wisconsin (he lives there now) and made some comments on his blog as well.

    Another article I read from the LA Times talked about D&D as not a very good game and that most of us, back in the day, spent more time talking about it, planning for it, fantasizing about it, and generally opening up our minds about it, rather than playing, and that was its big contribution. I agree with all that, except for the many, many hours of playing. We thought it was a phenomenal game.

    As for its shortcomings, the game was essentially a toolkit and it was both maddening and exciting to have to creatively use this thing to actualize all your ideas.

  4. It's no secret that I think D&D was full of faults and AD&D more so, but it's also still the game that both got me started and that I've probably played the most.

    People like Sofge like to point out Tekumel and Glorantha as RPG campaigns that pre-dated the publishing of D&D, but ignore the fact that they would have never gotten published if not for the success of D&D. They would have remained curiosities that few people ever encountered (much like Tekumel still is, but I digress).

    Besides, it's too early for a truly critical appraisal of the man's work. After my previous post I realized that Sofge wrote his piece on the 10th, not the 12th. That means Gygax hadn't even been dead a week yet when he decided to bash the man and his legacy. Even casual admirers of the man are going to cry foul when you do that.

    If he was to write that story a month or two from now people wouldn't be so offended. Coincidentally, Slate wouldn't get a buttload of new hits either, which is the real reason for schlock journalism like that. He'll probably get a raise.

    Did I mention something lately about despising mainstream journalists?

  5. And both Tekumel and Glorantha have been re-released over the past few years, with a collective yawn.

    I think what irked me about Sofke was it was an insiders critique, rather than an outsider railing in their usual fashion. It struck me as ungrateful, short-sighted, and just plain wrong.

    The LA times article was someone who dabbled with the game, didn't like it, and moved on, assuming that he had the typical experience. For all I know, his experience *was* typical, just not mine. He also thought Lord of the Rings was a boring book series, so there we have the differences. Being misunderstood is one thing, but Sofke is one of us.

  6. Tekumel has always been greeted with yawns by all but a few. It would be far better off as a campaign setting for another system as it has never had a decent system of its own. Glorantha is a more interesting world, and has been attached to far better mechanics over the years, but suffers from the same problem: it's world-centric. If you aren't interested in playing in their world, then you aren't going to get much out of it.

    D&D has never been world specific, and that's one of the things that has helped its popularity. If you wanted a pre-generated world you had Greyhawk, the Forgotten Realms, Oerth (for basic D&D), or one of the more out-there published worlds. If you didn't want to use a pre-published world, and instead you wanted to set your campaign on a rock in the middle of the astral plane. Well, you could do that too.

    It's that freedom of setting that is one of the really big strengths of the system. One that they may end up weakening if they stick too closely to the "points of light" theme in the new game.

    I like the "points of light" idea, but it does rule out the vast majority of fantasy settings if you stick too closely to it.

  7. 4E should be just as flexible. The "points of light" concept will be important for their published adventures and organized play, both of which are barely viable, but everything else should remain. I've embraced points-of-light in my home brew campaign because I want the adventures to be more coherent with my world.

    If it were just a campaign setting, like Scarred Lands, which was a very popular "points of light" setting that my "rock in the astral plane" campaign started from, then there would be serious limitations. The same is true with Eberron, and is probably why the core campaign setting for 4E is Forgotten Realms and NOT Eberron.

  8. Making Forgotten Realms fit the "points of light" concept is apparently requiring quite a few changes, at least according to the various unhappy rumblings I've been picking up.

    None of the major existing worlds really fit with the points of light as described so far. We're really talking about post-holocaust a fantasy world here, which is not what most worlds are.

    I like the concept, but I do think it risks weakening the pseudo-genericness of the game. It's never been truly generic, but it's never been tied to a world view as specific as the "points of light" idea either.

    Anyways, this is still just riffing off what was a stream of consciousness addition to what was my main point in my previous post.

    What I really came here for was to berate you for not linking to the most important obit of all, (and to show off that I finally remembered to use html in the comments instead of bbcode :-P ):

    The Economist's Obituary for Gary Gygax

  9. Thanks for The Economist link. I lost that issue. It arrived at the store on a Friday and I forgot to bring it home and it was gone when I returned. It's probably in a stack of paperwork.

    I didn't know they were twisting Forgotten Realms to meet their "points of light" model. That's probably a mistake. Scarred Lands had a very specific feel to it, and I liked it, but I understand it to be idiosyncratic.

  10. I don't know how big the changes are going to be, I had just heard rumblings of discontent. Doing a little (very little) research seems to show that a lot of the discontent stems from the disappearance of the Great Wheel, although there are other factors as well.

    I hadn't really thought about it before, but applying the cosmological changes to the Forgotten Realms really makes the Time of Troubles shift from 1st to 2nd look incredibly minor by comparison. A lot of the background of that setting is tied into the Great Wheel.

    I got a chuckle out of some people referring to 4th Edition as "Rich Baker's Ultimate D&D" in reference to the Marvel Ultimate line of comics that completely changed the established background.

  11. Forgotten Realms fans are the only ones in the D&D world that care about things like story continuity.

  12. True, but that's why they are Forgotten Realms fans.

    I'm a fan of the Forgotten Realms because it was the perfect 1st edition setting. It was originally designed to make sense of all the non-sensical baggage that earlier versions of D&D and AD&D carried around. You know, all that stuff that they either got rid of in 3rd, or are getting rid of in 4th. I'm not really sure what dragging the Forgotten Realms kicking and screaming into 4th really accomplishes.

    Well, actually I know exactly what it accomplishes, it keeps a perennial cash-cow alive. Still, it isn't a very good fit.

  13. We'll have to see how much it really matters. The 3.0 default setting was Greyhawk and it turned out to be nearly abandoned early. There were perhaps 2-3 products for Greyhawk and other than RPGA, nobody cared.

  14. Greyhawk was the original semi-official setting for D&D, and they went back to it with 3rd to try to counter the view that 3rd wasn't real D&D because it wasn't TSR.

    The thing was that by the time 3rd edition rolled around no one played in Greyhawk except the people that had never even switched to 2nd edition.

    People who played in a pre-published world in 2nd edition played Forgotten Realms, with a few that played in one of the other worlds, but usually for only a short campaign, not an ongoing one.

    In the long run, it probably won't matter much for the success of 4th edition, but I wouldn't be too surprised to see it go the same way that Greyhawk went in 3rd edition. It simply isn't a very good fit.