Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Upside of Other People Imagining For You

The Afterward of Dungeons & Dragons, Book 3, reads:

"There are unquestionably areas which have been glossed over. While we deeply regret the necessity, space requires that we put in the essentials only, and the trimming will oftimes have to be added by the referee and his players. We have attempted to furnish an ample framework, and building should be both easy and fun. In this light, we urge you to refrain from writing for rule interpretations or the like unless you are absolutely at a loss, for everything herein is fantastic, and the best way is to decide how you would like it to be, and then make it just that way! On the other hand, we are not loath to answer your questions, but why have us do any more of your imagining for you? Write to us and tell about your additions, ideas, and what have you. We could always do with a bit of improvement in our refereeing."

There is an oft-quoted part of that - "why have us do any more of your imagining for you?"

I think about that one fairly often.

Part of it is kind of ironic - it's a failure to see that yes, that's exactly what people wanted from TSR. TSR published graph paper and geomorphs and such, but it's their adventure modules and monster books and rules expansions that sold so well. And people bought them and still buy them - and there are people today running companies that do nothing but make more supplements for D&D-based games.

Is there any RPG out there with as many supplements as D&D has adventure supplements alone, nevermind supplements in general? I doubt it.

One explanation for this is that people are consumers, are sheep, are intellectually lazy.

I think that explanation is a bit lazy. It might be partly true, but it's not complete.

Part of why people wanted so much more of Gygax's writing, and other official stuff, was because it's easier than doing it yourself. But it misses something.

Seeing what other people imagined is fun. It's valuable. It's interesting. It sparks your own imagination in ways it might not have gone. It's especially interesting when you've started with the same baseline, and you see where their imagination took them - what it shares with yours and how it differs.

Isn't that how D&D originated, basically? Gygax and Arneson taking each other's ideas, expanding them, interpreting them in new ways, and handing them back to the other for more modification? Maybe in relatively few iterations, but that's it right there. And it didn't stop. Supplement I: Greyhawk is basically the big book of what happened when Gygax & Arneson's rules met Gygax's players on a regular basis.

This is why, despite not running D&D anymore, I still read other people's D&D adventures. This is why I like reading other people's session reports on their games (often without regard to system).

This is why I've got a shelf full of gaming stuff. It's not because I'm unimaginative, or a sheep following a herd, or uncreative, or whatever. It's because what's there sparks me to make my own things in ways I wouldn't have if I didn't see what others did first.

Now, I need to get back to writing. See, another GURPS author showed me something he's working on that's overlapping with something I'm working on. And what I wrote after that was far superior to what I wrote on my own - because I could springboard off of what he thought of. The cycle continues.


  1. Far less important to me than using someone else's adventures was having a complete set of rules that covered as many eventualities as possible. There's a whole generation of gamers out there now for whom the answer to the question "how should situation X be handled, it's not covered in the rules" is always "in whatever way would be the most awesome!" Which leaves me all at sea, as I'm a Rule Follower, and I want to know what the author intended the ruling to be - for me, the "correct" answer - so that I can ensure that I'm playing the game the right way.

    It's a huge gulf that also explains so many different reactions, I suspect, to that particular passage.

    1. I think they were writing for other rules hackers who were also end users. So there wasn't as much concern for the right answer, because other rules hackers were going to make their own anyway.

  2. The artistic part is what is most important to me. What got me hooked on AD&D was the temples in the modules. I thought that the temple dedicated to the Elder Eye in the Giant and Drow series were my favorite. It showed how to combine swords and sorcery with Lovecraft. All the details of those temples really helped me to visualize how and alien entity from beyond time and space could exist in a world with giants, elves and other fantasy creatures. The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun was my favorite module and it showed how to run a horror fantasy adventure with a strong Lovecraftian feel.

    Ars Magica helped me to combine "historical" stuff into a fantasy world. I really like to incorporate some sense of normality into my game world because it contrasts well with the wierdness of dungeon delving. I found GURPS to have some interesting historical books and that was how I came to use the system. But so far GURPS does not seem to want to combine dungeon delving with their awesome historical books

    1. It's a toolkit, not a finished product. So just take the DF stuff and the historical stuff and mash it together as you want it to be. That's what it's there for, really.

    2. I guess the mashing historical fantasy with dungeon delving is what I am interested in buying. Toolkits are fine but having books that help to combine various myths and medieval societies into a high fantasy setting and make it work is what I would pay top dollar for. Gygax did a great job combing genres to make AD&D make some sort of sense.

  3. Well well well written! great post. and your exactly right. That's the reason why I keep all this stuff, and buy it, for inspiration.

  4. "Write to us and tell about your additions, ideas, and what have you. We could always do with a bit of improvement in our refereeing."

    I think this last part of the paragraph you quoted means that Arneson and Gygax essentially agreed with in terms of cross-sharing to make everyone's game better.

    I take the two sentences together as being more of a call to arms. When this hit customers hands the only material available was Chainmail and the LBBs. In that context it feels more to me that Gygax and Arneson were saying, "here's the material, now its your turn to contribute".

    1. People sure took it that way, that's for sure. I just think they didn't realize how much people wanted more of their stuff, too!

    2. Agreed, and I think that partially accounts for the continued interest in seeing the original manuscripts and materials from the campaigns of Gygax ,Arneson, Kuntz, Barker, and the rest.


    3. Yeah, it's fascinating to read the stuff.

      But then again, I find it fascinating to read stuff I wrote for game 20 years ago, if I stumble across it. Usually I say "What the hell? Why do I still have this?" instead of "This is amazing, historical stuff."


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