Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

The Foundations of Gaming: Classic Fiction and its Influence on Early Role Playing Games

Things have been quiet around here, but I haven’t quite dropped off the face of the earth. I’ve continued my weekly column over at Castalia House:

REVIEW: Shadow of the Storm by Martin J. Dougherty — This one provides a look at the new Traveller novel set on the Solomani Rim.

RETROSPECTIVE: The Dying Earth by Jack Vance — Gamers bandy around the term “Vancian Magic” quite a bit, so this one delves in to what that stuff really is all about.

RETROSPECTIVE: Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson — This one’s all about the surprising origins of Basic D&D’s three point alignment system.

RETROSPECTIVE: The Winds of Gath by E. C. Tubb — Here I dig into the origins of the term traveler and into the origins of Traveller’s high passage, low passage, and the low lottery.

What started off as a series of book reviews has turned into a tour of the literary underpinnings of the early role playing games. I wasn’t sure how this was going to go– I’ve tried to let the work speak for itself– but I’m going to level with you here. This is my best work. I have no idea what I’m going to say when I pick up a new book, but I sit down and I stay at it until I come up with something. This is 99% perspiration and completely unlike my blogging here. It’s a lot of work. Every paragraph is like an individual problem to solve.

I wouldn’t be spending this much time on it if it wasn’t something that I thought had potential. I’m thinking of working towards making this sort of thing into a book. (Working title:  “Appendix N: Reflections on Golden Age Science Fiction and Fantasy and the Development of Tabletop Role Playing Games.”) Unlike all of those other ones that are written on the premise that D&D is the main thing or the only thing, I would also delve into Traveller and Gamma World and who knows what else. I could be wrong, but I think all kinds of things could be turned up that would not only be entertaining, but would also open up new premises for adventures and game designs. This could be a resource for picking out summer reading as well as a tool for breathing new life into some old games. I think a collection of thirty or so of these columns would make for a great read even for people that are only casually interested in hobby games.

However, this series of posts has not set the internet on fire. I am just not getting the amount of feedback on this that I was expecting. Maybe this stuff isn’t as interesting as I thought it was. Maybe my attempt at doing good writing for once is completely wasted effort. Maybe there’s some other project I should be working on instead. I don’t know. But if you are really digging this stuff and want it to continue, then I need to hear about it. I can delay gratification up to a point. I can quietly persevere for a time. But if I don’t get some kind of sign in the next few weeks, I may need to slow down, step back, and try a different tack.


29 responses to “The Foundations of Gaming: Classic Fiction and its Influence on Early Role Playing Games

  1. Alex July 8, 2014 at 9:49 am

    I’m not suggesting you cross-post, or anything, but announcements here with a link would be a sure-fire way to get me to stop over and check it out. Probably because I rely too heavily on my wordpress reader for new content.

    • jeffro July 8, 2014 at 12:11 pm

      Self-linking feels vaguely dirty, but I’ll try to keep up with it if it does any good for this ol’ ghost town.

      • Alex July 8, 2014 at 12:17 pm

        I know. But I was just all “Oh, crap, has Jeffro died?!” For just such a purpose, I have an “I’m Dead” post on a rolling schedule just in case so people will know to stop checking my blog if something happens to me (crazy, I know!)

        [Jeffro: that’s no joke. Someone actually emailed me a week or so ago to make sure I wasn’t going through some kind of crisis!]

      • Fractalbat July 10, 2014 at 11:06 am

        I’m the same, using an RSS reader for just about everything.

  2. JSpace July 8, 2014 at 1:39 pm

    I have The Dying Earth, Slan, The Winds of Gath, The Voyage of the Space Beagle, Space Viking, Bezerker, and Galactic Patrol in my bookbag right now for summer reading, so this stuff is up my alley. I would comment more often, but you know, the internet. Trolls, etc..

    Anyways, I am a fan of adventure stories and adventure games and would like to read more of your thoughts on the connections between the two. Traveller is of particular interest to me. Before, during and after playing it, I often picture the world like as if John Frankenheimer directed a film version of The Winds of Gath as a follow up to Seconds. Hey, Rock Hudson would of made a good Dumarest now that I think about it.

  3. Role Play Craft July 8, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    The only author listed here that I’ve read is Vance. Will definitely have to check this other stuff out. Thanks!

    I think a lot of old school gamers would be surprised at the sci-fi fantasy mashup that is Vancian literature.

  4. rockymountainnavy July 8, 2014 at 8:20 pm

    Been reading your other posts…even picked up Shadow of the Storm based on your comments. Keep up the good work!

  5. JSpace July 8, 2014 at 8:56 pm

    One of the biggest influences on Dungeons & Dragons that hardly anyone seems to talk about is 1001 Arabian Nights. I mean, there’s an efreeti on the cover of the Dungeon Masters Guide and most people I’ve talked to over the years point almost exclusively at The Lord of the Rings as D&D’s major inspiration. For every orc or magic ring there’s a djinni or magic carpet.

  6. Drew Davidson July 9, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    Thanks, jeffro, for posting the links or I never would have known about your great writings. I only follow game blogs, but I’m sorry I never let you know that I followed yours. Please keep up the great work. I’m always fascinated about the underpinnings of games that we take for granted. I’ve dabbled in Advanced D&D when I was younger, but had no clue about what influenced Gary Gygax’s game system. Thank you again! – Drew

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  9. Fractalbat July 10, 2014 at 11:04 am

    None of the links are working for me. Nor is the site Is it down right now?

  10. JSpace July 10, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    Also, I will say it again because it’s simply not said enough these days, H. Rider Haggard’s influence is nearly everywhere. From Tarzan to Tin Tin, you can see it. Indiana Jones. Donald Duck. Yes, Donald Duck. Two words, Carl Barks. Where ever there’s great treasure, lost cities, ancient tombs and people brave, foolish or greedy enough to seek them out, Haggard’s there. Pretty much the entire premise and original mode of play of Dungeons & Dragons is pure Haggard. The fact that he actually was an adventurer just makes it all even more fascinating.

  11. JSpace July 10, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    There have been at least two film adaptions of King Solomon’s Mines, one as recent as 1985 (I think Sharon Stone was in it!), TCM occasionaly shows the early version from around 1950 or so. There is a movie of Haggard’s She as well from the 60’s. Ursala Andress is in that one I believe. You could probably go to your local library and find an old hardback of KSM or She. They were massively popular from the 1880’s to the first half of the twentieth century. My personal favorite Haggard novel is The People of the Mist. Haggard inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, he was friends with Rudyard Kipling (there is a good book collecting their correspondences, the name slips my mind), it’s a shame he’s become so overlooked.

  12. Michael Pfaff July 10, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    I love the Restrospective series and wish you’d do more of these. Amazing reads!

    • jeffro July 10, 2014 at 2:11 pm

      Thank you! Based on the feedback, we have only scratched the surface. It is clear that it will take a book to do justice to this topic.

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