This Guy Gets It
July 10, 2014
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When I asked for a sign yesterday, I wasn’t really sure exactly what I was looking for. The number of people referring to my stuff as essays do kind of astound me and the invitation to write for an academic journal is even more insane than the project I’ve undertaken. (And for the record, an essay is an attempt to tell the truth. Do you people seriously want to grace a few posts about games, science fiction, and fantasy with that particular appellation…? Really…?) But no, set all that aside. The point of my posts is not to grandstand. The point is to produce something like this:
You know, I can’t help but feel like some of the strangeness of the scenarios in early D&D come from the conflict between the Tolkienian paradigm and what you’ve described in this book. The Caves of Chaos as a threat to the Borderlands makes sense if its inhabitants are aligned with chaos as creatures of Fey encroaching on the lands of good christian men. But if they are simply other races, representing no threat other than what a slightly less advanced culture on the borders of a more advanced culture tend to represent, the moral and existential threat is significantly negated.
In my column at Castalia House, I’m not just taking you on a tour of classic fiction, though for some people that will be all it amounts to. I’m attempting to expose people to the axioms that underlie the thinking of designers like Gary Gygax and Marc Miller. The assumptions that they made are now completely alien; the culture that inspired them practically amount to remnants of a lost civilization. Even the generation that they wrote for failed to grasp this stuff for the most part. But if you dig further back into these old books… really, some serious gaming enlightenment awaits you. You’ll understand, for example, why B2 makes more sense in light of Poul Anderson than it does J. R. R. Tolkien. And if you run that module again, you’ll do so with the awareness of a particular frame that opens up directions of adventure that you may not ever have imagined.
I do not have time to explicate this sort of thing in detail. My audience (hopefully) includes nongamers and this sort of thing is so esoteric, it generally ends up on the cutting room floor. But really, the surprising thing here is that there is some seriously surprising stuff here. Better game bloggers than me have been talking about this for years, but it’s just so crazy that the complete implications of it don’t always hit home. But that’s what I’m trying to do: I want to dig into this stuff and explain it in such a way that people can sort out the consequences of these ideas in their own way and in their own games. That means leaving the dots unconnected in some cases. But seeing people put two and two together… that is pretty darn exciting.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but this is what I was looking to accomplish when I was writing this stuff.