Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Random Thoughts: Outdated Attitudes, Tolkien’s Creation of the Genre, Truer Words Never Uttered, and Internal Censorship

This is roundup of recent odds and ends from my social feed that may be of interest to folks that only follow the blog here….

“There is not really any courage at all in attacking hoary or antiquated things, any more than in offering to fight one’s grandmother. The really courageous man is he who defies tyrannies young as the morning and superstitions fresh as the first flowers. The only true free-thinker is he whose intellect is as much free from the future as from the past.” — G. K. Chesterton

Oh, hey… this sounds cool. Wait, though… you’re telling me that people before 1980 were different from us?! Screw that! I’m outta here!

Okay, this was kind of a big deal. I had originally meant to skip Tolkien altogether, but when I was wrapping up the series, I felt like I had to cover him just to be complete. I didn’t think I could really say anything that hasn’t already been said, but I really wanted to close out with something that had some serious punch. Well… going by feedback like this, I think I might have pulled it off. Which is a relief because when I started this thing, I remember not having a single clue about where it was going to end up and I was wondering if I would even have anything to say once I got there.

Not only no, but hell no! (Comment thread here.)

Jeff Rients put in his two cents on that:

The idea that fantasy is a distinct genre from our great heritage of myths and folktales seems to be the result of people not reading anything published before 1937.


Straw Jeffro gets more hidebound, petulant, and incurious every day. He doesn’t just hate rpg campaign setting supplements, but he also resists even the implied setting of games he loves to play. Incredibly, he tries to run his game without the benefit of any outside input– even literary inspirations. It’s hard to even imagine, but Straw Jeffro really is a monster. He is a threat to every right thinking OSR gamer. Beware of Straw Jeffro!

This is part of Appendix N. The least you can do with that is run NPC parties in your dungeon. But why not go whole hog and bring in the evil universe versions of the PC’s? The reason that impulse is rare is because a naturalistic mentality and a “serious” approach to world building became more of the fashion in the eighties, pushing out the wilder elements of seventies eclecticism.

All my life, I thought that classic D&D was weird. It’s like there was something really wrong with it that you had to fix or ignore or gloss over. And I know I’m not the only person like that. Until very recently, though, I had no idea that people in the seventies really had radically different assumptions about how fantasy should really work. I mean I didn’t even know that I didn’t know that. But as one gets more into the mindset of how people thought back then… all of the weirdness and the wrongness can very rapidly transition into not just awesomeness, but also to solutions to longstanding game mastering problems. For people of a certain bent… yeah, it is mind blowing.

Joe Naylor expands on his thoughts here:

I was born in ’77 so 2nd edition was about the time I really started playing on my own with friends, but my 8-years older brother gave me the basic set and had me play with him a lot when I was younger (I definitely read the 1e PHB more than any other). He also stocked my shelf with some great pulp fantasy (Leiber and Howard especially), but it was extremely difficult to find more like that. None of my friends had read the authors my brother gave me for some reason, but I read a few of their Dragonlance and Drizzt books. There was a weird break there that I was aware of but I didn’t understand. Books had obviously changed, but it was weird that they had changed so much in so little time. It made the old books seem even older and Gygax seem even more eccentric.

What Jeffro Johnson said in the Appendix N Survey Complete post made some things click (opened my eyes more to things I was already seeing), but when I was scanning through earlier posts and came to the bit about the publishing market in the 80s (and the article that inspired it) it really struck me and a huge light came on. There was an actual break where things changed in books, and a reason why all the modern fiction seemed so homogenized to me and the old fiction so weird to people who weren’t there for it originally.

It made me even more interested than I already was in searching out old school authors, now I want to try more I haven’t heard of.

The lapse into obscurity of so many mind blowing things didn’t just happen. — “Internal censorship is the enemy of creativity because it halts expression before it can even begin.”

Compare and contrast this woman’s copyright defying artwork with seventies era game designers that looted and remixed from dozens of grandmaster level authors.

What the early rpgs do is preserve a snapshot of what hard core science fiction and fantasy fans viewed their genres during the seventies. People will try to tell you different, but the designers really were representative of fandom at the time. The deluge caused by changes in publishing, the massive success of Sword of Shanaraa, Star Wars, and the Star Trek movie franchise wiped the old fantasy culture away and triggered a multi-genre extinction event. But people still played first edition AD&D, Gamma World, and Traveller all through the sea change and on into the late eighties. I think gamers are uniquely equipped (and unusually motivated) to work out the details of this transition. We’ve had these reminders of how fast things changed sitting on our shelves even after all these years and a lot of us still want to play the older games.

This is great: Race-As-Class is a Terrible Idea

Now… that’s a tongue-in-cheek rant there, but it does express a very common attitude consicesly and in an entertaining way. And yeah, there is a connection to political correctness there.

There is an assumption rife in academia and so forth that people are all more or less the same and interchangeable. The same mentality that takes for granted that there’s no good reason not to be gender-blind for every conceivable job posting is also convinced that people in other cultures are all just like upper middle class white leftists on the inside. People that have been inculcated with this view bring it to their games. They can’t imagine demi-humans that are fundamentally different from humans. If they see a game that treats them differently, then they predictably leap to the conclusion that the designer is racist or something. But the real problem here is that you have a generation of people that have never read Lord Dunsany. Their imaginations are stunted and they don’t even know it.

8 responses to “Random Thoughts: Outdated Attitudes, Tolkien’s Creation of the Genre, Truer Words Never Uttered, and Internal Censorship

  1. BobtheCertifiedIdiot October 26, 2015 at 10:47 am

    Race as class, and the specific level limits make a great deal of sense in the implied setting of Original D&D. The scholarship indicates that this was a human society in peril. Which means that for Fighting Men, the armsmasters were human, and they trained techniques intended for use by humans.

    Elves, dwarves, and hobbits have a different distribution of dimensions than humans, and human techniques would limit their potential. It wasn’t that they were biologically incapable of being that dangerous. It was that the techniques to do it were not accessible by default to PCs.

    If the mystical qualities diverged more than the physical ones, it wouldn’t be surprising that mystical classes are more restricted.

    • jeffro October 26, 2015 at 10:49 am

      I should have included this:

      Hugh Acton’s explanation of race-as-class in B/X: “Dwarves, Elves, and Halflings can’t be clerics because they have no soul. Dwarves and Halflings are magically resistant and so they can’t cast spells but have really good saves. That leaves the thief which Holmes will allow you to play as any race but the Demi-humans are too smart for that so later editors just dropped it. There.”

  2. H.P. October 26, 2015 at 12:40 pm

    Including Tolkien was important, in part, because it anchors your work to something those of us not familiar with most of the Appendix N works are familiar with.

  3. Sky October 26, 2015 at 1:15 pm

    I always viewed race as class as one end of the spectrum. The other end being half elf half dwarf alchemist warpriest warlock steamfighter or whatever other multiclass minmaxed power monstrosities you could come up with.

    I’ll take race as class, thank you. I can get all the power gaming I need from video games. That medium does the skinner box much more efficiently anyway.

    I’m still waiting on Jeffro’s Appendix N Ebook, btw.

    • jeffro October 26, 2015 at 1:45 pm

      Yeah, “roll 3d6 order and choose whichever class you feel like playing.” Also: “all but one of the initial party will be dead by the sixth game session.”

  4. jlv61560 October 26, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    Excellent round up. I see that the “mainstream” fantasy hobby (that is, the ones who make the most noise in the blogosphere) still doesn’t get that reading people you haven’t actually heard of before in order to expand your horizons and explore more ideas is not a criminal act. Political Correctness must be maintained!!! And I see that Kasi, since he couldn’t win the argument on your blog (or even his own) is now busily resorting to his usual tools of character assassination and strawman arguments in order to marginalize you. A pity that such a pathetic loser actually has a following, but I guess the wankers have to have some place to play….

    • jeffro October 26, 2015 at 2:50 pm

      One of the guys on the Appendix N Podcast put it like this:

      “One of the things that I’m learning as we go through Appendix N is just how little I actually know about 20th century science fiction. It’s a little bit like trying to get across the Untied States with a map that just has Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Dallas on it.”

  5. Xxx November 7, 2015 at 10:00 am

    racism is a subset of class division. the class system is deep into the game from it’s early origins and no real surprise there. But an aspect often ignored is the neoliberalism that was just starting it’s overdrive in the early eighties driving division to the point where it becomes a hindrance to social cohesion impacting the rpg industry, along with other factors, in the long run.
    The game ignored and continues to ignore PTSD and waving lumps of metal around until you just can’t lift your arms. Two major factors of conflict.
    oh and btw I even forgot, yet again!, the power of the crossbow which made full plate armor less relevant.
    Armor piercing bolts really do need a wider range of possible critical hits than just a natural 20 or whatever the dice premium is in your rpgame of choice. :-)

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