Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

“An Exhaustive Survey of Golden Age SF as It Relates to Gaming”

Well, somebody had to be first… and in this case it’s Lela E. Buis:

Johnson discusses classic SF writers’ work and how these have influenced games and gaming. He includes interviews, and a chapter on “Adventure Romance in 1934, 1946, 1978, 1988, and 2014.” He challenges assertions that this literature has failed to stand up and should be replaced on the reading shelf by more modern works. His thesis is in support of reading Golden Age adventure SF, not only as the basis for current work, but also because of its intrinsic quality. In support of this, he provides sales rankings for pioneers like Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein and Clarke, compared to highly popular current authors.

This is well written, well organized, well supported with examples and includes an exhaustive survey of Golden Age SF as it relates to gaming. The topic may be of limited interest to people outside the gaming community, but it’s a worthwhile read for the SF history. Four stars.

Would somebody really be crazy enough to dismiss the sff canon? Hey, they’re legion… and they’re really loud, too. The media doesn’t help, either, as it amplifies those types of voices tremendously. But the classics hold up. Half the fun in reading them– being late to the party and all– is the shock-value when you realize just how good some of these authors are.

Never mind who should be added to the Appendix N list. The question is… who were the real “Big Three”?!

37 responses to ““An Exhaustive Survey of Golden Age SF as It Relates to Gaming”

  1. Cirsova May 23, 2016 at 10:31 am

    Burroughs, Howard and Vance, natch.

    • pcbushi May 23, 2016 at 10:59 am

      Ha, those are the most recent three I’ve read.

      • Cirsova May 23, 2016 at 11:08 am

        Also, Ross Rocklynne was considered one of the top names in Sci-fi at one point alongside Asimov or Clark, and was a GoH at the first ever Worldcon, I’ve only read two of his stories so far, but I like him way better than any of the Asimov I’ve read.

  2. jlv61560 May 23, 2016 at 12:10 pm

    Hmm. Now you’ve done it again. I need to track down some Ross Rocklynne (whom I’ve never heard of before) and start reading!

  3. TWS May 23, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    Burroughs, Howard, and Anderson/Tolkien. Both were just as influential on the setting. Physically the original D&D was just Tolkien with other stuff thrown in. The attitude was Poul Anderson’s ‘The Broken Sword’.

    But you could just as legitimately argue Vance, Brackett, or Dunsay for any of the slots. They were giants and remain so. No amount of pygmies can replace any one of the titans of old.

    • jeffro May 23, 2016 at 12:30 pm

      I have made the case that OD&D is Burroughs, de Camp & Pratt, and Leiber– but Burroughs is the base and the template for both Gygax and Ken St. Andre. Judging by the sci-fi encyclopedias, Tolkien was still kind of a bit player compared to several other Appendix N authors. He was far from dominant.

      • TWS May 23, 2016 at 12:44 pm

        The races, classes, and setting are pure Tolkien with a cludge of other junk thrown in. People claim that Tolkien was not that influential. Then they use, Hobbits, Ents, Rangers, Dwarves, Elves, etc that either were inspired by Tolkien or direct ripoffs without even filing off the serial numbers.

        There has been a push since the beginning especially by Gygax to say he wasn’t influenced by Tolkien. For a guy who wasn’t especially influenced by him he sure as hell was rummaging through his refrigerator and cooking in his kitchen. The Lady? She’s protesting a bit too much.

    • jeffro May 23, 2016 at 12:50 pm

      I’m sure you’re a nice person, but you are not that informed on this topic.

    • Cirsova May 23, 2016 at 1:28 pm

      I don’t know if “pure Tolkien” is the best description. Greenskin tribes are significantly more diversified in D&D, Orcs are far less common than other goblinoids, Magic-User is restricted to Race-as-Class in Tolkien, and Tolkien significantly lacks the diverse monster ecology found in D&D which is, however, present in Leiber and Vance. If anything, there are a couple things pulled in from Tolkien (Orcs and halflings, mostly, cuz when the heck was the last time ent/treants showed up in your D&D game?). Most of the Ranger class stuff (particularly the animal and plant affinity) is found more in a weird mix of Burroughs and Burroughs-influenced new-wave stuff.

      D&D has never used Tolkien’s elves. D&D elves are shorter than humans, cannot become human by falling in love with humans, and are not an angelic proto-human race but a part of Fae. In most of the game books I have (I couldn’t vouch for a few editions), they are not immortal, either.

      • jeffro May 23, 2016 at 1:37 pm

        In contrast, the OD&D magic is pure Vance, AD&D spell components are pure de Camp & Pratt, Alignment is pure Anderson/Moorcock, the Paladin class is pure Anderson, mega-dungeons are pure St. Clair, etc. etc. 70’s style D&D adventure has more in common with Burroughs’s and Leiber’s ouvre than with anything like Tolkien’s epic quest. Granted, Tolkien deserves the credit for the concept of the adventuring party. That is almost entirely absent from other sff before 1974 or so.

      • Cirsova May 23, 2016 at 1:40 pm

        Actually, OD&D isn’t quite pure Vance, because Magic Users can just buy up the entire next level of spells at the spell emporium for 2000 GP x spell level. :/

      • Cirsova May 23, 2016 at 1:40 pm

        AD&D ratchets up the Vance influence significantly.

      • jeffro May 23, 2016 at 2:02 pm

        (Via Rainforest Giant) Isn’t funny how no one holds up the troll as one of the D&D monsters that were pillaged from Tolkien? I mean it just drops right out of the litany…!

      • TWS May 23, 2016 at 2:08 pm

        Magic is Vance. Nothing else to the point that it took years to use any other system for anything. Even the cleric was just a modified Vance. The Ranger was mostly based on Aragorn there was some other stuff tossed in. As Jeffro said the Paladin was Anderson.

      • Cirsova May 23, 2016 at 2:12 pm

        Ah, yes, but it’s not “Pure Vance” until 1e AD&D, at which point Magic Users do not have full access to all spells of all levels, but must instead acquire them by theft and adventure.

      • jlv61560 May 24, 2016 at 2:12 am

        Wait! Wasn’t the Troll pulled directly from Anderson’s “Three Hearts and Three Lions?” I mean it’s all there — green warty skin, weird hair, clawed hands, long nose, ravening for flesh, messy nest, regenerates wounds, vulnerable to fire…

        [Jeffro: Exactly. In fact, Gygax went so far as to declare he believed writers like Anderson to be as “authoritative” as Tolkien in the pages of Chainmail, before D&D and before any threats of lawsuits.]

      • pcbushi May 24, 2016 at 9:01 am

        Forgive a potentially noobish question (also not sure if this comment will show up in the right place): I haven’t read any Anderson, so can’t speak to him, but don’t trolls originate from folk lore predating any of these authors?

        [Jeffro: Yes, of course. Before there was a fantasy genre, authors would necessarily work from and build on legends, myths, and fairytales– and trolls were certainly a part of all three. The iconic D&D troll will appear odd to anyone expecting either traditional or Tolkienesque fantasy. They’re weird! But somehow Gygax found Anderson’s take on them to be “authoritative”. And now gamers do, too.]

      • Cirsova May 24, 2016 at 9:39 am

        I wish Varg Vikernes’ game, MYFAROG, were less crunch, because I really like his take on trolls; they’re sort of a weird hybrid of nordic folk trolls and lovecraftian monsters (in MYFAROG, the Jotunn came from space). By their nature and very existence, they spread the Etunikaimas (basically the feywild) and corrupt reality wherever they’re present.

        “Etunakaimas (“world of hunger”) is the domain of the ettins. It is not a realm as such, but a name used for all
        the areas in all the human realms of Þulê eaten up by the destructive power of the ettins; the deepest forests, the largest bogs, the tallest mountains, the most dangerous seas and the other unsafe places of
        the Earth. Everything eaten up by the power of the ettins has changed; the trees have become unnatural, twisted and grotesque, many animals larger and more aggressive, men more savage, the air colder and the weather wilder. At the centre of this domain is the deity Wumias, alias Beleþorn, and his lair. You know that you have entered Etunakaimas by the change in
        atmosphere; there is silence as heard nowhere else, often broken by distant shrieks and screams from all sorts of dangerous creatures, and the sky itself has a strange glow when seen from Etunakaimas.”

      • pcbushi May 24, 2016 at 9:22 am

        Gotcha! I’m going to have to check out Anderson after I’m finished with my current Burroughs expedition.

      • jlv61560 May 24, 2016 at 12:28 pm

        Wait! Wasn’t the Troll pulled directly from Anderson’s “Three Hearts and Three Lions?” I mean it’s all there — green warty skin, weird hair, clawed hands, long nose, ravening for flesh, messy nest, regenerates wounds, vulnerable to fire…

        [Jeffro: Exactly. In fact, Gygax went so far as to declare he believed writers like Anderson to be as “authoritative” as Tolkien in the pages of Chainmail, before D&D and before any threats of lawsuits.]

        But that wasn’t a radically anti-Tolkien position or anything — heck, we ALL felt that guys like Anderson were as “authoritative” as Tolkien — unless you just wanted to play in Middle Earth, of course. Everybody read everything and while there might have been occasional debates on who was the better author, no one thought there was a “one twue way” to write fantasy. Heck, part of the fun in literature (and D&D) was the creativity involved in new ideas on how worlds and magic and creatures worked. Nobody seems to remember her now, but Katehrine Kurtz did a wonderful job of transporting a universal monotheistic Catholic church into a fantasy setting and exploring how it might feel about things like magic and other races.

        Anyway, I get your point, but having lived through those days, I have to say the lines weren’t as firmly established back then as they seem to be now…

  4. twilaprice May 23, 2016 at 1:03 pm

    Hmm. If we are talking D&D, I’d say Tolkien and Vance and Burroughs. A lot of the basic tropes were right there.

    If we’re talking sf, that’s a totally different kettle of fish.

  5. TWS May 23, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    Jeffro, I have been too broad in my description of Tolkien’s influence. I tend occasionally to hyperbole. This has been a sore topic for me since the seventies. Because I believe that Gygax’s strong disavowal of Tolkien is primarily based on his anger and perhaps embarrassment at the Tolkien estate’s efforts to force TSR to remove copyrighted elements from his games.

    I believe that Gygax would have given Tolkien greater acknowledgement if not for the legal stuff. He had both personal and legal reasons for saying otherwise.

    But that doesn’t excuse my over broad generalizations. I was and am aware of the other influences from Anderson through Vance. I was wrong in tone and in specifics.

    • jeffro May 23, 2016 at 3:57 pm

      Well, that is very gracious of you. (No sarcasm intended there.) Please forgive me if I was overly snippy at the start. And welcome to the blog, by the way!

      • TWS May 23, 2016 at 4:09 pm

        Thank you. No apology necessary, it is water under the bridge. We have corresponded under other another name for me but that is because of the nature of comment system registration and not any desire to hide who I am. When each system requires something different it’s hard to keep them straight.

      • Professor Oats May 26, 2016 at 12:35 pm

        I wouldn’t say those deserts are Barsoom by default. It’s more like “If you wanna play on Mars, just use a desert and add this stuff into the mix”. Notice how “Mars” and entrees 7-12 are in parentheses? A non-martian desert would only use a d6

      • jlv61560 May 26, 2016 at 1:27 pm

        That’s sort of the way I always read it. I was a bit taken aback at Jeffro’s “All deserts are Barsoom!” response, in fact! ;-) I’d say any desert CAN be Barsoom, just as it CAN be Dune. It all depends on what the GM decides to do with it.

    • Professor Oats May 24, 2016 at 2:16 am

      Even before he got into legal trouble with the Tolkien estate, Gygax stated that he wasn’t a huge fan of Lord of the Rings (though he did like The Hobbit) and didn’t consider it the best model for gaming beyond what superficial elements he clearly borrowed from the trilogy

      Honestly, I don’t get why people find it so hard to believe that he didn’t enjoy such a boring series (excluding The Hobbit, which was mostly awesome)

      • jlv61560 May 24, 2016 at 3:54 am

        As I recall, he didn’t become completely anti-Tolkien until after the legal troubles, but your point isn’t in-valid because of that. Certainly, I don’t recall any of the contemptuous snark in print until AFTER he got pulled up by the short hairs by the Tolkien Estate…

        Where I will differ with both of you is on whether or not “The Lord of the Rings” is a “boring” series. However, different strokes for different folks, I guess.

      • jeffro May 24, 2016 at 8:30 am

        He had trouble with the Burroughs estate, too, but never renounced him. Fantasy was simply not “Tolkienesque” in the seventies. It was not even recognizable in terms of today’s genre. The lack of heroes with a Heroic “stamp” on par with Conan or John Carter is the chief reason why Tolkien did not cut it for Gygax. It’s also why fantasy after 1980 or so generally doesn’t cut it for me.

      • jlv61560 May 24, 2016 at 12:21 pm

        That may be true, though of course Gary isn’t around to ask anymore, but I note in passing that he actually used “Tolkien-esque” elements in D&D but I don’t recall much in the way of red or green martians there. In short, he may have preferred Burroughs, but he didn’t seem to use him as much. At least as I recall the old white box and later versions. (Now you’ll start talking about the “Tarzan” related creatures and whatnot, but those are really more jungle creatures that could have come from any source, and things like the white apes are more an H.G. Wells invention in my opinion…)

        As for fantasy after 1980 or so, no real disagreement from me, though I will say there are exceptions to every rule and making blanket statements can sometimes backfire! Personally I blame the Margaret Weiss/R.A. Salvatore crowd of derivative “gaming session logs,” or whatever they purported to be, for much of the decline, but maybe that’s just me. ;-) Regardless, there seems to be much less “craft” in the writing nowadays than there used to be. Current authors prefer to do blatantly obvious social engineering and straw-man arguing thinly disguised as “fantasy fiction” rather than characterization and plot, or so it seems to me…

        [Jeffro: Barsoom is explicitly included in the original D&D booklets. The encounter tables are packed with every variety of ERB martian fauna. The deserts in your OD&D campaign? By default… they are Barsoom. (!!) Want to travel to “other worlds” in your OD&D campaign? “Mars is given in these rules.” The most valuable TSR product today? The Warriors of Mars miniatures rules that the ERB estate forced them to take off the market. The kind of miniatures you were most liable to come across in the seventies? As prolific rpg designer David Pulver just pointed out at the Castalia House blog, it wasn’t fantasy adventurers, but green martians. The novel trilogy written by the editor of Holmes basic? It set in ERB’s Pellucidar. And after reading A Princess of Mars, it was my own son that broke the news to me: the “white apes” in the Moldvay basic set are pulled from the Barsoom stories. Ken St. Andre– the designer of Tunnels and Trolls– told me point blank that you cannot underestimate the influence ERB had on his work in rpgs. Again, Gygax mentions Burroughs by name in the “FORWARD” to the original Dungeons & Dragons. For the run of the mill fan in the seventies, Edgar Rice Burroughs was synonymous with science fiction and fantasy. The rpgs that were created in those days would necessarily reflect that.]

      • Simon Hogwood May 25, 2016 at 10:36 pm

        It’s rather interesting, in light of that comment about Gygax preferring The Hobbit, to note that, lack of John Carter-types aside, The Hobbit is much more of a D&D type adventure than The Lord of the Rings is.

      • jlv61560 May 26, 2016 at 12:34 am

        Thanks for pointing that out — for some reason I hadn’t actually thought my way through to that logical conclusion. And, it’s absolutely true — and also explains the “Tolkienesque” creatures that WERE brought into D&D; after all, Bilbo IS the archetypal D&D “thief.” Indeed the entire Hobbit race in D&D (excuse me, I meant “halfling”) is apparently a bunch of murderous kleptomaniacs — which IS a bit odd given both how the Hobbits as a group and Bilbo specifically were depicted in LotR, but somewhat more explainable in terms of “The Hobbit”…

        As for the other creatures that made it across, Orcs (Goblins), Dwarves, etc, they are generally more akin to the Hobbit versions than the LotR versions.

        [Jeffro: Don’t forget Cugel the Clever, Jack of Shadows, and Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Also, Conan was arguably a thief in some stories. The B/X Halfling is patterned on Merry, not Bilbo. The Rogue in Tunnels & Trolls is pure Cugel. Bilbo was a burgler of course. I think the term thief comes from Zelazny’s Jack of Shadows which is also the source of the hide in shadows thief skill and the ability of thieves to climb sheer surfaces.]

      • jlv61560 May 26, 2016 at 1:30 pm

        Actually, I wasn’t forgetting those things, I was merely talking about the Tolkienesque features that were brought in as a response to Prof Oats’ observation.

        Honestly, I’m not arguing with you. I’m merely focusing on the comment I was replying to.

  6. TWS May 23, 2016 at 9:24 pm

    We should have a Castalia House gaming group for G+ or something.

    • jeffro May 24, 2016 at 12:09 am

      There are some superversive folk, a stray mad genius, and scads of rpg-designers over there… but it’s pretty thin on Ilk and Gamergate types…!

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