Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Pulp Era Colonialism is Intrinsic to Dungeons & Dragons

From Edmond Hamilton’s short story “A Conquest of Two Worlds”, published in 1932 in Hugo Gernsback’s Wonder Stories magazine:

“I don’t know why we should be going back there to kill those poor furry devils… after all, they’re fighting for their world.”

“We wouldn’t hurt them if they’d be reasonable and not attack us, would we?” Crane demanded. “We’re only trying to make Mars something besides a great useless desert.”

“But the Martians seem to be satisfied with it as a desert,” Halkett persisted. “What right have we, really, to change it or exploit its resources against their wishes?”

“Halk, if you talk like that people’ll think you’re pro-Martian,” said Crane worriedly. “Don’t you know that the Martians will never use those chemical and metal deposits until the end of time, and that earth needs them badly?”

“Not to speak of the fact that we’ll give the Martians a better government than they ever had before,” Burnham said, “They’ve always been fighting among themselves and the Council will stop that.”

Later:

Within another year Weathering could send word back to the Council that the plan had succeeded and that except for a few remote wastes near the snow-caps, Mars was entirely subjugated. In that year approximately three-fourths of the Martian race had perished, for in almost every case their forces had resisted to the last. Those who remained could constitute no danger to the earthmen’s system of forts. The Council flashed Weathering congratulations and gave Crane command of the expedition then fitting out on earth for the exploration of Jupiter.

Needless to say, a movie like Avatar would have had a completely different ending back in the thirties! And as brazen as this story might seem to the average millennial of today, it is nevertheless something that that is hardwired in the nature of the much more recent Dungeons & Dragons game.

Consider this from the first edition AD&D Players Handbook:

When a fighter attains 9th level (Lord), he or she may opt to establish a freehold. This is done by building some type of castle and clearing the area in a radius of 20 to 50 miles around the stronghold, making it free from all sorts of hostile creatures.

Sure, there is a bit of feudalism baked into the old game merely as a sort of window dressing. But there this talk of “clearing” and subjugating wilderness hexes is very much in line with the spirit of Hamilton’s scandalously retrograde science fiction tale. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the overall posture and attitude outlined there is the very definition of what Lawful means in the context of the grandaddy of all role-playing games– something that would be readily apparent to anyone that’s taken the time to go back and read Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions.

A cursory survey of D&D comments on Twitter reveals people’s inability to even imagine thinking this way is a big part of why they have no idea how to play the game.

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One response to “Pulp Era Colonialism is Intrinsic to Dungeons & Dragons

  1. Pingback: Sensor Sweep: REH Guide, The High Crusade, Pulp Revolution, D&D, King Kong – castaliahouse.com

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