Wednesday 22 January 2014

D&D the game that changed the world

Well if this blog is going to be about Games and Gaming then we might as well start with the biggy, the daddy of all modern fantasy games, the system which launched a thousand imitators and made stars of its creators, writers and artists...

Dave Arneson
Dungeons & Dragons is, this year in its fortieth year, and fifth or sixth incarnations . It's creators, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, both of whom are now dead  had the genius idea of marrying, role-playing, a previously little known psychology and management tool, with escapist fantasy story telling, and traditional tabletop miniature and board games, to create a game like no other of its time...

The earliest versions of the game, simply called Dungeons & Dragons, or Chainmail, seem to have had an effect not unlike the Velvet Underground's early LP's, or the Sex Pistol's gig in Manchester 1976, not many people bought records or heard them play live, but everyone who did went away and started their own bands, or in this case their own game systems... The game was that inspirational.

Gygax, great dress sense too...
But what was it that inspired so many people? There was little in the way of story, background or plot for a modern role-player to get their teeth into, the rule system although quite complex for its time, and becoming increasing dense with each new edition, were really little more than a combat system and list of spells and their effects, it's surprising to look back at those rules now and read "the DM's word is final" and accept we live/gamed in worlds with no fixed rules.

When I got to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons as it was called, in the late 70's TSR monstrous baby was seeming huge, they had a whole world, Grayhawk, for gamers to explore, but wafer thin, huge areas were pencilled in with mountains or dessert, cities and kingdoms but very little detail was given, not even 'Here be Dragons' to aid the Characters or DM in their quests to adventure into this new world... and even where D&D did give you a grand plot or over arching scenario to discover and work through, such as in the now legendary G1/2/3,D1/2/3,Q1 campaign, the action takes place outside of the Greyhawk continuum, and outside the rest of TSR's output (other modules) completely.

my first D&D character,
in Andy Chambers's hand writing
Later as the system and the Company behind it grew, TSR became more prescriptive about its worlds and the mythos within them, they spoon fed gamers with Dragonlance, or Ravenloft, or Shadowrun or... but somehow giving us more detail, they restricted the imagination of  the gamer, they corralled  everybody, 1000's of us, all locked into the same 10' wide corridors fighting the same Liche Lords or Tentacle walls.

And although this gave people of a certain age, a shared experience, it also reduced creativity at the base level of the game, the stand alone role-play group and it's DM.
Today Dungeons & Dragons is huge, more people play now than ever have before, the conventions are better attended, gaming groups are growing and TSR's parent company knows that if it continues to nurture its brand with new product and continued support, the game will run and run...
12 pages of black & white print, and few drawings

So if you're a gamer, or modeller, or even a collector of fantasy and sci-fi metal models, and you've not already contributed to the Gygax memorial, or raised a toast to Dave Arneson and those ground breaking early guys, can I suggest you do so, salute D&D; the game that changed the world.

No comments:

Post a Comment