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Tuesday, October 8, 2019

D&D's False Choice...

There's been a lot of talk lately about D&D's founders and the evolution of that which is arguably the two men's greatest creation: Dungeons & Dragons.  The thinking seems to be that Arneson emphasized a fluid, story-centric approach while Gygax leaned heavily on miniatures wargaming and ambitious marketing.  Strictly speaking, this is true; but like so many things, the truth is complicated and the waters muddied by facts...

So first, Arneson imagined a simple game without wargaming's complexity; a game where story mattered more.  Sounds good, right?  And he did favor something like this.  But anything he eventually made and marketed would inevitably spawn additional rules and become more complex, if only to codify new content.  One need only look at his Adventures in Fantasy RPG to see a system as clunky and complex as any. 

But what about Gygax?  He's the guy who envisioned a 1:1 scale wargame where players ran a single character instead of an army but did all the same things.  But once people started making original characters, they'd begin identifying with them and making in-game decisions that would start looking a lot like role-play.  This was pretty much inevitable, and it's hard to imagine not role-playing Mocha the Magnificent under these conditions.

In short, Arneson's story-centric game was always going to become a more complex simulation while Gygax's Chainmail-inspired wargame was always fated to become the role-playing thing we know and love.  The two men, and their approaches, were always on a collision course.  Luckily for us, they joined forces, however briefly, to forge a unique version of what each would have inevitably become on its owngiven enough time.

Now to be clear, this inevitability might not have happened in the hands of either man, although there's abundant evidence that it would have.  The aforementioned Adventures in Fantasy comes to mind, as does Gygax's not-so-subtle nods to story, be it the powerful Charm spell or his requirement that characters act out the hiring of henchmen.  Simulation and role-play were always gonna happen, and it's a false choice to think otherwise... 


  1. I’m not sure why people are arguing about this in the first place. Yes, yes, Kotaku article blah blah blah... seriously why are people arguing. Which Wright Brother invented the airplane? Which X-Man is credited with the Fastball Special? Can you really separate Lennon and McCartney?

    1. They both contributed; that's clear. But what often gets overlooked is how the two men's styles converged...

  2. Another complicating piece of the puzzle of s that according to people who played with them Arneson always employed minis and had elaborate table setups in his Blackmoor games while Gygax eschewed all of that for Greyhawk and ran the game purely “theater of the mind” - for a while he apparently had a barrier between him and the players so all they could hear was each other’s voices.