Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Gaming's First-Generation Non-Wargamers...

I'm a first-generation non-wargamer.  Ok, but what does that even mean?  Cue the history lesson.  Dungeons & Dragons was created by historical wargamers who just happened to like low-fantasy sword and sorcery.  Gritty stuff that bordered on the real.  Gygax famously (and perhaps ironically, given where the hobby ended up) disliked Lord of the Rings, with its elves and (to hear him say it, tedious) pretensions.  I disagree, finding this a reverse-conceit, but whatever.  Strokes.  Folks.  But it did impact how these early games were played... 

Primordial D&D was two-fisted action with swords.  And spells.  It was at once both ridiculous and serious, historical and fantastic.  Your fighter might pass a nearby castle, armed with historically accurate armor and weapons (and polearms, of course), aware that yonder fortress housed a squadron of knights mounted on fire-breathing rocs.  It leaned heavily on wargaming because it was created by - and for - wargamers, and approached its fantastic elements with a nod and a wink because it couldn't take them too seriously. 

Now Gygax delighted in John Carter's exploits, so he must have genuinely admired the fantastic.  Even so, this was pulp, with its shirtless-men-fighting-bears aesthetic.  Magic was window dressing at best, which translates to the OSR's emphasis on human choice over superhuman power.  Monsters became a strategic challenge, and magic a strategic cheat he was keen on limiting.  In short, OD&D was a serious wargame with a sense of humor, a beer-and-pretzels diversion for those who'd rather relitigate the Battle of Trafalgar.

Early D&D was wargaming - and wargaming was its endgame.  Level up, build a fortress, and it's back to protractors and green felt tabletops.  The fantastic stuff was its sense of humor, hence the gonzo, but in all fairness to its adherents, a strategic challenge as well.  This was the hobby's first generation, and it deserves our deepest respect.  But the hobby saw its second wave in the form of non-wargamers.  These were fantasy enthusiasts drawn to the storytelling potential of a game where magic figured more prominently... 

And more seriously.  We were Tolkien fans who longed to recreate the adventures we thrilled in and to walk within their lavishly constructed worlds.  We (and I say that because I was there) were geeky types who devoured comics, haunted the aisles of our local bookstores back when everything was lumped under science fiction, and stood in line for hours to watch a groundbreaking film called Star Wars.  And as we read Starlog, we became aware that there were others like us: fantasy lovers in search of a community - and a voice.

Geekery wasn't mainstream, but Star Wars was changing that.  God bless America, but once you can sell a thing, it becomes a thing.  There was a sea change brewing, and we kind of knew it, although it was hard to put our finger on it.  This was 1977, the year AD&D's Monster Manual appeared in hobby shops.  You'd walk in to buy some Testors model glue for your Shogun Warriors kit and get slapped in the face with that.  Oh, and the strangers in the back cheering about the damage their fireball just did was a powerful siren song. 

Holmes aside, there was no coherent instruction; and no one, however brilliant, was going to actually learn to play from the original digests or the slick new hardcovers.  You needed a mentor, often, a first-generation wargamer who imported much of their gonzo idealism.  But we were quick learners eager to put our own stamp on things - and we nailed it.  From the beginning, Gygax cited those who were by no stretch of the imagination ardent wargamers as keys to the hobby's growth.  And for a guy who hated Tolkien, he was pretty right on...

13 comments:

  1. One of my players whose relatively new to D&D, told me recently (while waxing nostalgic over our recent covid-cancelled campaign) that, "I can remember everything that has happened like it happened."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I feel that way about life in general these days...

      Delete
  2. James, thank you for that post. The "geek scene" here in Germany wasn't that active, so it came as an even bigger surprise to 14-year old me when the first big German rpg hit the market in 1984. Dragons? Barbarians? Wizards? Cool! I'll never forget that weird and beautiful feeling when I opened that first box back then.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Funny thing is, as I've been rereading the Lord of the Rings (currently on TTT), these books can very much be characterized as fantasy war stories (of the types that would fire up any "wargamer"). The inner struggle and drama is so secondary to issues of logistics and troop movement and time constraints and morale...and yet, that type of game is pretty much absent from D&D. Instead it is the injection of (Gary's love of) pulp that gives D&D it's true play style.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interestingly, more than a few 70s wargamers were keen on recreating the War of the Rings; but you're absolutely right, it was Gary's love of pulp that steered the early game and made it what it became...

      Delete
  4. If I remember correctly from Jon Peterson's "Playing at the World", one of the first big group of early non-wargamer adapters from the sci-fan circle were Lee Gold + the Alarums & Excursions zine. So, a first generation? Or a zero generation? :) Anyways, the history of the reception of D&D is a fascinating and many-faceted topic.

    ReplyDelete
  5. The fact that you think Gary Gygax was just an OD&D wargammer shows me you know nothing about the man. Who's name was on the AD&D books as the creative source???? Gary Gygax. IT was his game, his approval, and his continuing evolution to 1st edition AD&D. Magic and treasure were a big part of AD&D but it was still focused around war, fighting, exploring of Dungeons, etc. I was born in 1972, and by 1982 I was playing D&D box Moldvay set, and then 3 or 4 months later playing AD&D. I was there in the thick of things. Trust me it was a wargame of exploration, etc. These idiots now a days who play 5th edition sit around and listen to a DM explain every detail of a story, which looks boring as hell. THey dont' fight at all, they make friends with orcs, there is zero fighting. The game has been trashed by politically correct douchebags, that has characters sitting around a fire singing kumbaya, and holding hands with orcs and goblins. Claiming that orcs are misunderstood. The game today is not played right at all. You NON warmgamers have destroyed the game with your politically correct doucebag philosophies.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "A great crackling of broken branches and the heavy tread of huge feet alerted the adventurers, and when the giant appeared a moment later it was no surprise. Weapons at the ready, they confronted the tall form. It made no hostile move, so Nestre stepped forward and spoke.

      “Are you come with peaceful intentions?” the mage shouted.

      “Duhhh…” the giant replied.

      Somewhat relaxed by this friendly greeting, the men invited him into their camp. As soon as the great oaf was sprawled at ease by the fire, Nestre inquired if the giant was on any important business. The big fellow said that he was simply out for a month’s stroll in the greenwood, so the mage immediately sought to enlist the services of their guest. <...>"

      What is this awful story-game nonsense? These woke gamers are ruining D&D by talking to a giant instead of killing it! How dare they rely on Reaction rolls and knowledge of monstrous languages, rules that were never present in the trve original edition of D&D?!

      Oh wait... "The referee was Rob Kuntz, with Ernie Gygax and Gary Gygax playing".
      https://www.greyhawkgrognard.com/2011/07/01/giants-bag/

      Delete
    2. I deleted my pervious response for being too hostile, although you have to know how unreasonable your position is here. Non-wargamer refers to those without prior wargaming experience who came to the hobby out of a love for the fantasy media they so enjoyed. No reasonable person would conclude that it means no combat ever, especially given how central battle is to this milieu. But even if someone were playing a violence-free game, I'm pretty sure it's no one's business but their own (and vice versa, obviously)...

      Delete
    3. Also, I started playing in 1978...when you were six.

      Delete
    4. Wow Travis, did your Daddy not love you enough? The modern philosophies on role playing are a bit more mature than your fine memories of being ten and pretending to slaughter orcs wholesale (and no doubt drinking and whoring wet dreams with dice when you were 14).
      Nobody has ruined the game. Play it how you want. I'm a bit older than you, started with AD&D late '79, taught army bachelors, which by your bragging makes my "balls bigger than your".
      The new generations of players have ruined nothing. Barring demons and Devils and other beings of the lower planes, there is no such thing as an evil race. Tolkein orcs were constructs, so may have been evil, created to be such, but D&D orcs were a natural race. There is no evil race on our planet. Race may be self-centered and self-protective, competing with others or us for resources, but that is not evil. Evil is not denoted by the color of skin, the length of ears or how guttural a language is. Cultures produce evil people, be they Nazis or aging grognards not able to accept their relative irrelevance and that they are no longer the target audience. A group of adventurers going in and slaughtering a village of orcs to the last man, woman and child strikes me as the bad guys.
      So, in short, play however you want, but climb down off your high horse before someone makes you look like a bigger idiot than you make yourself appear.

      Delete