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March 5th, 2008
07:43 pm
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Something must be very wrong with me when I can click through to an article titled "Gary Gygax, 'Father of D&D,' Dies at 69," take one glance at the page, and my first thought is:

"Holy crap! Lore Sjoberg* ** *** writes for Wired now!"

To be honest, I'm not hit especially hard by Gygax's death. I got started with D&D (my older brother's box sets -- "Advanced" came later) as a precocious pre-teen, devouring the rulebooks and reading through the adventure modules, but by the time I actually got around to playing any RPGs, I was addicted to the flexibility and obsessive-compulsive tinkering of GURPS.

And, frankly, the original D&D ... just isn't very good compared to today's RPGs. Apologies to the old-schoolers out there, but it's true. The rules are arbitrary and strange. It took them three editions to finally flip Armor Class to positive numbers and do away with the iconic, idiotic "THAC0". Characters have no flexibility (no skills until 2nd ed.!) and the Vancian spell system is a joke. The game is ruled by hack-n-slash munchkining and gotcha GMing, and the module that redefined the word "paranoia" is seen by many as its crowning achievement.

Still.

Gygax built a foundation. He put the ideas out there. And 98% of the entire "fantasy" genre lies within crossbow-bolt range of Gygax and/or Tolkien.

Like it or not, he's a titan**** of gaming. He deserves all the attention he's getting, and it's worth taking a moment to reflect on his legacy.

Or just, y'know, make tasteless but funny jokes.*^6

--
* The link from his name to his Wikipedia article is entirely deliberate.
** Even if you're not internet-old enough to recognize him as the genius behind Brunching Shuttlecocks, then you have almost certainly seen his work. I will cite as an example (since it seems most relevant to the current post) the Geek Hierarchy.
*** Cramming multiple footnotes onto a single reference point has got to be a new high and/or low for me.
**** AC 0, HD 20, THAC0 5, dmg 7d6 + 14, treasure type E,Q(x10), R.*****
***** C'mon. You saw this coming. Admit it.
*^6 Best of the lot, seen on 1.2 billion sites on the Internet: "Gary Gygax fails saving throw vs. death."

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(12 comments | Leave a comment)

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From:arethinn
Date:March 6th, 2008 04:31 am (UTC)
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I liked Penny Arcade's, which was that he was "rolling in his grave".
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From:baxil
Date:March 6th, 2008 06:21 am (UTC)
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*rimshot*

Probably at the success of AD&D 3e, if what I've heard about his opinion of the newer systems is accurate.
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From:krinndnz
Date:March 6th, 2008 04:39 am (UTC)
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I object. I object hard. Fortunately, I do not seriously object.
  • I like to think of Gygax as the Paul of Tarsus to Tolkien's Jesus - he remixed a little and popularized the existing corpus, spread it far and wide, and spawned bickering sub-communities beyond measure, the largest of whom became massive institutions that did battle among themselves. Which might make Mark Rein·Hagen Martin Luther, but anyhow. He was also influential enough to have people invoking his name as an authority long past his actual working period.
  • THAC0 still makes me wince, and the only thing that can get me to put up with it and 18/nn strength is Planescape:Torment. The system did, in fact, improve.
  • My favorite is the euphemism that Gygax is "rolling in his grave," which I suspect will rise in primacy since PA grabbed it early.
  • It's kind of amusing how Lore faded sideways after Brunching closed. He went to small things, then to Wired, and I've heard lots of people with your experience (same as mine). I'm glad he's still writing.
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From:baxil
Date:March 6th, 2008 06:33 am (UTC)

Objecting hard? Or hardly objecting? ;-)

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Responses, in random order (seriously - I've gotta do something ubergeeky in memory, so I can at least spare a few tosses of the d4):
  • Nice link!
  • Also glad he's still writing. The man deserves more exposure.
  • I never personally had any problems with THAC0, because I'm a math whiz. However, that doesn't mean the system is not utterly retarded. Pretty much every AD&D2e gaming group I ever played in, I had to either explain THAC0 to half the players, or else give up and translate rolls for people to speed up combat. In most cases, both. (Same complaint for AD&D1e, except that the only guy I ever played it with was an equally brilliant childhood friend who had no problem with the translations either.)
  • That's mostly true. If you look at things like the systems rules, and the world background, Gygax did virtually nothing original. World from Tolkien, magic from Vance, items from everywhere (Moorcock and Carroll spring to mind) -- hell, the first printing of Deities and Demigods had stats for the Cthulhu mythos until the Lovecraft estate sued! But he did have a knack -- a quite disturbing knack, full of ridiculous gotcha-traps -- for adventure design. I never actually played Tomb of Horrors as a kid, but I read the whole thing, and dude could do deathtraps, srsly.
    He gets a tremendous amount of credit as a compiler, but he did produce some original material that will stand the test of time (mostly because no modern game designer is that single-mindedly sadistic, so you have to go back to the source for the full effect).
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From:krinndnz
Date:March 6th, 2008 07:04 am (UTC)

I can use THAC0 easily, and I hate it

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That's mostly true. If you look at things like the systems rules, and the world background, Gygax did virtually nothing original. World from Tolkien, magic from Vance, items from everywhere (Moorcock and Carroll spring to mind) -- hell, the first printing of Deities and Demigods had stats for the Cthulhu mythos until the Lovecraft estate sued! But he did have a knack -- a quite disturbing knack, full of ridiculous gotcha-traps -- for adventure design. I never actually played Tomb of Horrors as a kid, but I read the whole thing, and dude could do deathtraps, srsly.
He gets a tremendous amount of credit as a compiler, but he did produce some original material that will stand the test of time (mostly because no modern game designer is that single-mindedly sadistic, so you have to go back to the source for the full effect).

I am going to go ahead and say that these facts, which I have heard before, are more support for the Pauline parallel. Tomb Of Horrors can be his Letter To The Church In Romans.



Watch me agree with you in an an argumentative and curmudgeonly fashion!
[User Picture]
From:baxil
Date:March 6th, 2008 07:53 am (UTC)

Re: I can use THAC0 easily, and I hate it

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Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes!
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From:firestrike
Date:March 7th, 2008 09:19 pm (UTC)

Re: I can use THAC0 easily, and I hate it

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No it isn't!
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From:taral
Date:March 6th, 2008 05:57 am (UTC)
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Honestly? Gygax opened the gates. I give him credit for that. The system wasn't good, but it was important.
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From:baxil
Date:March 6th, 2008 06:20 am (UTC)
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Exactly.
From:longwing
Date:March 6th, 2008 06:56 pm (UTC)
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I can agree on a number of points. Yes, the rules were arbitrary. Yes, THAC0 made no sense. Yes, D&D suffered significant flaws.

Still.

He started it, he championed it, he lived it. Roleplaying would've eventually developed without him, but he left indelible marks on Geek culture, the ramifications of which are still felt today.

I don't much like the idea of levels, I hate classes, and the spell system is ~still~ stupid, but they're part of a culture in which we all participate. You can't compare the features of a model T to a modern sedan, that doesn't mean the Ford wasn't an innovator.
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From:paka
Date:March 6th, 2008 07:55 pm (UTC)
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1e is this weird mix between "arbitrary and strange" and "a nice simple game." I think it's because there wasn't anything else in place at the time. Similarly, I think Gygax is up there with Henry Ford or Walt Disney; the man's importance isn't defined so much by what he made so much as stuff that was sheer force of personality. Zeitgeist means things happen, but it's specific people like that who determine how.

With the munchkinism, I think you have to take the old 1e modules with a grain of salt;

1. I think that Gygax was very much into gaming, as gaming. So for the original group to have character fatalities wasn't a big deal, wasn't the massive horror that we feel for it. More like losing a hand of poker.

2. I think that the original group was far more into diplomacy than comes across. For instance, if you read my favorite module, The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, it's heavily implied that you can - and some of the playtesters did - ally themselves to the gnomes and pech. Clearly negotiation rather than fighting could help your character escape the dao. You could assume that the gorgimera was intended to be so fearsome that a savvy player might decide to talk their way around the encounter. Some of Gygax's old columns in Dragon talk about characters recruiting monsters while in the dungeon, as much as about death traps. And remember, he's not really into Tolkein - he's a lot more into Howard or Lieber and their morally grayer characters.

I think that fits into the overall gamesmanship of the thing; if you can get goal C by doing unexpected action B instead of painfully obvious action A, why not? And yet we simply read and see the obvious A action. Then throw in the sheer doom that's also a part of this less-serious approach, and you've got something which seems rather foreign and horrid.
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From:joysweeper
Date:March 9th, 2008 12:59 am (UTC)
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I keep thinking about getting into DnD because it really looks like fun, but the crippling RL shyness makes it less than likely. I never even heard of the guy until his death appeared on the Internet, but now I'm interested again. Huh.

I like the xcd comic about this.
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