Sunday, August 11, 2013


After some time together, playing various war simulations, Dave Arnoson decided to set his next game in a small medieval hamlet, and, instead of a large troop moving scenario, it was a series of "door to door" encounters. The player wouldn't be a general (off the field) giving orders, he'd be a lone operator (or a leader of a crack team) that would have to infiltrate the town and find the damsel in distress, or the bad guy, or the monster with the treasure, or whatever, through rolling the dice and role-playing your individual character. (Side Note: I go into this aspect of the game in my MIND GAMES entry). He used the Chainmail rules to resolve close quarters combat, and it was a hit. Gygax loved the idea, and started running his own lone adventurer games, heavily based on the pulp fiction he grew up with in the 40's, namely Conan the Barbarian's sword and sorcery stories, HP Lovecraft's Horror mythos, with a sprinkle of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings thrown in (which were very popular at the time). They started publishing their games under the banner Tactical Studies Review (TSR) and shipped them off to other gaming clubs, and BOOM, by 1974, Dungeons and Dragons was born. Story goes Gygax got the title of the game from his 10 year old daughter, who, reportedly, is quite a good gamer.

Gary Gygax admitted to reading HG Well's instructions and ran TSR games with the understanding it was, essentially, 'public domain' material. Not to bore you with too much detail, back in the early 70's, TSR took Well's articles on miniature war gaming, and built those generic castles and towers (Blackmoore, Greyhawk etc) into detailed city states, fantastic locations and so forth. Ten years later, these imaginary locales became the primary game boards for thousands of avid role playing fans.

TSR games would give you a map of a town , with a background history, and tell you it was run by individual governors, lords and wizards, with their own agendas, powers (life bar, inventory , skills, and political alignments), enemies and allies, and then you (the Game Master) tossed your players into the mix, inventing the first "sandbox" game, where the player's choices would trigger a series of built in consequences (tables of 'random encounters' are included just to keep things interesting). So, effectively, you can play this one game (ex. City State of the Invincible Overlord) over and over, and there will be variations, because of the element of chance (dice rolling), and the choices of the players (role playing) will be different every time. And since it's different every time, you, the Game Master (the guy running the game) will need to use your imagination, because there are things players will do that are not covered in the rules, because you can't anticipate every outcome. In essence (and this how we get away with this now-a-days), the Game Master will have to make up his/her own rules (or versions) to the game. To some that ran in my circles, this was the birth of game theory, DARPA, and legal plagiarism.

Remember George C. Scott in Dr. Strangelove, as the general, running around the war room, saying nuclear war heads were launched, and are real, because "it's on the big board..." ? In that movie, it's easy to understand the psychological shift from a WW II grand scale view of the world, to a personal local pride (even an imaginary hamlet). Because, really, in the game of life, there are no rules. But in a game that mimics a fantasy life, there are rules...lots of them...and one of the rules is "make it up", because as long as it's "on the board ", it's real.

True, military generals (Genghis Kahn had all his maps and spies) and people running RAND (standing on a bulletproof glass floor with a blinking world map, showing how much fuel is moving across the Atlantic Ocean, using toy warships) have been running these types of scenarios for years. There are tons of files marked "What if ? Then this !" in government agencies across the globe.

But none of them were really examining the rapid decay and deforestation of Sherwood Forest after the death of Robin Hood. Or if the Joker did in fact poison the water supply before Batman could stop him, and took over Gotham City. Or what would happen if the Universal Movie Monsters from the 30's and 40's grew fifty feet tall and attacked New York. Here's a scripted example:

"Can you imagine how many people they would need to eat to stay alive...Wait ! I'll look that up in this 1970's Game booklet, under the listings gargantuans / titans (50 ft and up). It has a bunch of stuff here... How much they can lift, how long they can travel, how much damage they do and... how much they weigh..."

The reader, back then, was assumed to be a genius gamer, (or shunned outsider, depending on what photos your looking at) and can therefore extrapolate how much food it would take .Sometimes they'll say, like in the dragon listings, "eats 4 donkeys in a sitting", but you'd still have to look up the weight of the donkey (it's listed) and then decide,"how often do they eat?" Before you know it, your writing up new rules (sometimes referred to as 'house rules' ) for the daily dietary needs of giant monsters.


Just for fun and flavor: Giant Dracula must drink three swimming pools worth of blood a day, preferably through a giant straw, or begin to diminish in power, and slowly, painfully die, at heightened levels of insanity, (he is 50 feet tall) in say, 100 years from now. Nobody was running that game scenario, except these guys...and they'd have down to the milliliter, just to appeal to their British counterparts. Yes, Dungeons and Dragons is big in the UK,  France, Germany, Australia, and Russia etc...Special shout out to all my readers there...Thanks for tuning in...


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