My friend Brennan passed this on to me: Cecil Adams, writer of The Straight Dope, explains What’s the deal with Dungeons & Dragons? I’m not sure if it’s new, old or in between — it’s dated 1980, but the article refers to Gary Gygax leaving TSR in the mid 80s — but it’s certainly worth reading for Cecil’s wry take on role-playing and Dungeons & Dragons in particular.
Consider this passage:
The concept seems simple enough. It’s the application that throws me. There are two main problems: (1) there are one billion rules, and (2) the game requires nonstop mathematical finagling that would constipate Einstein. The rule book is laden with such mystifying pronouncements as the following: “An ancient spell-using red dragon of huge size with 88 hits points has a BXPV of 1300, XP/HP total of 1408, SAXPB of 2800 (armor class plus special defense plus high intelligence plus saving throw bonus due to h.p./die), and an EAXPA of 2550 (major breath weapon plus spell use plus attack damage of 3-30/bite)–totalling 7758 h.p.” Here we have a game that combines the charm of a Pentagon briefing with the excitement of double-entry bookkeeping. I don’t get it.
Not being an aficionado of early editions of Dungeons & Dragons, I have more or less no idea what the hell Cecil’s quoting. BXPV? SAXPB? EAXPA? Those remind me more of HERO‘s mechanical abbreviations than anything else. Cecil’s reaction, however mocking it may be, makes me think about the general accessibility of the gaming hobby and barriers to entry to the various sub-fields, as expressed in technical jargon and self-referential slang.
Every hobby and field of interest builds up its own vocabulary that’s opaque to anyone on the outside. Baseball fans converse about RBIs and ERAs. Musicians have diminished fifths and tone color. And so gamers have XP and action phases. Most hobbies can seem to repel newcomers, if the verbal shorthand and procedure-oriented interactions accrue.