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.
Gaming Brouhaha has a post about something utterly fascinating: D&D camp. Yes, during the early 80s, a college campus hosted week long summer camp sessions that included Dungeons & Dragons in their activities. Click through to read the whole deal on that.
Meanwhile, Ars Ludi is collecting photos from each session of the camp. It’s a fine, upstanding lot of young gamers. The neat part is former campers are coming out of the woodwork to share their reminisces of their time.
The idea of a game-oriented program like this has set my mental wheels to turning. Doing a full-on sleepover camp probably wouldn’t be feasible out of the gate, but I find the idea of a day camp-style program incorporating discussion and playing of tabletop games, roleplaying and otherwise, very interesting. And now’s just the right time to be thinking about something that would happen next summer. There’s plenty of time to plan.
Old schoolers take note: recently posted on RPGBomb.com is a video interview with Tim Kask at Gen Con 2009, who worked with TSR back in the 1970s. High points of this segment of the interview that made me smile:
- How he met Gary, introducing himself as a stranger over the phone to ask some rules questions.
- The experience of inclusion within the group by virtue of “being a gamer.”
- His recounting of an early Gen Con.
At the start of the fall semester since 1998, Beloit College posts a list of cultural touchstones that “have always been” for the newest class of college freshmen. It gives perspective on the passage of time and rate of culture change to realize that for some people, McDonald’s has always served Happy Meals in China, or that Freddie Mercury has always been dead.
In that spirit, using the admittedly arbitrary cut-off date of 1997, because twelve is a common age in the typical “my first game experience” conversation, here are some things that have always been true for younger gamers:
- Card games have always been collectible.
- There has always been a world of gothic punk darkness — and Sam Haight has always been dead.
- Drizzt has always been the most recognized face of the Forgotten Realms.
- Polyhedral dice have always come with the numbers already inked.
- Illuminati has always come with cardboard money tokens.
- Gary Gygax had always published some things independently of TSR.
- There have always been diceless roleplaying games.
- The Settlers of Catan has always been played.
- The Sony PlayStation and other consoles have always competed with tabletop games for time and attention.
- The World of Synnibar has always been available to serve as the butt of jokes.
My knowledge is, as always, imperfect, and my research limited to what I could find via Google, so please alert me to any inaccuracies. And if you have any items to add to the list, do so in the comments.