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Saturday, December 26, 2015


RPG Pundit keeps hammering on the storygame movement how it is not the RPG's, because the DM lacks the creative authority, but the Narrativist environment was exactly the place, where D&D was developed. Role Playing was a free form improvisation, that occurred on the spur of the moment in table top miniatures wargaming, when a player wanted to get into the character of one of the miniatures on the table. Two players would play out scenes, in a recorded case one was a Prussian colonel, and the other an anarchist student spying behind the German lines, and they had a duel, which was resolved by the toss of a coin. The concept of a DM evolved later. Many of the wargamers were educated and knowledgeable intellectuals, who brought their knowledge into the spontaneous game design. For instance, what we know today as Encounter Tables, was previously used as Narrative Randomizers in the experimental literature of the American literary scene of the 1950's, where there was a fascination with a random story, which eventually spawned the choose your own adventure genre.

Once Gygax made the game his own, this kind of growth stopped. Had Gygax the wisdom of a higher being, he would have shared spoils of the creative process and brought the other gamers on board, if only for a focus group to keep developing the hobby. Today, the defunct Forge movement and the Storygame movement, over whose alleged demise there is much unhealthy gloating by RPGPundit, were the closest embodiment of the open forum improvisational tradition that brought us D&D.
This game did not evolve conceptually beyond that. Planned obsolescence became a part of the marketing strategy by the WOTC. The simple reason that good always triumphs is that evil can't see past itself, and WOTC stock is worth .025 cents per share today.

How could the D&D been marketed differently? The TSR/WOTC mindset was that you can sell six times as many books, if you market to munchkins as opposed to the DMs. Also, better DMs buy modules than roll their own. This is where the company that sells D&D went bankrupt, both morally and fiscally. You see, almost every player is a closet DM, who wants to build their own world. When you houserule or modify the rules of the game, you are world-building. How can you market creativity, you ask? Remember those guys, Da Vinci, the Cistine Chapel and Michelangelo. Those guys were the successful DMs of their days. You see, the painting was only a byproduct of their drive to KNOW the world and to ACCURATELY recreate it on the canvas. That is why Da Vinci was both an engineer and a naturalist, and also studied anatomy and was a combat veteran. He did this so that his paintings looked REAL. You paint a battle scene, you know how the weapons and armor works, how the wounded sound, you are painting from experience.

DM's are a variety of writers, and they too attempt to recreate the world in a fantasy form that has some essential truths in it. This is an outgrowth of a very essential sensory-neurological process in which all conscious beings engage, called the Environmental Recovery Problem - how a living organism creates a mental picture of the world it lives in so that it can function in it. The depth of this process is the reason why those wargamers in the Lake Geneva club and elsewhere put their most advanced knowledge into developing the mechanics of the new game. The world-building that the DM engages in, is really a form of philosophy, and had the TSR/WOTC become a published to the D&D hobby at THIS level, they would have still been in business as a published more successful than a game company that they are currently. Specifically, any DM is a story teller. How do you become a good story teller? How to model this and this process in the real world. Sociology? Psychology? Mathematics?

Hire experts to write material on these topics, in a language accessible to the layman? This is what COULD have happened, had the D&D stayed a game for the grad school intellectuals. The games that took place at the Lake Geneva club were at THAT level. By stripping out the context and the discourse in which these games were taking place, Gygax dumbed down the game significantly to begin with, and from gitgo, he was marketing D&D out of its context, but had he kept it relevant to the original crowd that developed it, the version of the future I envisioned would have been possible. Also, had Gygax engaged with the clubs to develop his company, the TSR would have been in much better shape than it was historically.


  1. Gygax had a great product and he became over protective of it, and nobody in the history of mankind has ever gotten away with a win from fighting the future. He tried to trademark ideas and concepts, which was foolish. D&D is a DIY hobby, if you want to make money off of it, you've got to sell us tools. Selling minis has always provided steady income, he didn't do that. Creating mapping materials and books which aid the user in world-building, he didn't do that. Managing a sourcebook for users to send in their own ideas, he kind of did, but that too became too professional, which cut out the little guy. He had an opportunity to start an independent press, but he was so busy suing people to get anything out of it.

    He was a pioneer, I'll give him credit for that. Fate was on his side with the Satanic Panic, but he never truly capitalized on it, instead he wanted to make movies and cartoons. He wanted us to pay his company for the work that we were doing. without thinking about how to go about getting us to do that. If he had had AD&D playtested and polished before selling it, stuck to pushing the game further with his modules that HE wrote, provided a pre-Internet independent press, and sold affordable tools TSR would still own the most powerful name in the hobby.

  2. Hey, Rip! Good to hear from you, I hope you had great holidays! Thanks for the full poem, I hadn't seen it before. I think that Gygax lost creative control over D&D real early. The corporate soul of the TSR was something other than Gygax, and TSR itself lost its financial freedom and independence early on as well.

    Gygax was a high school drop out. Others were small towm store owners and bean counters. Together, they were a grotesque band of liliputians giving away the store to the corporate devil. Case in point: They made a very expensive deal with Random House, to print the AD&D first edition books, which RH made very beautiful and very expensive, charging the TSR top dollar and taking their cut first, dumping the printed books into TSR warehouse for them to promote and distribute, which RH did for their own book titles.

    Someone told me how expensive it is to buy your own printing press. To that I say, I know a person, who worked in printing for 15 years as a laborer, and then a skilled worked, before starting a press of his own. He knew the business and worked hard at it, and succeeded, and was able to raise about a million dollars capital to get the plant rolling. Had TSR wanted, they could have gotten a printing plant, given the millions they spent on properties in UK, Gygax's house with the swimming pool on the roof, financing expeditions looking for sunken treasure, etc.

    Two things happened - everyone treated the company like their own personal mint and fiefdom, and also they borrowed heavily to finance the expansion, never paid back the debt, and thereafter were keeping going to pay off their creditors, plus that Random House gorilla on their backs. To be honest, early 1980's were the age of corporate hedonism, and the behavior of the TSR execs mirrored that of the execs at Branif Airlines, a child of the 1970's that partied hard into total bankruptcy and oblivion, despite landing a military transport contract with Pentagon during the Vietnam War.

    TSR execs were too shallow to support the hobby in the ways you mention, and their size and scale were too large to allow self-sustainability vis a vie the gamer community of the DM's. Subsequent owners, WOTC shifted the marketing emphasis from the DM's onto the more numerous players to maintain their corporate size.

    I bet you heard of the Judges' Guild, a British company that did exactly what you postulated - created wold-building and mapping materials for the DM's. They were doing well, from 1976 until 1982, when His Eminence Grise, Gygax himself, did not renew their license to support D&D. Judges Guild almost went defunct, but outlived TSR almost as a garage-based small published of its re-prints, and a single new title in 25 years. Some small stuff about them on Wikipedia.