“Violence without pretence, an endless hobgoblin holocaust”

Erik Sofge writes on roleplaying games and Gary Gygax’s legacy: “There is a way to wring real creativity, and possibly even artistic
merit, from this bizarre medium—and it has nothing to do with Gygax and
his tradition of sociopathic storytelling.” (Moira Redmond reports on the resulting fray).

Categories: Notes

3 replies »

  1. Erik Sofge really doesn’t comment on Gygax in his article as much as he comments on himself. Gygax had no “tradition of sociopathic storytelling”. In fact, he had no storytelling at all; he left that element of the game to the players. If Sofge’s Dungeon Master gave him no other way of earning experience than through relentless killing, then that is solely the fault of Sofge and his friend, not Gygax. And, by the way, some of us who played D&D didn’t eat nacho chips and DID get laid. Sofge sounds like nothing more than a self-hating dork who can find no better way to please himself than getting snarky at the expense of a dead man who was, even at his least moments, a better man than Sofge himself.


  2. When I think of the early D&D and AD&D games, I am somehow reminded of how the first typewriter was put together with the keys rather arbitrarily placed – the “e” for example, is the most commonly used letter, but it is not even in the central row of letters.
    Attempts were made to improve the typewriter layout and put the keys near index and middle fingers in an order closer to their frequency of use. A seemingly smart improvement, but it didn’t catch on. But it wasn’t just a case of “VHS” winning out over “Beta”, or the quixotic idealism of Esperanto. Even when carefully training new users on the new layout, typists didn’t really get any faster with the new layout than with the old – and it seemed that the old layout (the one we still use) somehow still managed to produce some of the fastest typists of both groups.
    I don’t know if the reason behind this was ever successfully explained. (I personally favor a “100th monkey” type explanation.) I also don’t know how apocryphal this story may or may not be. I remember learning about this in high school (though not, I think, from the teacher that actually taught typing.) But the point is that the original D&D and AD&D games remind me very much of story of this original typewriter design. There are many more efficient systems that can be imagined, but somehow we keep finding value in the old system. There’s something about it that works – that inspires even. In spite of the sexism, the racism, the focus on killing and looting (sure, you can award XP for anything, but the only XP values that are explicitly listed in those early systems is how much you get for killing different monsters or for finding treasure and magic items) – in spite of all that (or maybe because of its flaws?) D&D/AD&D is used to create a wide variety of different role-playing experiences, tailored by players to their particular interests.
    So while I can’t deny that these games seem, from a purely rational perspective, fundamentally flawed (the understanding of how to really role-play isn’t actually found in the “rules”) – somehow players constantly overcome such seeming limitations to create entertaining, even ingenious, scenarios and characters, and even stories.


  3. I will admit that D&D was my introduction to role-playing games, but like the “gateway” drugs, it led me to others. Unfortunately, it does seem to be the basis for so many games, and I think it’s foundations make improving it pretty hard. It suffers from, to borrow Mr Dave’s analogy, that typewriter-layout issue to be sure. (Incidentally, I saw an old interview with the son of that inventor, and the layout was made deliberately less efficient because of the mechanical nature of the machine: more efficient layouts allowed typists to type too fast, and the swinging arms that struck the letter onto the paper would bind up) For better or for worse, he certainly brought those types of games out into the mainstream.


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