On this Labor Day weekend, we take a break from our hard-hitting, high octane analysis of TIMEMASTER™ in order to bring attention to a couple of articles regarding the early days of the hobby.
First, earlier this week, Kotaku posted a feature article about the beginnings of Dungeons & Dragons. (TRIGGER WARNING: Gary is described as having human flaws. 😧) The article goes into Braunstein and Blackmoor and Arneson's “Creature Feature weekend inspiration.” Eventually, it suggests that Gary may not have been as creative as legend indicates. Of course, it was Gary who manufactured the legend. Unfortunately, in bolstering his own role, he undermined that of Arneson. The propagation of the Cult of Gary led to Dave's minimalization. One of Gary's talents was promotion and absent that talent, there would not have been a D&D phenomenon. Yet without the creative effort of others – most notably Dave Arneson – there would not have been a D&D for which to cultivate a phenomenon.
Another of Gary's talents was writing rules. We should also be thankful for this. Yet the Kotaku article provides this quote from Gary: “Dave and I disagree on how to handle any number of things, and both of our campaigns differ from the ‘rules’ found in DandD.” What's the point in devising rules if you're not going to abide by them? On a previous occasion, I supplied a different quote from Gary: “The secret we should never let the gamemasters know is that they don't need any rules.” If this is true, why do I consider Gary's codification of the rules to be important? In my opinion, a person doesn't need rules in order to play, but rules are useful in learning the concepts of the game. Rules from a basis of understanding among the game master and the players. Once there is such an understanding, the rules can be modified or even abandoned. Without rules, the phenomenon of D&D would have been greatly impeded.
Speaking of rules, the second article was written by the editor of the blue book. While most media focused upon the burgeoning satanic panic, the November 1980 issue of Psychology Today offered an educated perspective. (I didn't state that both articles were recent.) Apparently, we owe the presence of this article on the Internet to the Escapist. In “Confessions of a Dungeon Master,” John Eric Holmes relates his experiences and observations regarding D&D. Holmes admits, “my friends know that they can often persuade me to twist the rules...” Holmes also states, “The Dungeon Master's world is sort of a giant Rorschach test.” By this, he seems to mean that, within the context of the fictional setting, “the personalities of the characters turn out to be combinations of [the players'] idealized alter egos and their less-than-ideal impulses.” Yet the “world” itself is a psychological reflection of the Dungeon Master. Holmes recognizes that his style of play is distinct from that of other Dungeon Masters. More to the point, Dungeon Masters necessarily improvise, both in terms of reacting to the behavior of player characters as well as implementing on-the-spot rulings. Holmes recalls an occasion where he decided that a “saving throw” was the appropriate game mechanic to determine if a player character had preserved her virginity. Ultimately, Holmes professes that, “The Dungeon Master's job is to provide an interesting game.” Such a thing cannot be achieved by wrote adherence to a set of rules.
Engaging in a role-playing game is a form of art, the rules are merely a tool to facilitate this endeavor.