A Different Perspective

A Different Perspective

Monte Cook examines the original D&D from the perspective of a game designer.

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Thanks for an interesting perspective on something that, as a non-pen-and-paper D&D player (I'm completely C-RPG based, I'm afraid; though I've no preference for massive W-RPG, formulaic J-RPG or on-line MMO-RPG; or even the modern 'indie' efforts that often push the envelope of what you can stand in a game) often seems impenetrable and obtuse. I've read snippets of the various D&D editions, and wondered how people can stand to play something where so much of the time is spent doing things that, given a computer, would be automatic... Of course, since then, I've come to understand that, for those who play, this is part of the charm.

Anyway, this rambling post is a thank-you for the comments and view-point...

I almost think I would prefer it more than the giant tomes we have as rulebooks nowadays. It would take longer to read all that than just figure it out with brief instructions, and finding the actually relevant parts of the books is nearly impossible sometimes.

The article was less about perspective from a game designer and more about perspective from a technical writer. It was all about the oddities of the original book's writing and organization, not about game mechanics. To be honest I was hoping for something more substantial than "the original version has its abnormalities (by today's standards) because it was written for a niche audience," especially from one of the authors of 3ed.

G-Mang:
The article was less about perspective from a game designer and more about perspective from a technical writer. It was all about the oddities of the original book's writing and organization, not about game mechanics. To be honest I was hoping for something more substantial than "the original version has its abnormalities (by today's standards) because it was written for a niche audience," especially from one of the authors of 3ed.

I have to agree, where's the talk about the actual game design? For reference, something more like this

I've read tons of Articles venerating the old days of D&D, but I'll tell you what when my uncle handed my my first D&D book when I was 8 I couldn't make heads or tails of it exactly because of the things Mr. Cook is pointing out.

The giant tomes the previous poster is complaining about may be bulky but at least you can find the important rules that you're looking for, which is a quantum leap beyond the old days in actually understanding how the system works for a player. The thing is you can't be expected to make good judgment calls in a tabletop RPG until you fundamentally understand the rules, and that includes its design philosophy.

I entered adolescence about the same time D&D was being published for the first time, although my first exposure was buying the original Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dungeons_%26_Dragons_Basic_Set ). Living in Minneapolis at the time, I was at the two primary centers of RPG "culture" (the other being around Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, of course). I hung out with people who were connected to the "big players" (Arneson, Gygax, and others like professor Barker, responsible for the "Empire of the Petal Throne" campaign).

Anyway, all that is to preface that, to these guys, D&D was never a rules system like we think of gaming systems today. The rules seem disorganized & cobbled together because they WERE cobbled together. The whole concept of game design didn't even exist - thinking about balance, learning curve, etc. were not even on the table. The systems were created to facilitate the interactive fiction of fantasy role-playing - not unlike the rules that are used by LARPers today. They were really only there so that there could be some written-down authority you could go to to resolve disputes on "what happened" between the players and/or game master.

So it's not really a surprise that those early works were a mess, both from a technical writing standpoint and a game design standpoint. What you're looking at when you read that stuff are the beginnings of the thought process that led not just to modern pen & paper RPGs, but to computer gaming in general - the creation of imaginary worlds that followed mechanics that were laid down in advance.

It really was a legitimate counter-culture, or maybe more like a counter-economy. Going into a game store (like Little Tin Soldier in Minneapolis) was a strange experience. So much of what was on sale in the racks had a shocking homemade appearance by today's standards - typewritten rulebooks that had been Xeroxed and bound up with plastic spines, packages of miniatures that were ziplock bags affixed with handwritten index cards, etc. It always amazed me that someone was taking the time to actually try to sell this stuff when the market was so incredibly tiny. But look where we are now.

Well said, BigBoote66.

Monte Cook:
A Different Perspective

Monte Cook examines the original D&D from the perspective of a game designer.

Read Full Article

Welcome to the escapist, Monte. You stop working for Wizards/White Wolf to work on independent stuff?

Naheal:

Monte Cook:
A Different Perspective

Monte Cook examines the original D&D from the perspective of a game designer.

Read Full Article

Welcome to the escapist, Monte. You stop working for Wizards/White Wolf to work on independent stuff?

He already wrote for this column back in September

Naheal:

Monte Cook:
A Different Perspective

Monte Cook examines the original D&D from the perspective of a game designer.

Read Full Article

Welcome to the escapist, Monte. You stop working for Wizards/White Wolf to work on independent stuff?

Monte Cook has been working on a lot of independent projects, such as the formidable campaign setting/city of Ptolus and more recently Dungeonaday.com.

He's also a Rules Consultant for Paizo's Pathfinder. This is really interesting since Paizo was the original publisher of the The Dragon (later Dragon) and Dungeon magazines, before they were replaced with the digital versions on the renewed Wizards of the Coast site. I helped alpha and beta test Pathfinder so when he joined the Paizo team for this project last year I was really excited about this move.

And now that he's also a guest writer on The Escapist, that's just formidable!

I think much of the problem may have been that they were inventing it. There were no references or other games to use as a starting point or to copy and I'm sure it was difficult for the two of them to think of everything. My earliest experiences were with the red and blue boxes so I've never seen the original books but even the refined box sets still had a lot of holes.

I wonder if I'll ever get into D&D. I've had a couple of chances to do so, but I haven't taken advantage of them as of yet and I have still yet to play my first game. One day I might, but the odds that I will play are getting slimmer and slimmer with each passing day.

AvsJoe:
I wonder if I'll ever get into D&D. I've had a couple of chances to do so, but I haven't taken advantage of them as of yet and I have still yet to play my first game. One day I might, but the odds that I will play are getting slimmer and slimmer with each passing day.

I can only recommend it, every gamer should try tabletop D&D at least once in his life. Okay, unless everybody is really serious about it, it'll probably be a train wreck, but as long as you're with friends, it'll still be fun as hell. So go for it.

sashagrey:
I think much of the problem may have been that they were inventing it. There were no references or other games to use as a starting point or to copy and I'm sure it was difficult for the two of them to think of everything. My earliest experiences were with the red and blue boxes so I've never seen the original books but even the refined box sets still had a lot of holes.

The original documents were available as digital scans on RPGnow.com (albeit with very low quality) but I can't seem to find them anymore.

Fat_Hippo:

AvsJoe:
I wonder if I'll ever get into D&D. I've had a couple of chances to do so, but I haven't taken advantage of them as of yet and I have still yet to play my first game. One day I might, but the odds that I will play are getting slimmer and slimmer with each passing day.

I can only recommend it, every gamer should try tabletop D&D at least once in his life. Okay, unless everybody is really serious about it, it'll probably be a train wreck, but as long as you're with friends, it'll still be fun as hell. So go for it.

I know a couple of people who are really into it, but I no longer live in the same city as either of them. One lives in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, one in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and I'm in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada (that's roughly the distance between Phoenix, Nashville, and Denver). So unless I organize one hell of a gathering, I doubt I'll be trying it soon. But if I do get another chance at it, I won't pass it up. It's something I guess I really should try.

The thing about the original D&D books -- and a lot of early RPGs, including Traveller -- that strikes me today is how much they remind me, at least in attitude, of a lot of computer programming books, especially older ones. There is a certain degree of assumption of basic knowledge in both bodies of work, as if the authors had difficulty distinguishing between what they already knew and what the novice in the field could be expected to know.

Another thing that strikes me is that I only recently learned the bit about the original D&D rules requiring a copy of Chainmail to play. It's sort of interesting that the game started off not really as an independent, stand-alone game, but rather as a game supplement.

Interesting article, but a page too short IMHO. My reason for saying so is two-fold:

As OD&D ("original" D&D) suffered from "you-know-what-I-mean" syndrome, so too does this article in its apparent assumption that readers are going to know the evolution of the game. I think it would have been useful to readers to give more detail covering the origins of the game as a set of adjunct rules initially developed by and for a community of war gamers. Knowing these details, it's easier to understand why the game suffers from the aforementioned syndrome.

I also agree with the previous comment(s) that it would have been nice to see a bit more discussion about the game from Mr. Cook's perspective as a designer. That's what I expected I'd be reading after the second paragraph.

Just my two cents... and it's still an interesting piece, regardless.

We tend to keep the columns down to a defined length, and an earlier article in the High Adventure series had already detailed the history of OD&D.

Woem:
He's also a Rules Consultant for Paizo's Pathfinder. This is really interesting since Paizo was the original publisher of the The Dragon (later Dragon) and Dungeon magazines, before they were replaced with the digital versions on the renewed Wizards of the Coast site.

Both Dragon/The Dragon and Dungeon magazines were originally published by TSR, Inc., the original publisher of Dungeons & Dragons. (Technically The Dragon, in its original incarnation "The Strategic Review," appeared in the mid-'70s under the aegis of "Tactical Studies Rules," TSR's original name.) Dragon had already hit a hundred issues before the founders of Paizo graduated high school.

APVarney:

Woem:
He's also a Rules Consultant for Paizo's Pathfinder. This is really interesting since Paizo was the original publisher of the The Dragon (later Dragon) and Dungeon magazines, before they were replaced with the digital versions on the renewed Wizards of the Coast site.

Both Dragon/The Dragon and Dungeon magazines were originally published by TSR, Inc., the original publisher of Dungeons & Dragons. (Technically The Dragon, in its original incarnation "The Strategic Review," appeared in the mid-'70s under the aegis of "Tactical Studies Rules," TSR's original name.) Dragon had already hit a hundred issues before the founders of Paizo graduated high school.

Thank for pointing that out. I came in contact with Dungeon/Dragon when they were published by Paizo and although I try to keep up with history (I was born in '82) I wasn't aware of this.

Fat_Hippo:
I almost think I would prefer it more than the giant tomes we have as rulebooks nowadays. It would take longer to read all that than just figure it out with brief instructions, and finding the actually relevant parts of the books is nearly impossible sometimes.

You can get games with small rulebooks (and very few extra supplements) today, too, mostly from the "story-game" and "old-school" indie communities.

This column has covered "old-schoolers" before, and Allen Varney previously wrote a few feature articles that mentioned the Forge and the Story Games forum.

-- Alex

 

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