Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Friday, September 28, 2012


I would like to thank all authors who contributed to this blog. Special mentions:  Journalizer (whose voice I miss); Endymion "The Fair" (who bore more brunts than he should have); Grendlewulf (who moved on before me to some other enchanted land), Scottz (who is creating elsewhere, but still creating); and of course Benoist, the aloof Frenchman.

Your voices were welcome as they were well intentioned and sincere.

I leave you with a few quotes and a short poem.  Plus a song.

"I believe in the pure Surrealist joy of the man who, forewarned that all others before him have failed, refuses to admit defeat, sets off from whatever point he chooses, along any other path save a reasonable one, and arrives wherever he can. Such and such an image, by which he deems it opportune to indicate his progress and which may result, perhaps, in his receiving public acclaim, is to me, I must confess, a matter of complete indifference."  -- Andre Breton

"Usually in all works of art that have been conceived from within outwards, and generously nourished from the author's mind, the moment in which he begins to execute is one of extreme perplexity and strain. Artists of indifferent energy and an imperfect devotion to their own ideal make this ungrateful effort once for all; and, having formed a style, adhere to it through life. But those of a higher order cannot rest content with a process which, as they continue to employ it, must infallibly degenerate towards the academic and the cut-and-dried." -- Robert Louis Stevenson

"Ce monde n’est que très relativement à la mesure de la pensée et les incidents de ce genre ne sont que les épisodes jusqu’ici les plus marquants d’une guerre d’indépendence à laquelle je me fais gloire de participer." -- Breton

Realistically seasoning,
His idealistic reasoning,
He galloped past ruin,
Having carved and hewn,
The right of nativity,
For him, creativity.
... Like a stallion of thought,
Loosed upon the plain of futures.
{RJK, 1979, Mexico City}

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

After The Storm

After an emergency room visit due to declining health, this combined with a major upcoming surgery for K, things are on the road to stability here at the home front.  I am feeling friskier each day and am looking forward to my 57th year of life later this month.

My foray into continued blogging will be short-lived, however.  I have said my say about creative freedom. The series, "Debunking Fallacies," will end it.  I intend to post two more which will include condensations of some related topics and then this blog will close for comments.  It will remain open for authors still wishing to post here.

What I will be doing:

I will be attending NTXRPGCon next June; I missed the last one for the aforementioned health reasons, but, as always, heard that it was a resounding success.  I am deciding on a combined seminar/Q&A session about design that I'd like to give; for gaming, I have been restocking the "City of Greyhawk Sewers" I created in 1975-1976, and with other creative additions over time (it's very large/4 combined maps/see partial below).  I intend to run this twice.

Continued reading and research for a board game I am designing, this having at its core the life and imaginings of a favorite poet of mine; no time frame on this, as it is a pet project like so many others that cooks when cooking and simmers along otherwise.

I am no longer doing written interviews.  Allan Grohe (Black Blade Publishing) is currently seeking a
film crew to do a lengthly series of onsite interviews with me.  Anyone who reads this blog that has an information path to such a person or outfit willing to film the video interviews should contact

The organization of my entire unpublished and auctioned works.  Black Blade Publishing and I recently confirmed by contract to publish a hard bound catalog with DVD insert of my entire auctioned and unpublished works.  This will include, but will not be limited to:

  • Castle El Raja Key Levels (color) with existing notes for encounters
  • Castle Greyhawk Levels
  • City of Greyhawk maps, various city-level, subterranean and sewers, etc.
  • WoG Outdoor Maps (City environs, additional wilderness-dungeon designs)
  • WoG "Red Book" notes and maps 1972 onward

Essentially all that I have extant on the Original Lake Geneva Campaign, 1972 onward, typed, hand-written or mentally transmitted...  ;)

plus... Maps, articles, essays, art, combined interviews, PDFed adventures (Bottle City, et al., most of Pied Piper Publishing's product line in PDF as well as the Maze of Zayene Series), Greyhawk/RPG related stories that I was to contribute to a book Gary Gygax and I never got around to publishing, etc., etc.

The process of organizing the files started a month ago, including ancient material sifted from boxes and included in the morass of files to be scanned to top off those that were previously scanned over three auctions or that I have on disk.  My rough estimate of its size is in excess of 5,000 distinct files, though this is really a wild, rough guess.  The longer I look at the whole it seems to grow more towards 8-10m, but we shall see.

Allan and I are now at the point of formalizing the file format presentation, which will make it easier for us to page count the hard bound book.  This is huge (just the book-catalog itself, in my estimation, will probably be in excess of 150 pages), so we will be taking the time necessary to cover all bases for the serious gamer, historian and collector.  In addition I will be writing introductory material for the files as well as including some special articles.

Prior to release BB and I will establish a blog and an online forum. The blog will be used for updates, samples and such.  The forums will be strictly for product questions and answers, that is, for as long as I am alive to answer questions... ;)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Green Dragon Inn

A pretty imaginative "take" on it by Darva Shriver @ her blog, Stocking the Dungeon.

Tell her I sent you.  :)


Monday, September 3, 2012

Debunking Some Fallacies, Part I (of several)

Debunking Some Fallacies, Part I (of several)

The internet contains a wide expanse of information.  I occasionally lurk at sites to read threads related to D&D history, TSR history, opinions about RPG-this-and-that ranging back in time and forward to the present.  Included in such varied topics are speculations, accusations and misinformation; and of course outright lies, half-truths and over/under speculation about myself as a person and as a designer.  Human nature doesn't change; and it can sometimes reach primal and cowardly levels when funneled via the anonymous connection of the internet.

There are so many junk posts, so much innuendo and outright balderdash that my mind actually reels while attempting to formulate responses to such matter.  I literally flip the "I must respond to this" coin in my brain every time I see such stuff, but I  more often skew that "mental toss" with, "Nah, it's not worth it."  Let those who believe the myths continue on their merry ways.

Not anymore...

Rather than post related links, I'll go on record here at correcting some of the more atrocious ideas about myself, EGG, TSR, etc., floating about the internet; and since I am aware that some of these commentators actually do read this blog on occasion, I am sure these related clarifications will catch up with them.

Wrong, Wrong and Triple Wrong…

That… My CU "Stats" (that is, a set of terms I borrowed and amended from Mayfair Game's "Role Aids" line of AD&D compatible products) is owned by me, and that this proprietary ownership is used as a reason that there was no freely available system prior to OSRIC which emulates the AD&D system.  The CU Stats that I supposedly owned and had not released-idea is then used as reasoning for the need to release OSRIC (and as grouped with other supporting reasons for its release).

Here's the related quote: "By the time OSRIC launched, there was Rob Kuntz and his little venture with a "CU" game system. That was fully 1e-compatible but it was a system RJK owned, so it still wasn't facilitating a free market in 1e print products."

Must I educate and reeducate these people "in the know" who just don't get it? TSR lost their initial lawsuit with Mayfair Games [The complete text of TSR  vs. Mayfair 8 April 1993 is here: And a very brief summary of this case can be found at:] over copyright violations perceived in MG's compatible products, this because TSR could not copyright mechanics as published in their game rules.   A game functions on mechanics.  You also cannot copyright terms that have become commonplace, such as elf, dwarf, dragon, etc.  Mind Flayer, Umber Hulk, yes.  Unicorn, nope.  Mordenkainen's Disjunction?  Yes.  Fireball?  No.  Some specific IP is proprietary to WotC (and is listed in various versions of their SRDs).

Here is part of a related article I published to Pied Piper's website in 2006:

Pied Piper Publishing’s Philosophy
and Mission Statement

"Preface:  A Short History of D&D’s™ Compatible Products

"Dungeons & Dragons™ has come a long way and in many formats from the time when its first doughty fans and creators were assembling the wood grain box sets in EGG’s basement.  We all thought then that it was such a great concept and fun to no end and wanted to get it as fast as possible into the hands of eager fans.  That small but dynamic beginning has lead to a multi-million dollar industry, has spawned imitators of the games, and has driven the creation of volumes of fan-based material, as well as spurred the publication of semi-professional, licensed and compatible material for it.

"One of the very first licenses approved for AD&D™ was for Judges Guild.  During that time I was put in charge for a short period to oversee and edit the line, making sure that JG was representing the license as agreed upon and that the material was consistent with the rules as already published and forthcoming.  Judges Guild exceeded their intent of presenting the compatible material in the best possible light; and that only continued to promote the game in a good way because of that, building awareness of AD&D™ and creating a strong secondary arm to further invigorate TSR’s already strong sales of the brand.  They did such a good job of this in fact that Bob Bledsaw of JG is specifically thanked in the credits and acknowledgements of the Dungeon Masters Guide.

"Mayfair Games came upon the scene later with their compatible products, in turn creating a contention between them and TSR  which extended in and out of court for many years afterwards until the Mayfair line of AD&D compatible products was eventually bought out byTSR.  During their run of many years Mayfair produced a copious amount of professional looking product which varied in content from average to excellent. Many of these products are still sought after by collectors today, noting that they were in widespread cases appreciated by a good portion of consumers in the AD&D™ community who were clamoring for more and more material, whether it was compatible, licensed official, or official.

"In 1986 I launched my own FRPG firm, Creations Unlimited, and basing the main game terms upon the Mayfair model brought to market with these CU STATS 5 product* and had in the works a 6th, the City of Brass. The company folded due to many industry problems, which included TSR doubling their own product offerings while reducing prices, which in turn drove distributors to buy their lines rather than more pricey and often unknown and untested small publisher offerings.  That coupled with the DRAGON Magazine’s cut in subscribers around that time and TSR not allowing Creations Unlimited to advertise in the pages of the DRAGON due to the use of AD&D game terms in our products, sealed the fate of the company.

"In noting the two latter examples, I will emphasize that in neither case was TSR successful in stopping the publication of compatible materials, only in curtailing the dissemination of same.   The main reasons for this are best found in the various matter involving the different court rulings for or against Mayfair and TSR, but by the time Creations Unlimited appeared on the scene TSR and Mayfair had had enough of the courts and were both properly informed on where they stood and how they should operate in lieu of the prior judgments."…

[*Note:  The five products were The Maze of Zayene (pronounced: 'Zay-Een') series (1-4) and Garden of the Plantmaster.  These products used the modified Role Aids stats that I refer to as "CU Stats."]

In essence the OGL is not needed to publish compatible OD&D-AD&D-D&D material. Mayfair Games proved this long before said license existed.  So did Creations Unlimited (my company, 1986-1988; and this is where I derived the "CU Stats" from (and not "game system" as erroneously quoted)).  Both companies used compatible statistic versions that cannot be copyrighted as we can not own the common terminology, just as TSR could not own it then, and just as WotC cannot, now.  It's free.  Get it?  The OGL was a hoax meant to lure designers and players alike and to re-solidify WotC's market share.  They would print the hard bound rules and 3rd parties would create the adventures under license.  This reinforced an ongoing misconception that WotC was/is in control of each game-iteration's mechanics, which is just what they want you to believe.  It's control by agreement.  The only thing you got out of it was some instant prestige and the nice d20 logo.  In fact, Kenzer Company (David Kenzer is an IP Lawyer) did not jump on the GSL like others did when WotC paraded it prior to 4E.  Instead they merely marked their books, "Compatible With D&D 4th Edition ™."  

DEBUNKED.  I cannot own, and/or then release to the public, something that is free to them.  It cost Mayfair Games $14,000 in legal fees to discover this, but they won…

Was this the Culprit that spurred people to
believe in set in stone RPG patterns?  Likely not...

What is "Gygaxian D&D"?  I keep on seeing this phrase.  Has someone got a Oiuja Board connection with EGG and is interviewing him via the aether?   All of this deconstruction and reassembling is silly.  I'll tell you how he played and DMed as I was his co-DM and player in Greyhawk and DMed his PCs in El Raja Key as part of the ongoing play-tests of OD&D, 1972-1975; and it's nothing like you people have contrived to believe in.  Keep popping the Kool-Aid, but avoid the milk if you want to be pure Gygax, as he never favored the latter drink, saying at one time to his 2-year old son, Luke, who wanted milk, "Ach!  Milk!" in a futile attempt to dissuade him from drinking what EGG refereed to as "cow's blood."  He later acquiesced some years before his death and took to buttermilk.  Let's see: that covers a period of me noting his milk abstention, 1969-2006…  Within that time spread also fall my recollections of him as a player and DM…

Preamble Time:

Here we go with the continued deconstruction, like RPG is a science project or something that can be dissected and then reassembled. When will the clowns learn that an RPG is a living concept?  Period.  The more you vest in "this must be the way it is done, because Rob, or Dave, or Hargrave, or EGG the Magnificent," did it that way, you have reached the dead end of creative and spontaneous thought and action, the very essence of the original game as composed for creative individuals.  An RPG (in action) consists of applied technique and applied creative force.  These two facets, one perforce mechanical and the other intuitive, discretely work in conjunction with each other.  They cannot be separated without derailing their combined process and thereafter causing immersion in the sludge created by such separation.

IOW, you cannot apply the limited dimensional processes associated with scientific inquiry in order to discover the basis for an intuited creative process or its outcome. If you insist on this course, the best you will arrive at is a formula based perception spurred on by reapplied techniques that for the most part have not been intuited but which are, instead, derived second hand.  This route, if persisted with, more often results in the abandonment of original form for regurgitated formula. Technique and creative force must join and stay joined in order for understanding through experience, rather than imitation, to occur.  The positive outcome of this in design is progressive rather than circular or stagnant.  It's not, "How was it done?" Period; end of story. It's understanding the process through experience and as ported by continuous motion to test and to even improve upon a model at hand. The creative process one undertakes can be positively compared to forwarding concepts by remolding them into new, or expanding, possibility streams which are then reasserted in an open form(at) where further inquiry can, and should, take place--that is, in the latter case, if you are a thorough designer.

An RPG has infinite creative range unless its structure is changed to a closed model; and alas, and no skin off my back, closed models seem to be the vogue of many "designers" touting their "RPG theories" on the internet these days.

Quote (from a well recognized OSR designer):  "My new thinking is influencing [sic] by reading all the old school stuff and coming to the realization that Arneson, Gygax, Kuntz, and the other [sic] really detailed their dungeons room by room."

DEBUNKED.  We used notes, an open form process (which I'd be happy to describe in an interview, but do bring a video camera as I am no longer doing written interviews) and that depended on sculpting a bit more in afterthought.  Story and mood and the conceptual range of the encounters as imagined were not hard to achieve on the fly, as all three of us were design-minded storytellers with quick wits, had secondary and tertiary stratagems in place, but more importantly--and I emphasize this--we did it our way.  Each one of us.  That's singular in every case, as my partner in creative freedom this month, Gary Cooper, indicated in the previous video post, …"For there is no collective brain."

If I were to invert the OP's idea, I could state that, "We three indeed did it the same way… that is, differently…"  Isn't that how it's supposed to be?  Rather than looking without, discover within.  

NEXT UP, Part 2, wherein a well known OSR designer actually refutes that I am a vision-worker even though I never claimed to be one… Boy am I having fun with that one!... Plus a few asides.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Keep on Dreaming Kyrinn

My good friend, the game designer and future all-star world-builder, Kyrinn Eis, and I shared a lovely phone call concerning many, many subjects both creative and mundane.  It was in a word refreshing to hear of this fellow creator endeavoring along upward paths, hear her describe in detail the many facets of her realized designs, hear the heart and soul of a true designer who endeavors to bring to life something quite singular in aspect:  Her world, her rules, her way.

Kyrinn has been so busy we had fallen out of touch, which made the impression all the more outstanding:  She is now working with a publisher and several artists.  The publisher, Heroic Journey Publishing seems to have fallen in love with her work:  The World of Urutsk w/integrated rules, her miniatures rules, Vanguard, a related board game (showcased at NTXRPGCon 3), and a card game being among the list of upcoming future publications.  Read more at her blog or join her on Google+.

Keep on going, Florida Flower.  Keep on dreaming!

This one's for you!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Bend Over Americans....

The Supreme Court upheld the Constitutionality of forcing Americans to accept Obamacare, with the stipulation that the penalties for not doing so are minimal.  That's right.  It's now referred to as a "tax," this penalty.  This has all sorts of implications on freedom, your wallet, government interference in your life, and sets a historical precedent that allows the Fed to now tax indiscriminately, regulate, and to prescribe your life style.  For more on that merely google for it as it's all over the internet news.

Now for something completely different...

Something Different Yet Related

Monday, June 11, 2012

Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition!

If memory serves...  This is my first real post here on LotGD.
Not for lack of desire, but mostly lack of time.  Time and fear.  Fear of not being nearly as interesting, insightful, and comfy as Rob.

So, with Time, Confidence, and Comfort on my side, here is my first contribution to the dialogue.


There, you've watched the video.  You've laughed, you've loved, and perhaps come away enlightened or reminded that you instinctively knew all of this before.

The camera pans out.  We see the monitor and desk of a genius at work, covered with toys, funny clippings, and rubber band animals.  In the distance, upon the wall beautiful artwork; in the air, lovely music or relaxing sounds of nature.

Pans further: The location, be it home or apartment, and the back of the head of the reader/viewer.

Pan: Flute or bread

Pan: Everything

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Epic Trend

I created this essay a few years back in response to something Rob wrote in association with Pied Piper Publishing. I recently took it in a different direction and submitted it as a scholarly article. This is the original, (non-scholarly) version. I just put it here because I don't know what else to do with it and hope that someone might find it worth a read. I'm no expert on design, but I've always loved this game . . . .

In the first edition of the Piper's Corner, Rob Kuntz made an editorial comment noting the now long-established trend in both Fantasy literature and FRPG toward the epic:

Barbarians and adventurers, fortune
seekers and other more-or-less fantastic
folk graced our past fantasy feed.
Conans, Fafyrds, Thongors, Kyrics, and
a slew of others. Where did they go?
Informed readers would mostly agree
that publishers no longer (or rarely) serve
this fare, that it has played itself out and
fallen as a barbaric example of itself to
the rise of regurgitated “Epic” fantasy.
So too is this seemingly emulated in the
FRPG field. Everything is about saving
the world now rather than having fun,
free-booting and mere adventuring.
Child-hood fancies have been regulated
to a high-brow, moralistic atmosphere,
and all of these “ stories” (Jack and
the Beanstalk anyone?) no doubt find no
room for expression either.

No longer is it satisfactory to take sword in hand, slay a few orcs and gather up a little well-earned loot, but now even the smallest adventure must be part of a larger quest in which the fate of humanity itself is at stake, the players being (of course) integral (if unwitting) partners in a vast cosmic dance occupying some moralistic high ground. Although Rob (and others, notably Benoist Poire on April 14, 2009) have more fully elaborated in this blog on the role of myth in D&D, I have a few thoughts I’d like to add.

The epic trend is not a terribly recent phenomenon. You can see it playing out in TSRs product lines in the 1980s.  Individual, isolated adventures (Tomb of Horrors, Caves of Chaos, White Plume Mountain) give way to the connected and epic fare of the Dragonlance series.  Of course, this is too simplistic -- before Dragonlance came the Slaver series and even EGG (the master creator of the episodic, decidedly non-epic, hack and slash adventure) connected the Giant Series with the Descent series and then topped it off with a rather epic conflict with a divine opponent (although I know he had help from others along the way).  It was never clear whether any action in GDQ was to save the world, but it at least benefited one large corner of it.  So, even before Dragonlance, in the heyday of AD&D's fun-loving "mere adventuring", there was a trend to the epic, if only a slight one. 

However, I'm getting a head of myself: I haven't really defined what I see as the content of epic or of Rob's comments about it.   There are many ideas wound up in Rob's comment, not all of which I can address.  The first is that there is a difference between the moralistic seriousness and grand scope/sweep of many modern adventures and the more amoral (just for fun, it's a game, don't worry about the now-orphaned children of those dead orcs) traditional adventure.  These two elements of grand sweep and morality aren't necessarily inseparable -- just because something is "epic" in scope (large, long, intricate, with a pattern all laid out for folks to follow in which the fate of the world is at stake), doesn't necessarily mean it must be moralistic -- or does it?  Saving the world does mean acting selflessly, sacrificing the good of the individual for the needs of the community.  That's a highly moralistic act. If epic can be defined as embodying the values of a nation or culture, morality is necessarily part of it. Moreover, the suggestion that the DM in an epic campaign somehow scripts or plots out before hand the moralistic path the players are to follow is troubling.  If (e.g.) the Dragonlance series is the prototype for how epic must be handled in D&D, the epic adventure doesn't really leave the players with too much choice and that (as many philosophers of morality will tell you, including Immanuel Kant), drains any morality from the activity -- perhaps we could say the characters are acting morally, but certainly not the players.  The kind of structure or railroading that goes with many epic campaigns seems almost necessary to chart the moral path such epic campaigns require -- but by removing player choice from the game, you wind up not with an epic so much as a morality play. The translation of a literary epic into an RPG undermines both the essence of epic and RPG: the problem with the epic in D&D is not just with its moralistic, non-episodic tone, but with its authorial proscription, with its control of the player's acts and choices.

Therefore, in suggesting that the epic trend has existed in D&D almost since the beginning, my purpose isn't to question Rob's assertion that there is a more recent (and perhaps undesirable) epic bias, but to give some thoughts on the place of epic elements in the FRPG by looking back at one of the intellectual forebears of the game: not EGG this time, but Fritz Leiber. Through an analysis of his first published Fafhrd and Mouser story I want to suggest that the best D&D Campaigns (in my opinion) evolve into a “mosaic epic” rather than the “proscriptive epic” I’ve been detailing above; in doing so, I think this game we love offers some possibilities for profound reflection on, of all things, the nature of the human condition.

Going through some back issues of Dragon magazine recently, I was startled to note the pervasive presence of Leiber in its early pages.  I knew EGG had greatly admired his work, had adapted Nehwon into FRPG supplements and knew him personally; however, I didn't realize the extent to which the early Dragon (at least) relied on Leiber's presence to establish a market.  Leiber and a friend from the U of Chicago, Harry Fischer, had (as many know) invented the (in)famous heroes Fafhrd and Gray Mouser as part of an imaginative game, a kind of precursor to D&D in which versions of each player would go together on adventures, some of which, I suppose, formed the basis of Leiber's Nehwon stories.  I'm unsure of its extent, but Leiber seems to have had a fairly profound influence on the D&D game -- EGG must have certainly read all the Nehwon stories voraciously, even if he didn't borrow the "role playing" aspect from Leiber and Fisher (that aspect arising independently from EGG's and Arneson's experiments in war gaming).  The first published Fafhrd and Mouser story appeared in 1939 in Unknown as "Two Sought Adventure."  I mention it not to suggest it's in any way the primary influence on the shape of the early D&D adventure (Howard's Conan stories, Lovecraft's dark sublimity, Vance's picaresque, Smith's work -- they all have an equal or greater claim to that), but merely to claim an interpretation of this story is one way to understand the role of the episodic and the epic in the FRPG.

The genesis of this first published adventure seemingly has nothing to do with the epic, nor with any moral high ground.  Fafhrd and the Mouser are greedy (or at least poor), have found a clue to a supposedly great treasure in the southern woods, and have mounted an expedition to liberate it.  They're going to steal, loot a tower, and kill (albeit in self defence) in order to succeed.  This is standard (you might even say prototypical or paradigmatic) fare for the episodic, incidental D&D adventure of the 70's and 80's.  It's fairly clear that Fafhrd and Mouser have no (or at least very few) moral qualms about anything they're doing, nor are they doing it for any "greater good" or epic purpose other than to satisfy their own appetites for amusement, wine and women.  It's also pretty clear that Leiber himself had few qualms about writing such stuff because to him, as to the heroes themselves, all of this -- the searching, the fighting, unraveling the tower's mystery -- it's all just a game, at least at the start.

Urgaan himself (the architect of the tower in which the treasure is hidden) started the game long ago, planting (as the adventurers find out) a series of clues to lure thieves to his tower for some unknown purpose, perhaps to test the mettle of his mighty, but unidentified guardian.  Fafhrd and Mouser enter into the spirit of the contest, racing against another player (Lord Rannarsh and his men) and winning the first engagement (an attempted ambush by that other player) through keen senses and decisive action, all the while maintaining a jocular and playful mood in the spirit of good sportsmanship.

The gaming references continue as the pair reach a cottage close to the clearing in which the treasure tower stands.  Not only does Mouser play puppets with the little girl who lives there (and aren't all story characters puppets of their author's will?) but he hears of a game the little girl plays with the "giant" of the clearing, one that supposedly lives inside the tower:

 . . .There be a magic circle I must not cross [at the edge of the clearing around the tower].  And I say to myself there be a giant inside . . . Every day, almost, I play a game with him.  I pretend to be going to cross the magic circle.  And he watches from inside the door [of the tower], where I can't see him, and he thinks I'm going to cross . . . and I get closer and closer to the circle, closer and closer.  But I never cross.

Both adventurers feel this child's story is a pleasant addition or spice to the adventure they still don't take too seriously.  It's as though they see themselves as inhabitants of a rational, mundane world who are skirting the borders of a faerie tale, a tale neither believes can be real.  The duo soon find themselves playing a decidedly unenchanting version of this game, as Rannarsh and his men approach the tower next morning -- since the clearing around the tower is open ground, a killing field, all the players keep to the sheltering trees, trying various stratagems to best their opponents.  Fafhrd and Mouser win, of course, but not before the game begins to take on a slightly more serious tone. The last sequence of the battle pits Fafhrd against two of Rannarsh's henchmen, at which time, Leiber emphasizes, the hero is in grave peril for his life:

[Fafhrd] knew that the ancient sagas told of heroes who could best four or more men at swordplay.  He also knew that such sagas were lies, providing the hero's opponents were reasonably competent.

Although Leiber's main point is likely to distinguish himself and his work from that of Robert E. Howard, to show that his heroes are less than epic protagonists and more like real people with real emotions, motivations and the like, the effect of this is also to distinguish the Nehwon adventure from the epic.  Epics (Leiber is saying) are lies; they don't accord with human experience -- by contrast, Leiber (at least at this point) seems to suggest that his (then new and innovative) brand of fantasy will more closely reflect such human experience.

However, just at the moment Leiber seems to banish both epic and fantasy, they reassert themselves with a vengeance. There is no rational explanation for the anxiety Fafhrd and Mouser feel as they enter the tower, yet the anxiety exists powerfully.  Although the duo’s motivations may be the decidedly-mundane ones of greed and curiosity, they cross paths with one on a truly selfless and epic quest.  With the appearance of Arvlan, Urgann’s descendant who has dedicated his life to undoing the evil instigated by his forebear so long ago, the epic trend appears in Nehwon, only to be dismissed.  With Arvlan’s death, and the duo’s more cagey, effective, and less idealistic engagement with the problems they face, epic and the epic heroes who participate in them, again seem rather out of fashion.  The problem with epic heroes is they have few choices except to die -- Fafhrd and Mouser want to live, as any normal person would.

The important point here (I think) is that the story to this moment has maintained the same kind of light and playful tone as you might see in EGG’s Castle Zagyg (which I understand mirrors a similar tone in the original Greyhawk Campaign) -- this isn’t a game about epic heroes, but somewhat shady characters willing to kill the monsters and take their stuff. Fafhrd’s near death experience slightly complicates this picture by suggesting that all games (like D&D) are played by complex individuals who can bleed and die (and cry) -- that games can affect us in a very real sense. The story further complicates this picture by suggesting that, just as in Leiber’s tale, a game (such as a D&D campaign) can have (and is in fact greatly enriched by) a brush with epic elements.  Just as the story would be too banal without Arvlan, so the campaign needs to at least touch on something greater than its characters or players, while still offering those players real and meaningful choices.  Mouser doesn’t have to abandon his quest for the jewels to save the little girl, but he does and, in doing so, becomes just a bit more like Arvlan.  Although Fafhrd isn’t given an opportunity for self sacrifice he, as the author’s stand in, does get a glimpse of something even greater -- a grand mosaic pattern that he can only barely comprehend.  Removing the lid to the gems’ container:

His gaze shifted to the mercurous heavy fluid, where it bulged up between, and he saw distorted reflections of stars and constellations which he recognized, stars and constellations which would be visible now in the sky overhead, were it not for the concealing brilliance of the sun. An awesome wonder engulfed him.  His gaze shifted back to the gems.  There was something tremendously meaningful about their complex arrangement, something that seemed to speak of overwhelming truths in an alien symbolism . . . .

Caught in an episodic adventure, Fafhrd still manages to catch a glimpse of the vast patterns of which he is a part. Call Urgaan a Dungeon Master and Fafhrd a player authoring his own story (which is very much what Leiber was) and you get I think the perfect embodiment of the ideal interaction between the episodic and the epic for D&D: the episodic maintains freedom of choice for the player while still contextualizing itself as part of a larger pattern.  The resulting “mosaic epic” is, after all, what EGG gives us in GDQ.  In that series is the pattern for an epic D&D campaign that is not proscriptive of choice or morality.  This is what Gary knew (whether or not his conception of the game was influenced by Leiber) and what perhaps defines “old school” to a great extent.

The epic has always been part of the game -- it’s by participating in the epic that the game can tell us who we are, through the invocation of Jungian archetypes and the offering of real moral choices and challenges to players.  In doing this, the game becomes OUR epic, in which we plumb the depths of our own good or evil, law or chaos.  I felt, in the midst of my longest running campaign, as though a script was being written as we played -- that random or nonsensical elements arising at one point came to fit into an almost predetermined pattern as we went, a pattern as mysterious to me as my players.  I’ve always felt the most special thing about this game is that it can tell us, in the midst of such a pattern, about who we are.  Yes, it’s fun, yes it’s just a game; however, as Leiber points out in his story, life is full of such games -- life is in fact very much a game of episodic adventures participating in a greater pattern  (albeit one we most often retrospectively construct).  If this is true, games, especially ones in which we construct epic reflections of our hopes and fears, become more than games, revealing “overwhelming truths in an alien symbolism” that are nothing less than the pattern of life itself.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Ron Paul and Game Design

This post is actually a response to something Rob posted in a reply below. My comment was too long to be accepted as a reply, so I'm putting it here:

Thanks for the reply, Rob.
As you suggest, the success of a (seemingly) simple core concept depends on the dynamics of its development -- in game design or politics. What could be more simple (or correct) than the concept that citizens should be left alone to pursue happiness as they please? I would say (coming from my more socialist Canadian upbringing) that government does have a role in helping those who can't help themselves (because no one ever seems to start on a level playing field, these days: so these people have a much more limited scope in which to exercise their rights), but we do have the same, simple, starting place.
As for game design and Maze of Zayene, I don't wish to draw you into a discussion you don't want to have. However, I did once (years ago) promise you a review of MoZ, which I never did (working for tenure got in the way). I won't do it now either, except to offer a few ideas related to what's going on in this thread.
In retrospect, what impressed me about that series embodies the "thinking outside the box" philosophy that is so important to you: a group of four adventurers is recruited to assassinate a monarch who is oppressing his own people. Interestingly, one of these assassins is a paladin -- that really doesn't fit in with the now-common conception of the class and seems an interesting choice. The whole point of the series, though, was to pull the rug out from under the players' expectations -- they thought they were going to kill a king, but instead have to learn to think outside the box and understand that the king, too, is a victim, that there is a whole network of henchmen, magic, and machinery (headed by Zayene) that is really in control. That is the true enemy. It's pretty easy to see comparisons to the American political system (or the Canadian, to be fair). Right now, Ron Paul embodies to many people the right avenue of attack, the avenue for those who think outside the box and want to dismantle the machinery that currently controls the puppet kings. Isn't Zayene your deadlocked Congress, your bloated lobbying system, your superpack "money is speech" oligarchy? You need to escape this Maze, and the mode of that escape needs to be through thought (not violence) -- pretty much like in the MoZ series.
The image of thinking "outside the box" that really is my favorite in the series comes in Dimensions of Flight (if I recall): the party has to ascend to a high plateau up a series of stairs that really turns out to be a monster that they must fight. This isn't just another reversal of expectations, but embodies what I feel is an important message: often the very thing you think raises you up is the thing you must struggle against to truly gain your goal. This is true in politics: has the American experiment run its course? Does there need to be a new revolution (a peaceful revision of the current system) so that freedom can again flourish? This is also true in game design: I get the sense, Rob, that you are (maybe) struggling against your own past, that you are done with gaming and (I hope) are moving on to other things, that you no longer want to stay stuck in the wood-grained box that history has put you in. Regardless of whether that's right or not, I hope the years ahead for you are full of new challenges and a new sense of life and purpose (some of which maybe you'll share in this blog). I also hope that's true for America.
I know. Maybe to some (most?) it seems ridiculous that I should derive a revolutionary message from a gaming supplement and that I (as an outsider) should care or have any right to comment on the internal matters of another nation. But I do care. I spent 10 years of my life living amongst the terrible and the beautiful that is the USA and felt the hope and promise that William Blake (an Englishman) described, writing only 15 years after your Revolution:
The morning comes, the night decays, the watchmen leave their stations;
The grave is burst, the spices shed, the linen wrapped up;
The bones of death, the cov'ring clay, the sinews shrunk and dry'd
Reviving shake, inspiring move, breathing! awakening!
Spring like redeemed captives when their bonds & bars are burst.

But it's only a "hope" -- you're the ones who have to do all the hard work to make it come to fruition. Is Ron Paul the guy to spearhead change? I don't know -- but your current, two party system does not seem capable of change.
I always felt that Dungeons and Dragons was about using your imagination and thinking beyond the constraints set on gaming and even living. Honest thinking is always revolutionary. I just hope in this post (as in my profession) to encourage people to think and not dismiss my sentiments as the ravings of some lunatic.


Mark, I have decided to respond inline.  

Lunatic?  No.  I have found your thoughts, herein and in the past, lucid and thought provoking.

Who would have thought that while we were play-testing the game in '72 & '73 that we would actually take breaks through interjection of humor, philosophical or religious discussion, prime historical or economic referencing, etc.?  Yet that is what occurred most often, as we were not of the game and for the game and by the game, but social, philosophical, and ultimately, free individuals.  But this too, in part or whole, was linked to the game as we saw it and as we experienced it then.  No where is the diachronic process of history more relevant than in D&D, for it draws its ultimate base, and its ever expanding territory of the mind (in the best sense), from many areas, some of which I have noted, above.

Yet a poster here in responding to my recent upsurge in "political" postings decries that this, "used to be a good game blog."  Herein lies the disconnect that the "Reliant Culture" is part and parcel of.  Herein is the reversal of the sharing of thoughts and ideas, the otherwise informed stances of the past that have been disintegrating, and therein and thereby is why, when you strip away all of the foundational excuses to the contrary, why America's great experiment has failed.

My work expresses two things:  1)  Me.  2)  Hope.  It has never changed from being an expression of freedom in both cases.  The very product of that internalized process expresses itself externally in action and in expiation.  It embodies my conjoined ethic.

But in the end I have done enough in these 40+ odd years in game design.  My last interview at Hill Cantons was pretty much a summary of a phase that is now behind me even though it will always remain part of me.

What I do in the future is less important to me than promoting a lasting value though whatever that may be.  

Thank you, Mark, for sharing your thoughts here and at the old Yuku board.  Feel free to ask or probe, or follow-up on something I missed or glossed.  I have always encouraged other authors to post and I am glad you have taken advantage of that.

Kindest Regards as always--RJK

P.S.  The Xaene comparison is pretty spot on.  D&D was originally 3 little brown books; the Constitution is a slim affair you can hold in one hand.  Look at the gigantic mess that has been spawned in their place (40,000 laws passed in the U.S. just last year alone, one out of millions of examples).  Leave it to those who "know better" to pretty much water down or destroy a good thing.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

HR 347 'Trespass Bill' Criminalizes Protest

HR 347 'Trespass Bill' Criminalizes Protest:  LINK

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The One Book You Should Read This Year

Still relevant to this day, by a former high-ranking staff member in the Department of Education under Ronald Reagan.  Once I started reading I could not put it down.  Horrifying as it is enlightening.