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Gary Gygax a Hack?

nsxt290 sent me this link today.

Gary Gygax wasn't a visionary to all of us. The real geeks out there--my homies--know the awkward truth: When you cut through the nostalgia, Dungeons & Dragons isn't a good role-playing game; in fact, it's one of the worst on the market. Sadly, Gygax's creation defines our strange corner of the entertainment world and drowns out all the more innovative and sophisticated games that have made D&D obsolete for decades. (As a game designer, Gygax is far outclassed by contemporaries such as Steve Jackson and Greg Stafford.) It's the reason that tabletop gaming is not only stuck in the pop culture gutter but considered pathetic even by the standards of mouth-breathing Star Trek conventioneers. And with the entire industry continuing to collapse in the face of online gaming, this might be the last chance to see Gygax for what he was--an unrepentant hack, more Michael Bay than Ingmar Bergman.

What's wrong with Dungeons & Dragons? It plays like a video game. A good role-playing game provides the framework for a unique kind of narrative, a collaborative thought experiment crossed with improvisational theater. But D&D, particularly the first edition that Gygax co-wrote in 1975, makes this sort of creative play an afterthought. The problem is most apparent in one of Gygax's central (and celebrated) innovations: "experience points." To become a more powerful wizard, a sneakier thief, or an elfier elf (being an elf was its own profession in early editions, which is kind of like saying being Chinese is a full-time job), you need to gain "levels," which requires experience points. And the best way to get experience points is to kill stuff. Every monster, from an ankle-biting goblin to a massive fire-spewing dragon, has a specific number of points associated with it--your reward for hacking it to pieces. So while it's one player's job--the so-called Dungeon Master--to come up with the plot for each gaming session and play the parts of the various enemies and supporting characters, in practice that putative storyteller merely referees one imagined slaughter after another.


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. In the mid-1980s, right around the time that Gygax was selling off his company, Steve Jackson began publishing the Generic Universal Roleplaying System, or GURPS.

I have a hard time taking the word of anyone who uses the term "my homies" in such a context. His sneering contempt for Star Trek convention attendees coupled with the claim that he is a "real" geek (presumably unlike D&D lovers and Gygax fans) doesn't sit well with me either.

Having never played a GURPS, i can't comment on the accuracy of his claims. I do know that when we play D&D, we get awarded based on how well we play our character and killing monsters is only 1 aspect of the game. Every character has a backstory. Otherwise how the hell do you explain all of them getting together? And there have been several times where we've almost died because we were too stupid to figure out the puzzle and tried to win the fight by killing everything (monster-generating skull, anyone?)

So, did this guy just have really crappy DMs all his life or is fnord just that good*?

*This does not in anyway mean our DM is not a jerk.

By min | March 12, 2008, 1:02 PM | D&D | Comments (8)| Link

Geek Flow Chart

There are many inaccuracies with this flow chart, one of which being "fantasy baseball" presence on the chart at all.

At least they remembered the Mountain Dew.

H/T to starfaith for sending me the link.

By min | March 11, 2008, 1:35 PM | D&D & Star Wars & Video Games | Comments (1)| Link

Gary Gygax

Died today at the age of 69.

Despite his declining health, he hosted weekly games of Dungeons & Dragons as recently as January, she said.

I'd like to think he's rolling up a new character as we speak.

By fnord12 | March 4, 2008, 3:01 PM | D&D | Comments (7)| Link

The situation so far

Seeking something called the 'essence of frost' and forwarned to use "stealth, cunning, or diplomacy" instead of a frontal assualt, the party travelled to the Plane of Frost. There they met a group of Frost Giants who revealed that they were allies of the evil wizard Mangar. The Giants imprisoned the party, thinking they were agents of the "Ice Queen Gloiterwome". Under threat of having their heads torn off, the party bribed its way out of imprisonment. The centerpiece of the bribe was a gem artificially (and temporarily!) increased in size by an Enlarge spell. Semi-convinced that the party was not allied with Gloiterwome, they sent them to her lair.

Arriving at the lair, the party discovered that Gloiterwome was in fact a huge white dragon. Sent to scout out her cave, Flerm was detected. The dragon allowed the Drow elf to live only because he demonstrated a very low intelligence, leading the dragon to deduce that he was but a henchmen. She demanded that Flerm return with his master. Flerm brought Snow back into the cave, and the two entered parlay. The dragon revealed that it was from a clan of dragons that allied itself with the evil Flying Monkey monks in the ancient wars against Snow's Drunken Butterfly clan. Seeing Josy, it also indicated that it used to eat hobbits, and implied that it knew more about Vain that the party did. Gloiterwome also said that it hated the Frost Giants because they killed her babies and were immune to her frost breath. Intimidated by its presence, Snow agreed to bring Gloiterwome the head of the Frost Giant clan in return for the Essence of Frost.

However, upon leaving the cave, Snow's sense of morality began to nag at her. She felt it was immoral for her to attack the Frost Giants in cold blood. She returned to the dragon's cave but the dragon refused to renegotiate the deal.

Thus the party was faced with both a moral and physical dilemma. Was it right to attack either the Giants or the Dragon without having been provoked? And if so, could the party survive a fight with a giant dragon or a group of 30 Frost Giants and their pets, especially in light of the warning to not engage in a frontal assault?

By fnord12 | March 2, 2008, 8:44 PM | D&D | Comments (56)| Link

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