Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Review of a Review

I started writing a post about experience points, “rewards,” and its influences on behavior, as well as the strange differences between B/X and AD&D in this regard. But then I thought, “why would anyone care what the hell I have to say?” especially in light of the fact that I need a few more references in order to make my point (or even formulate one worth posting!).

So instead, I’m posting a link to this ancient (1975) review of the then-newly-published Dungeons & Dragons game by Messrs. Gygax and Arneson.

I know this has been referenced/posted before at both The Forge (in 2003) and Dragonsfoot (in 2004), but it’s new to me. And if nothing else, I want a link on my blog for future reference. While not a historian or archivist, I find this incredibly fascinating, as it gives a peek into the perception of D&D to a true wargamer, prior to the spread of the RPG hobby.

It is amazing to consider how different the game is/was from the standard wargaming practices of the time. For example, the reviewer’s statement that “play in person is usually impossible, since the referee can only show the adventurer the terrain he is crossing at that instant, plus whatever is in plain sight.” Clearly, the idea of a “shared imaginary space” (or “playing without a board”) had yet to be developed. As a “wargame,” the inevitable assumption is that the game will be played on some sort of battlefield, or at least with miniatures to one degree or another.

I can’t help but smile when I read that “Vastly too much has been attempted in these booklets…the resulting mess in interpretations is enough to tax the patience of most gamers to the extreme.” Indeed, which is why the game was so open to interpretation by individual gaming groups for so long. This is follower up by the similar chuckler “Worse, personal combat is the area receiving the most attention…things go downhill from there.”

That the wargaming reviewer felt the game’s emphasis on personal combat was “worse” than the overall lack of clarity says A LOT. A wargamer (then or now) was generally more interested in combat between armies or multiple units, not the heroic action of individuals. Folks may consider 4th Edition a return to its “wargame roots” but I don’t think Mr. Hendrick would!

Ha! Even in 1975, gamers were complaining about the price of RPGs; at $3.50 per book, the price was considered "rather high" despite the “decent” graphics format and “excellent illustrations.” Bitching over a few dollars...I wonder how much it is when adjusted for inflation?
: )

And the final analysis?The scope is just too grand, while the referee is expected to do too much in relation to the players.” Indeed, indeed…unfortunately, the creation of rules to help circumvent DM fiat failed to result in the “refinement” and “simplification” called for by the reviewer. Recent indie games of the last couple years HAVE attempted and often succeeded!) in creating games both simple and elegant, often by placing more narrative authority in the hands of players…but none of these could rightly be called “wargames.”

Clearly RPGs have been a very different breed of animal for a LOOOONG time!
: )


  1. This was a very interesting read. It's funny how the old saying of 'the more things change, the more things stay the same' is evident here.

  2. What cost $3.50 in 1975 would cost $13.86 in 2008.
    --The Inflation Calculator

  3. $13.75 in The Great White North.

    Yay, Canada!