Monday, November 16, 2009

Maybe This IS a "Kid's Game"

O what sacrilege I may be speaking to even consider the idea that Dungeons and Dragons is NOT a game for the mature, thoughtful adult.

Well certainly there are plenty of "games" these days that are not intended for children beneath a certain age; we know them by their big "rated M for Mature" sticker attached to them. However, with that big leg up RPGs have on video games (i.e. the use of imagination to take the game outside the "normal parameters"), table-top games can be as childish or mature as one wants.

"Limited only by one's imagination" is a powerful phrase. Most of us folks living in developed countries have seen enough craziness on television or in movie theaters or read about it in books and news stories (if not the internet) that our memories are rampant with the most gruesome, grisly, and graphic images and ideas available to 21st century humans...even if they are not things we have actually experienced. Sure, I doubt few of us have ever been stalked by a Deep One or a troll, but we've had instances of terror (or at least "fright") in our well as disgust, nausea, anger, lust, greed...all things that can be superimposed over imaginary images conjured by the words of players kabitzing around a table to create powerful feelings in play, hopefully for everyone's mutual enjoyment.

But while RPGs can be used to explore mature themes (and just because a game involves excessive bloodletting doesn't make it "mature"), maybe we ARE just fooling ourselves. Maybe adults have better things to do with our imaginations than share an imaginary space occupied by constructs of our own mind. OR perhaps these RPGs (or many of them anyway) work BETTER with the elasticity of youth than with our own staid, geezer psyches.

Certainly I didn't have any qualms as a kid about Rifts or Palladium. Nor did I consider Gamma World to be "cheesy" or "over the top;" heck, fish that turn people to stone? Why not?
: )

I don't know. However, I was reading yet another pair of new modules picked up Friday, and it got me thinking about my childhood and gaming origins...yeah, more than usual.

The modules are UK2: The Sentinel and UK3: The Gauntlet...a pair of 1st edition AD&D modules published in 1983 and '84 respectively. Actually Part 1 and Part 2 of a two part series, I forgot they existed.

Actually, if you'd asked me a week ago, I would not have even realized they DID exist. I've owned UK1 for many years and thought it was a one-time, "out-of-England" deal. As I said earlier, my knowledge of the UK wing of TSR has only been learned very recently. Hell, I never realized the Fiend Folio was out of the UK...I just thought it was a compilation of a bunch of freelancer's monsters (as well as some of Gygax's own "special brew").

BUT even though I didn't know the names or origins of these modules I distinctly remembered them by their cover art as soon as I saw them.

When I was a kid (and I mean a pre-teen) I remember seeing these covers many times at my then-local-game-shop. In this case, I refer to the Fred Meyer by my house (and occasionally the Pay-N-Save as well). The cover art, by a Mr. Pete Young, is just so distinct...I don't know what it is about it. The colors and subject matter...hell, the EYES of the characters...are all so vivid and disturbing even while they use a limited color palette. Man, those muted tones...they're reminiscent of a Rankin/Bass film (The Hobbit or The Last Unicorn, perhaps).

The interior art, all black-n-white of course, loses something without the color, simply becoming kind of gross sketches (my wife, catching an interior illustration of an ogrillion while I was reading exclaimed "what the hell is THAT?"). But the covers are something else...I just keep finding myself enchanted by them, like a quality (scary) children's fairy tale.

I can't say for sure why I never purchased these as a kid, though I'd hazard two guesses: lack of ready coin as a youngster and the relatively low level of the modules (2-5 and 3-6) which would have been a lot lower than my regular players' characters by the time I was 11 or 12.

Too bad, 'cause the subject matter is pretty cool.

The Sentinel and the Gauntlet...two very distinct magic items around which whole adventure tales were wrought. Heck, like calling White Plume Mountain "Blackrazor" instead. In this instance, each item is a glove, both created for the opposite purpose and thus purposed with destroying each other.

I love this kind of thing...and I love magic gloves in general. Probably the reason I'm such a fan of Elizabeth Boyer's novel The Wizard and the Warlord. Besides vikings, a magic gauntlet features rather prominently. And while I can recall certain magic gloves from fairy tales of my childhood, I can say that one of the my most intriguing and earliest gaming memories is of a particular glove that didn't even belong in a D&D game.

When I was a kid, my aunt (a very attractive woman) was dating a handsome young guy, whose name escapes me. He was tall, witty (he always made us laugh), knowledgeable (he and my aunt were very involved with my parents in politics) and quite social. He had dark hair and (if I remember correctly) a beard. He was also a gamer...the first adult gamer I ever met.

He did not play D&D (which I was already playing at the time) but rather Dragon Quest. He showed DQ to me and my brother and told me a couple anecdotes from adventures he had played. One story concerned a magic gauntlet his character, a fire mage, had created...capable of blasting people with fire balls.

To me, this was the coolest thing ever...and I was quite disappointed when he told me his character had sold the item for a pile of silver pennies. What?! If you could enchant magic items, why not keep them and use them? He explained that it was more lucrative to sell enchanted items than it was practical to retain them.

I didn't get it then, and honestly I don't really grok it now. Isn't the point of the game to play? If I wanted to worry about dollars and cents and being a mechant, I'd be playing Puerto Rico or something.

Is that childish of me? Should I be more mature, more adult with my gaming? Maybe D&D isn't supposed to be so whimsical and should be taken more seriously...less magic gloves and more attention paid to the minute workings of a semi-medieval economy.

I don't know. I mean, I know what I like. And a lot of what I like are the parts that recreate in me the same feelings and emotions I felt as a child. Long, long after that guy and my aunt broke-up (I don't think they dated more than a year) I still have the Dungeon Masters Guide he gifted me with (since he knew I played D&D I suppose). Pulling out that particular copy (my working copy for many years) always makes me feel like a kid again. Maybe THAT's what it's all about.

Or maybe I'm just's been a long weekend, and I need to get to work. I'll finish my musing (maybe) later.


  1. "Maybe D&D isn't supposed to be..."

    Sounds like much ado about nothing. D&D is supposed to be fun - period. Obviously, what's "fun" varies from person to person, group to group. But if you enjoy your D&D with a dose of whimsy, then that's what it's supposed to be.

    "Maybe adults have better things to do with our imaginations than share an imaginary space occupied by constructs of our own mind."

    Maybe - but with that sort of thinking, we'd be hunting animals, naked, for their raw meat...

  2. less magic gloves and more attention paid to the minute workings of a semi-medieval economy.

    Boring. Maybe not to some people, but boring as shit to me. Give me the magic glove any day. Actually, put the magic glove in the bottom of a forgotten temple full of traps and monsters and let me go in and get it or die trying.

    If I want to muck around with an economic simulation, then that's what I'll do. The game is called Dungeons & Dragons, not Taxes & Tithes. ;)

  3. Some people become so sophisticated they forget that it's a game played for escapsit fun.

    Take economics: I've seen all sorts of unrealistic attempts to create "realistic" economies when economies are too complex to understand and model anyway. If we understood economies today, we wouldn't have so many problems with them.

    Real people ignore economies (unless forced to pay attention by need) and concentrate on enjoying our life. That is realism -- not price lists and moneys.

    I've been exploring games with realistic economies in that only expensive things (like ships) have a cost. Everything else isn't worth bothering with and is handled by avalability as set by the GM. Common sense, not "money" rules the game. Players (which includes the GM) can concentrate on playing for FUN not simulationism.

    Many problems gamers face today are nothing but irrational nerdist absurdities caused by thinking "being sophisticated" means going into unneeded details in things like "economics". The opposite is true: real sophistication is throwing away the nonsense and only dealing with what is FUN and ENTERTAINING.

    That is the core to true REALISM. It's the number nerds who constantly press for more details, when in the real world we ordinary people despise details. We keep things simple and strive for simplicity.

    The number nerds and detail lovers do not want to play the game, they want to play WITH the game. Avoid them and return to adventuring.

  4. Hey folks: I appreciate the echoes of sentiment. I was in a dark cloud that evening...but I'm going to "rise above it now" and move onto more constructive topics.

    If you take anything away from this post, take away that I really dig magic gauntlets.
    : )