Wednesday, November 4, 2009

How to look objectively at the classics

Over on grognardia there have started a discussion about The Temple of Elemental Evil. I posted an observation of my own, that most critics of the module seem to have loved T1 as kids and waited with baited breath for the second coming of T2. Now, that's not earth shaking in itself. It has made me very vary about people talking about T1-4, though. Is he thinking the module a failure? Hm, what a coincidence. He is one of those who waited for T2! Those guys just aren't trustworthy witnesses. I don't think they're out to twist truth, I just think they have to much emotion invested in the thing.

Following this train of thought, I come to the next station. I'm thinking of the reviled AD&D sourcebooks Dungeoneer's Survival Guide by Douglas Niles and Wilderness Survival Guide by Kim Mohan. If you read what people at Dragonsfoot write about them, you start to wonder if their favourite dog ate it and died when they were a kid. I have the books myself, and while I can surely see their problems and limitations I find that hatred spewed upon them to be a tad excessive. Are we seeing something like the ToEE phenomenon here?

I probably wont win any friends by saying it, but I have the hyphosesis these people suffer from an overdose of Gygaxitis. It's a common enough affliction caused by expose to High Gygaxian writing at an impressionable age. The symptoms are usually a tendency to consider anything written in High Gygaxian as holy writ, and a stubbornness and inflexibility of the grey matter. No question they get enraged then when someone who is not The Prophet adds things which Was Not Meant To Be, like skills, to the Holy Writ.

So having caused three cases of spastic fits I will stop there. Everything is a matter of perspective, isn't it? What? I have those irrational idea myself? About something else? Nah, don't think so. I'm flawless.

For those who need some help to entangle a big stick of Irony, out of that last paragraph, I'll tell you that I'd love to start a AD&D game myself if I only had the players for it. There you go, now you have something to whack me over the head with.


  1. When I started playing D&D, it was in the eighties. So all I really knew was the Red Box set and AD&D. I really liked the Wilderness and Dungeoneers guides. They're not perfect but they came out when I was of age and I found them to be interesting.

    The church of Gygax is getting to wear a little thin. There were some other game creators out there that added to the hobby. They should get their recognition too!

  2. Good point. Even if Gygax accomplished much, there are many other whom deserve some fame!

  3. Gygaxitis! Wonderful! I can certainly acknowledge my appreciation for him, and note affinities for his style, there's a lot of other voices in RPGs.

  4. The Dungeoneer's Survival Guide isn't hated because it wasn't written by Gygax; it's hated because it's a pointless book whose primary contributions are a non-weapon proficiency system AD&D didn't need and convincing people that isometric dungeon maps were better than orthographic ones. You'll find plenty of old schoolers who dislike Gygax's own Unearthed Arcana -- I'm one of them -- so it's hardly the case that there's a uncritical cult around the man and his works. Perhaps it seems that way to an outsider, but I have to admit I'm somewhat tired of the charge that those of us who hold Gary's memory in high esteem do so blindly or without appreciation for the contributions others have made to this hobby.

  5. My friend emailed this post to me, and here's the response I sent him:

    I definitely don't feel the need to praise or hate any particular publication. Rather, my admiration is for the style of play that was fostered by some of those early books and modules, rather than the products themselves. I'm perfectly happy re-creating that style of play with Savage Worlds or Swords & Wizardry or whatever, but from a scholarly standpoint I'm intrigued by various bloggers' efforts to dredge up the forgotten history of the hobby.

    Interestingly enough, I have no opinion on old books like the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide because I never owned/played with them. My first exposure to AD&D came thru an OSRIC game, and it wasn't until 2008 that I bought the AD&D DMG—my first publication by Gygax.

  6. Very good rebuttal, James! I liked that!

    Frankly, I'm not sure I've ever seen such a succinct and to the point critique of the book before. What I have seen is quite a few postings in a less than coherent style. Some guys actually seem to be a bit blinded by Gygaxitis. You have always struck me as fairly level headed, though. I have some complaints about DSG myself, btw.

    Sometimes I like to poke fun at some phenomena that frankly can go a bit overboard. I'm sorry if I came across as too insensitive this time. It's not like I didn't cry when I heard Gary was dead.

  7. Interesting entry point, Patrick!

    Frankly, one reason I posted this was because some of the opinions people hold keep baffling me. Sometimes you wonder how rational those ideas are. James comment above is a very well explained opinion. We could use more of that sometimes.

  8. I wasn't playing D&D back when Hommlet or ToEE came out, and have never even run or played in either module. But in looking through them today it's obvious they are not written in the same style or with quite the same idea of what a D&D game is all about. Maybe some people do go overboard with sheer hatred, but it's obvious there is a reason that ToEE is not as well liked by a significant number of people. It's not blind Gygax devotion, it's a genuine preference for the other style.

  9. Well, I don't dispute the fact that older D&D had a different style of play. ToEE sure is different from what is today called D&D. You wont find me arguing about that.

    Why some things are disliked by some gamers are a bigger topic, and maybe I should have made it clearer what I meant. Let's just say that sometimes I wonder why some D&D products are hailed as masterpieces and some are reviled. It don't seem to be objective reasoning all the time. Not that *that* is surprising in itself...


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