Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Ensemble hero

So, as I mentioned in my last post, I had trouble getting my head around Gygax's answer to one crucial question: the origin of one of D&D's most iconic features: the ensemble hero -- that is, a group of characters with widely divergent abilities, that very diversity being crucial for the group's success. Along with providing the main PC races (and a goodly chuck of the default monsters), Tolkien's major influence on D&D was the concept of the PC party. 

Here's the exchange, to be found on page 90 of CHEERS GARY:

"A lot of Fantasy novels focused on a single hero (Conan, Tarzan, etc.) or perhaps a hero and a sidekick.

"How did you come up with the idea of a whole party of characters adventuring in a dungeon? . . . 

"Especially since D&D grew out of table-top wargames, and tabletop wargames tended to be 1 on 1 or 3 vs. 3 types of scenarios. Most table-top wargames (unless they involved hidden movement) don't have a referee."

Gygax's answer: 
 "Fortunately I read in a lot of genres other than fantasy, including the historical war fiction one. Even there, though, crafting a story around a large cast of characters is difficult, and from such a number one or two main protagonists, and possibly an antagonist or two emerge.

"In tabletop games, the LGTSA would have teams of players, sometimes as many as six on a side. There was usually one person as umpire or referee, the one who set up the game to be played, although that individual would sometimes play as well. When I ran my later games they were usually the 'Man-to-Man' medieval ones, and as pretty common on the tabletop, each player had a command figure. A team of several defenders would plan and cooperate to try and defeat a like team of attackers.

"It wasn't much of a leap from that to single 'command figures' operating as an adventuring group. Do keep in mind that original D&D had provisions for and pretty well assumed that each PC would hire a few men-at-arms -- the old tabletop force of soldiery."

[the rest of Gygax's post talks about the time-honored D&D tactic of running away, Mordenkainen being named as a prime practitioner]

--It seems to me that Gygax is sliding around the point without answering it, since instead of a diverse group of divergent abilities he focuses instead on an earlier stage, of commanders of similar powers and stature. Or am I just missing something here? Perhaps if I came out of wargaming myself this all be simpler. 

I had recently realized that there's another major fantasy novel from that era that offers up a masterful handling of an ensemble group of heroes: Richard Adams' WATERSHIP DOWN. But that came a little too late to be an influence on D&D.

And it was nice to learn that of post-D&D fantasy Gygax was a fan of Terry Pratchett and also liked the 
LotR movies.

 --John R. 
--current reading: a bunch of old gaming magazines, as part of the ongoing sort-out

No comments: