Monday, August 17, 2020

more Gygax forum postings (2002-2008)

So, I've now finished CHEERS GARY, the collection of online posts by Gygax in which he answered a lot of questions about the history of TSR, the origin of many specific features of D&D, shared yarns from early sessions, et al. As it turns out, it's a good forum for him: relaxed, informal, and filled with people who admire him. Favorable conditions brought out his best side; at times he was positively avuncular. As when he Tells Us About His Character, leading to the discovery that those early gaming session that have passed into legend, when Mordenkainen and Bigby and Robilar were regular PCs, and their exploits a lot more like a regular session of our average weekly group than we'd imagined. Even the mighty Castle Greyhawk had only twelve levels plus a secret hidden level. All this is good stuff.

There is the occasional sour note, as any time he mentions the Blumes, and I was disappointed to see him take swipes at Skip Williams (p. 360) and Zeb Cook (p. 359), who I think deserve better. And I think it's fair to treat his accounts of all he achieved and would have achieved in Hollywood with skepticism.* But on the whole this book is well worth reading.

Me being a Tolkien guy, I naturally took special note of material connecting to Tolkien, like the Saul Zaenz cease-and-desist story mentioned in a previous post.

The first such post goes directly to a major point:
"[T]his very small thing has nagged me for years , , ,
"In Appendix N (inspirational reading) of the DMG, you write: 'The most immediate influences upon AD&D were probably de Camp & Pratt, REH (Howard), Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, HPL (Lovecraft), and A. Merritt.'
"In listing the primary authors that influenced the AD&D game, you left out J. R. R. Tolkien (you put him in a much larger list of sources of fantasy but did not include him among the 'most immediate influences'). As many people (erroneously) consider D&D to be a rather close copy of Tolkien's world, leaving out Tolkien seems conspicuous.
"Is there any particular reason you didn't single out Tolkien as one of the major influences on AD&D?"

Gygax's answer:
"I omitted JRRT's work as a primary one because it didn't inspire me in regards to gaming, to create the material in A/D&D that made it what it is at its core. While I enjoyed THE HOBBIT, the trilogy was not an exciting read for me.
"The listed authors and works were what moved me to want to design a game that allowed participants to have exciting fantasy adventures. The 'influences' from JRRT's work that I included in the game were mainly there to interest others in playing it, not what caused me to want to create it." (p.72)

--Here I think Gygax was just identifying himself as one of those who read and enjoyed Tolkien but didn't get swept up in it, like so many of us do, reading it over and over again. Fair enough. But I still think he is being disingenuous over the lack of influence, perhaps to the point of fooling himself.

There's another example in his answer to a question (p. 90) about the ensemble hero--along with the character races Tolkien's greatest contribution to D&D-- but I found his answer so oblique that I gave up trying to make sense of it here; I'll have a go at making it a separate post in itself and if that fails just give up.

He did concede that the Ranger  was derived from Tolkien's Aragorn but rather downplays this as a character class not created by Gygax but one of his players (p. 123).

One minor puzzle is his stating that he did not derive the gnoll from Dunsany himself but from a Dunsany pastiche published in a science fiction/fantasy magazine: Margaret St. Clair's 'The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnolls", THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SIENCE FICTION (p.163). On the one hand, this may explain why he spelled Dunsany's name wrong in the original three-booklet text of D&D. On the other, the fact he credits Dunsany and not St. Claire is odd if she not he were the source.

--John R.
--current reading: GIRL ON A SWING by Rbt Adams

* as when he talks of how Orson Welles was eager to play the villain  in the D&D movie Gygax was putting together in the early eighties, and how John Boorman's team wanted in on the deal. Given how awful the Hollywood projects from the early eighties were, and how terrible those that followed were, I don't think we lost much when Gygax's spin-off of the cartoon sputtered out or when his version of the D&D movie (described on p. 171) bit the dust.

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