Orc Holocaust

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Mar 12, 2008

Filed under: Tabletop Games 73 comments

Slate has an article taking a swipe at late game designer Gary Gygax: Orc Holocaust

It holds up Steve Jackson and Greg Stafford as superior game designers (calling Gygax a hack in comparison) and then takes Gygax to task for the system of “experience points” that so often works against roleplaying.

I don’t really disagree with the notion that experience points lead supposedly heroic characters to behave like a band of bloodthirsty nutjobs. That point has actually been made, over and over, for a quarter century. I’ve built more than my share of jokes on that very idea. However, the system is still in use all these years later, even by people like Steve Jackson and Greg Stafford.

The article subtitle, “The reprehensible moral universe of Gary Gygax’s Dungeons & Dragons”, makes it sound like we’re in for some tongue-in-cheek fun at the expense of D&D, but either the author is serious or his humor is so dry that it is undetectable to me. The article reads like a dozen other sullen, bitter rants I’ve read against D&D in various forums, but with better grammar and spelling.

Of course, perhaps it is just well-constructed flame bait, designed to increase traffic and linking by being controversial. In which case I just fell for it.

(Thanks to reader Ryan for the link.)

LATER: Also, what is the deal with Slate using Alan De Smet‘s photo without attribution, as required by the Creative Commons-Attribution license? I know some blogs are sloppy about that sort of thing, but you’d think Slate would be able to stay on top of that sort of thing with their fancy editors and all.

As a further aside – I don’t know why, but I am more irritated by Creative Commons violations than regular copyright violations.

STILL LATER: Alan De Smet pointed out that the photo is indeed attributed. It’s in small print at the bottom (which is why I missed it, I shoulda used search) but it’s there.

AND MORE: Great rebuttal here. More here.


From The Archives:

73 thoughts on “Orc Holocaust

  1. Cat Skyfire says:

    I did read that article. I didn’t bother responding there because I dislike the whole ‘forum thing’ which just gets awkward there.

    I would say that, ultimately, people get what they want out of D&D. As a DM, I offer experience points for ‘solving the situation’. If a party can deal with the band of orcs by role-playing rather than slaughtering, I give full XP for the orcs plus the role-playing bonus. I may even use it as an opportunity for an adventure hook. (“We’re roving because our homeland is being taken over by snake people…”)

    The thing is, a role playing system NEEDS a method by which to ‘keep score’. It also allows the DM to grow the party together. If character improvement points were only given out for actually doing certain things, rogues would be off the charts (checking every square foot of a dungeon for traps and unlocking everything) and the poor wizard would be level one forever. (I cast my spell for the day… I’ll just go lie down now.).

  2. kmurphy says:

    When the website has an “Erik Sofge is a moron” tag available for comments, I think you may be right about it being intended to elicit comments. If not, well, his opinion doesn’t change any of the good times I had playing the game.

  3. Alan De Smet says:

    My photo of Gary got heavily reused immediately following his death, with about a 50-50 rate of giving the required citation. I poked some of the biggest offenders and they universally apologized and fixed it. I am a bit tweaked that I had to ask and I worry that some of them have a policy of asking forgiveness rather that permission, but I have to give them the benefit of the doubt since I’m sure for some it was just a fluke accident.

    Anyway, for Slate specifically way down at the bottom it says, “Photograph of Gary Gygax by Alan De Smet,” so I’m happy. I don’t know if it was added after you posted about it.

  4. Matt says:

    The strangest thing about that article is how he rails on D&D and holds up GURPS as a shining alternative, but then highlights as the major difference between the two the fact that GURPS allows you to give experience for doing things other than killing, as if D&D has a rule somewhere that says “experience may only be rewarded for killing orcs”.

    Kinda goofy.

  5. maehara says:

    First saw that article after arstechnica posted a response to it. I think they nailed the problem. :)

  6. Alan De Smet says:

    Christ, now that I’ve read the article, gaaaaah! What a troll. How can you say D&D took the “role-playing” out of the game, when before D&D RPGs didn’t exist? How can you describe it as being like a video game when it predated mainstream video games, including all computer RPGs? How can you ignore the strength of D&D over the decades when better things exist? Why would you mention Cyborg Commando, a game your average gamer doesn’t even know exists? Why would you describe him as ignoring details, using Cyborg Commando as an example, while ignoring the extremely detailed Lejendary Journeys?

    Ultimately, isn’t it enough for the man to have created an entirely new form of gameplay, even if the first one wasn’t very good?

  7. Hal says:

    Allow me to paraphrase his argument (and quote my own post about it at the same time):

    “D&D is a terrible role-playing system. Why? Because, that’s why. It totally sucks even though it’s the most popular one on the market, and it’s just people being stupid that keeps all the other great systems from making it, even though RPGs are stupid anyways.”

    I don’t know what this guy’s deal is, but I don’t think the article’s worth anything besides ridicule.

  8. Mystyk says:

    “As a further aside – I don't know why, but I am more irritated by Creative Commons violations than regular copyright violations.”

    I concur. Creative Commons is so minute in its restrictions that you have to wonder why someone bothered to violate it. It is a willful act of disregard for the very concept of intellectual property (which means a lot to me as a programmer) because proper attribution and use is so easy, while a traditional copyright violation usually has more to do with the nature of the copying/distribution/use restrictions and a belief that they are somehow too severe (although academic dishonesty is inspired by laziness here as well).

  9. It’s especially ironic to single out Greg Stafford as a game designer, considering that Greg’s single most accomplished game, Runequest, is mechanically basically a D&D variant. It is, in fact, based on “The Perrin Conventions”, an elaborate set of D&D house rules written by RQ co-inventor Steve Perrin. Now, mechanically, RQ is a huge improvement over D&D–D&D begged for the type of tweaking that the Perrin Conventions brought–but it’s evolutionary, not revolutionary. What made RQ really sparkle was the world-building; Glorantha is one of the great achievements of modern fantasy, and the integration between RQ and Glorantha was revelatory in a way that Empire of the Petal Throne was not.

    I think that Gygax missed a huge opportunity, when creating AD&D from D&D, to revisit a lot of the bad small decisions he’d made in formalizing D&D. But he got something big very, very right indeed.

  10. Shamus says:

    Alan De Smet: I think you nailed it. His biggest sin seems to be that he didn’t write D&D 4.0 in 1973.

  11. Shamus says:

    Also: With regard to wavatars not working:

    I know. Looks to be an issue with gravatars.com. Nothing I can do on my end. WordPress 2.5 is due out in a couple of weeks and it will have built-in support for Gravatars. (Meaning: I gotta update my plugin. Phooey.) I imagine they are messing with gravatars.com in preparation for the change.

  12. Dev Null says:

    I agree with many of his complaints; I just don’t think they merit dissing the game or the man. Looks like someone trying to scrape up readers by inventing controversy to me.

    Just about every roleplayer I’ve ever played with would agree that the rules system is pretty much irrelevant compared to the world-building and having a good GM. Most of my roleplaying was done in other systems, yes – often chosen because of the world not the system, like the Glorantha of RuneQuest mentioned above, or *shudder* Shadowrun. (The dice! The dice they haunt me!) But you had to have a D&D to take those first steps aways from historical wargaming before someone could give us Ars Magica, Earthdawn, or Jorune. Even from those of us who havent played his game in yearsdecades(!), Gygax deserves our respect and thanks.

  13. Cadamar says:

    Didn’t anybody stop to think that maybe the Orcs like to be massacred?

    And what about the goblins? Won't somebody think about the goblins?

    Anyone who would make the argument that XP is only available by killing has never really played D&D. Any group not made up of children or munckins will know that it’s not all about the killing (though that does play a role). My gaming group gets XP for social interactions, disarming traps (they have CRs for a reason), NOT killing things when we don’t have to, solving puzzles, etc. Yes, the current D&D rules don’t always have formilized processes for determining the CR of a social encounter, but there certainly are no rules against it.

  14. Joshua says:

    I don’t know what he’s talking about, getting xp only for killing orcs. Why, it says right there on page 40 in the Dungeon Master’s Rulebook that 3/4 or more of a character’s xp will come from treasure!

  15. Maddy says:

    As for the morality of killing orcs: uh, he knows that no real orcs were harmed, right?

  16. Mari says:

    I don’t know how much I can add that hasn’t been said already but I’m annoyed by the article. It seems a case of “cool kids buck the mainstream and if D&D is mainstream, I’ll be cool by dissing it” more than anything else. The guy clearly had to scrape the bottom of the barrel to come up with his supposed “reasons” for trashing Gygax as illustrated by the fact that my 10-year-old was able to debunk half of them.

  17. Andy P says:

    D&D does pretty much suck. But you know what, Pong sucks too. Why didn’t Pong have hi-res truecolour photorealistic graphics and 7.1 surround sound, hmmm?

    Yes, D&D sucks, but it was first (or at least the first successful if not the first) and for that it, and its creators, deserve recognition and credit.

  18. Duffy says:

    He almost had a point, then drops the ball utterly by focusing too much on “experience points”, a system that as long as I have played has been arbitrary and usually an after thought.

    The problem he appears to want to address is that D&D has too many specific rules (in his opinion) compared to the more “general” rule systems he prefers. He is correct that D&D is perhaps one of the only P&P RPGs you can pick up and play with little to no imagination (amusement intended), by simply following all the steps in the various handbooks. The result would be a glorified board game or an early hack-slash video game clone. Most of us would probably balk at this type of game and I know that anytime one of our adventures degenerates to this, that game is destined to be cut short.

    What he fails to realize or mention (which is quite hilarious to me) is that being an RP system, you can use whatever rules you want, you get to choose how strictly you want to follow the source books, and you get to choose the amount of RPing you wish to contribute. As others here have mentioned, you get out of it exactly what you put in it.

    I think he’s just a misguided rules-lawyer troll who doesn’t like that some unworthy, non-hardcore RPer can pick up an “RPG” and claim that they have played “his” games.

  19. Arson55 says:

    Hal, I think you summed it up perfectly. That is the point of the article.

  20. ChattyDm says:

    A fellow blogger pointed out the story yesterday and I quickly sorted in the ‘not-relevant’ pile.

    Moving on, I have a game to plan this week.

    Peace out all. We all know he was a great man, if quirky and somewhat heavy handed with the prose. I paid tribute to him by playing with my 6 year old son and 4 year old daughter…

  21. Dan says:

    The author is so obviously pro-orc I can’t believe he hasn’t been excoriated for the blatant treason.

    Heck yes, you kill the orcs when they sleep! What idiot would wait for them to wake up?

    The only point I could gather from this article is: “See? Orcs are just like us! They sleep! They enjoy treasure for its intrinsic merit! Just because they, by definition, raid and murder innocent people doesn’t mean that they don’t have rights too!”

    Orc-lovin’ coward. Hrmph.

  22. Roy says:

    Yeah. Slate is pretty much nothing *but* pissing on people’s parades these days. That’s their M.O. I first found out about the article here, and her complaints are pretty spot on.

  23. Roxysteve says:

    (somehow I managed to chop of the actual post after the salutation. Thank you Mr Brain.)

    The Slate article notwithstanding, there is something ineffably sad about a world that no longer has Gary Gygax in it.

    I only met him once, briefly. This meeting was no more or less influential on me than meeting Roger Zelazny, a man whose products spent far more time in my head than D&D ever did. My life went the way it did. It would have gone much the same way (with one rather large exception) regardless of Gary Gygax.

    Gygax invented D&D at a key point in my life. I was in the last week of my first year at university in East Anglia, UK. Just the rumour of D&D (in GAMES magazine) got us so excited about the concept we invented our own version from the (bad) description until we could import a ruleset from the States. The first of the second year, a guy had a copy of EPT, a heavily-D&D influenced (and TSR licenced) Tekumel RPG and the first official roleplayer anyone at UEA had ever seen. The next week Clive and Paul got their copy of D&D and, well, the game world changed. Forever. We still played Kingmaker, Diplomacy and Colditz. We just did so on a much reduced schedule because we played D&D at every opportunity we got.

    Yes I feel that there are “better” game systems on the market today. Does that mean I won't play D&D? Hell no!

    And the world just seems very much smaller than it did when the guy who figured it all out without any help (except his then partner Dave Arneson, who deserves equal credit and kudos) was around.

    Steve Jackson makes a fine RPG by all accounts. Luckily he had Gygax and Arneson to show him how it might be done. Let's face it, until D&D SJ was doing straightforward wargames like Ogre, One Page Bulge and Warp War. Every good idea ends up being bested once it gets out. The trick is to have that first, paradigm-shifting idea.

    And that large exception I spoke of? Well, I met my wife because she overheard me leaving a message on a friend's answering machine. I was organizing a Call of Cthulhu game. Without D&D would there have been a Runequest? Without Runequest, would there have been a Call of Cthulhu? It's said that ideas come when their time is due. I'm not sure if that philosophical point holds here because the world didn't have an overriding need for role playing games. There was no real pressure to invent RPGs, social or otherwise.

    For my part I'm happy to give Gygax the co-inventorship of the whole field. Arneson too. Petersen, Jackson, Willis, et al all came upon the idea full formed. At best they can claim to have developed the idea.


  24. From what I’ve seen, the D&D rules promote giving characters XP for advancing the plot and solving problems just as much as for killing. Our GM doesn’t even do XP: he just levels us up when we hit certain plot points. Anyway, it’s experience system is flexible, which leads to it appealing to a wide variety of people, and that makes it popular. If you see most RPG players using D&D for hack-and-slash, that doesn’t mean D&D is a morally bankrupt game, it means D&D is a quality, flexible game that can appeal to those people.

  25. JohnW says:

    This is not Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, with its anti-fascist political commentary and yearning for an end to glory and the triumph of peace.

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard Tolkien described that way. The first half of the sentence, I agree with. It’s strange coming from a writer at Slate, because many wrongly describe him as having racist tendencies, and I would have thought they’d agree. But the second half? An end to glory?????

    Nice comment function, btw.

  26. guy says:

    My DM does that too, he just grants me a level every time an adventure tree is finished

  27. Namfoodle says:

    Meh. I agree, the guys a troll. I recall that trolls are vulnerable to fire.

  28. Devin says:

    I love D&D. It was a stepping stone into a universe of other gaming systems that I would have never discovered without it. I don’t play D&D when I can avoid it with any other system, but some of my friends who introduced me to the game over a decade ago still do.

    Some people /want/ to play a Video Game without graphics. It has its own appeal: sitting in a dungeonesque basement eating pretzels and just chilling out. It can still be fun sometimes. Others of us, who have an evil tendency to think of ourselves as “more evolved” take up the Role Playing aspect, declaring crazy things like, “Role Play is two-thirds of RPG” and other such nonsense. I myself used to fall into that trap: I have become more about the Role Play… but years ago, I realized that it was a matter of personal preference… something many authors and gamers fail to recognize.

    D&D was the stepping stone for a lot of players, and the market in general. Regardless of what Mr. Gygax’s intentions were, a lot of good has come of his creation. And if a bunch of kids grow up thinking that an RPG is something like Final Fantasy, who cares? Is anyone really hurt or miseducated?

    Personally, I think the most important letter of “RPG” is the “G”. It’s a game… and if its players have fun, who the hell cares the what the precise nature of that fun is.

    EDIT: I realize some of my own bias is still there, and had to clear up references to “superior” systems and the like. Shame on me.

  29. Nilus says:

    What I don’t like is that all he comes off as is a GURPS fanboy. Now GURPS isn’t a bad game but its not the end all be all of game design. Hell its not even all that innovative by todays standards. He comes off like some of the stuck up Vampire RPGers I met in College who only ever played Vampire and looked down upon gamers that played anything but Vampire. It’s okay to hate D&D, but at least respect it and its creators for what they did. Without a few nerdy guys in the 70s, there wouldn’t be a GURPs game, or Vampire or any of the million other RPGs.

    Oh and of course he is one of those pretentious jackasses that uses the term mouth breathers. I have never met a person who breaths out of there nose 100% of the time. I am sure there might be a medical condition out there that makes you have to do this, but I highly doubt that your character can be judged by what hole in your head you pass air through.

  30. Davesnot says:

    Look I like GURPS.. but when I went to the store in 1976 there was only the white boxed set.. How would a budding game designer come up with the idea of role-playing if nobody had tried to piecemeal together some rules..

    True.. in the very very beginning a fighter didn’t get experience for killing.. and not for gold.. but for spending said gold on drink at a tavern.. .. we’re talking about a time when lead figures were around but RPGs weren’t..

    I’m guessing that Ogre (a game) would have been invented.. but not GURPs by Steve J. if E. Gary hadn’t done his work and released it as imperfect as it was..

    I still shake my head at the rules morons.. er.. lawyers.. that say the game is wrong because a chopstick does 1d2 damage.. so they strap 50 chopsticks to a stick and swing it as a d100 mace… The original D&D assumed a DM with a brain and the testicles (or estrogen) to use it…

    It’s not really a flawed game.. it’s flawed players trying to “win.”

  31. lplimac says:

    Well I started playing D&D in ’75 and after reading the article he does have a point. The original was kill obsessed. And, compared to later games it was lacking. However, that’s to be expected because it was first. Heck I liked Runequest (and RQII more so) and enjoyed playing it more than D&D but, being a second (or maybe third) generation game you would expect that it would be more polished in some ways… but not necessarily in all. Heck my favorite game system was Hero System, but that’s because I like point based systems over ones that you roll dice. It’s a personal preference, doesn’t mean its better.

    I played many, many different kinds systems and styles of RPG’s (including GURPS) and while I didn’t like D&D (or AD&D and it’s successors) as much as other systems that takes nothing away from the fact that, if it wasn’t for Mr. Gygax and the others there may not have been those later games. No matter how you feel about the game you can’t take away Gary’s influence on RPG’s.

  32. Jeff says:

    Having played GURPS, if GURPS is superior to D&D then I’ll eat my hat.

    GURPS is the ultimate at being meh at everything and good at nothing.

    If he thinks GURPS is superior, then yeah, he’s definitely a rules lawyer. Real players don’t really care what system you’re in so long as the game (and thus the DM) is good.

  33. T-Boy says:

    I read him with some interest, because, you know, he does make some degree of sense, especially if you consider how the system doesn’t prevent GM and player dickery — which wasn’t the point of the original system, since it assumed that everyone was an adult and knew how to handle inter-personal issues like, you know, adults.

    And then he had to praise GURPS. Oh, ha ha ha ha ha! I’m sorry, but I couldn’t take him seriously. Dear god.

    He could have used the Storyteller system. He could have used Ars Magica or Over the Edge. He could have talked about the indie tabletop RPG scene. He could have talked about how gamers in Europe evolved their own distinctive play-style. He could have chosen FUDGE or FATE. He could have done anything.

    But he chose the game that appealed to even bigger geeks than D&D. I like Steve Jackson as much as the next guy, but ha ha ha! GURPS is even geekier than D&D, and the amount of tactical decisions you could make could have just killed any pretense of ‘role-playing’.

  34. Hal says:

    Heh, I gotta give Shamus a big “thanks” for linking me. You’ve done so a couple of times now, and everytime you do I get a month’s worth of traffic in a day’s time. Thanks, guy.

  35. Griffin says:

    I just have to say that it’s morally reprehensible the way we’re all shooting fish in a barrel here. Poor, poor fish.

  36. Miral says:

    Looks to be an issue with gravatars.com. Nothing I can do on my end. WordPress 2.5 is due out in a couple of weeks and it will have built-in support for Gravatars. (Meaning: I gotta update my plugin. Phooey.) I imagine they are messing with gravatars.com in preparation for the change.

    Actually, no. The problem is that your gravatar URL is malformed. Wavatars are still working on my site, but then I’ve modified the plugin to emit the correct URL (as I’ve previously told you).

    And regarding the Creative Commons attribution thing: I blame Google Image Search. It’s far too easy to search for an image relating to a particular topic and snaffle it without even looking at the originating site (and any potential licensing info).

  37. Yahzi says:

    I kind of agree with the article, but I don’t blame Gygax, I blame Nietsche. And Hollywood. Star Wars is just as reprehensible, presenting legions of Storm Troopers whose entire lives are merely means to an end. It’s not that Darth Vader uses them like that; it’s that the good guys do too.

  38. GAZZA says:

    I personally loathe D&D (though it’s the only thing my group ever seems to want to play …) – but hey, to each his/her own, and if it weren’t for the big one none of the other ones would exist. And knocking Gygax? That’s just wrong. Whether or not your personal tastes align with Tomb of Horrors isn’t really the point – the guy that was at least 50% of the reason the hobby exists just died. Disagree with him if you like, but be respectful – to do otherwise is just crass.

    And for what it’s worth: when Steve and Greg die (which I hope will not be for many years), I’m sure that they’ll get the same sort of attention. Heck, I cannot imagine that either of them feels anything but the same grief we do that GG is gone.

  39. Shamus says:

    Miral: Wavatars stop working, on my site and others.

    Then they work again.

    Then they stop again.

    These changes happen at the same time on all sites. Draw your own conclusions, but my code hasn’t changed.

  40. Zerotime says:

    Games Workshop Steve Jackson, or GURPS Steve Jackson?

  41. food4worms says:

    Since D&D was developed from abstracting war games down to the individual level and adding fantasy elements, it’s not surprising that the war gaming attitudes are a fundamental part of the rules. War games are entirely about “Unit A attacks Unit B, let’s find out who survives and by how much”.

    More than a dozen years ago, I surveyed Gygax’s essays in Dragon magazine for a paper I was writing. What practically floored me at the time was just how much Gygax loved role playing. Those essays were about the joy of finding a personality for your character so that it flowed from you, as a player, like water. Talk about immersion! Gagax was no orcicide.

    Gygax and Arneson developed a system for “gaming” and stumbled across “role playing” in the process. That gift has spawned a multitude of publications that try and fix the “gaming” in order to make the “role playing” easier or better. But those games could not exist without the first one.

  42. JohnW says:

    ” indie tabletop RPG scene”


    “And for what it's worth: when Steve and Greg die (which I hope will not be for many years), I'm sure that they'll get the same sort of attention.”

    God forbid, but I think they’ll only get a teeny-tiny fraction of it. C’mon, aside from seeing the ads in Dragon magazine, who has ever heard of GURPS? The game with the funny name.

  43. Bruce says:

    Kevin J. Maroney:
    March 12th, 2008 at 11:59 am

    “It's especially ironic to single out Greg Stafford as a game designer, considering that Greg's single most accomplished game, Runequest, is mechanically basically a D&D variant.”

    Sorry, what? Runequest has no character classes, percentile dice for skill checks, opposing skill checks, armour that reduces the damage you take as opposed to making you harder to hit, damage dealt to specific hit locations, critical hits, fumbles and magic available for everyone. Have you actually played Runequest? As far as I know the original didn’t even have elves, orcs, dwarves or hobbits. Unless you consider using a variety of oddly shaped dice to decide random outcomes a similar mechanic, how is it mechanically like D&D?

    Rant over. On to Gary. Whether you like D&D or not, he started the hobby and deserves kudos for doing so. You can complain Tolkien wrote long-winded difficult to read books and there are a lot better ones out there, but he was the man who started it. Magic TCG sucks up money quicker than a thing that sucks up money real quick and there are other better CCG’s, but it is the grand-daddy of them all and when Richard Garfield taps his last mana, he will deserve recognition for his achievements.

    As for how people play it, it’s a system and any system can be abused. It reflects the people who play it not the other way round. We played Runequest and there was plenty of slaughtering went on, but we were teenagers. Rambo didn’t worry that vietnamese or russians had families too. You never thought that far ahead.

    Runequest had it’s problems too. You successfully whack someone with your sword, you are entitled to make an experience roll to see if you get better at it when the adventure is over. Whether you hit someone once, or twenty times, you still get the same roll. I remember us switching from weapon to weapon during a fight so we could get experience rolls for all our weapons.

    GM – You strike the Broo with your sword. It roars in pain.
    Player – Cool, (checks character sheet) I drop my sword and draw my dagger.

  44. Josh says:

    Sofge’s screed may be annoying, but at least it talks ABOUT a role-playing system. Your so-called “great rebuttals” are purely ad hominem. I was expecting something a little… responsive?

  45. Stephen says:

    Discussing other game systems misses the point, but does help to illustrate something more important: Here’s a guy who’s slamming Gary Gygax and everything that followed while forgetting that before D&D there wasn’t much else. It’s like comparing the SR-71 to the Wright Brother’s first aircraft and complaining that their plane was slow.

  46. SWCrusader says:

    So this guy couldn’t wait longer than a week after gygaxs death to start slamming him? Have some freakin class. Yesh.

  47. Dev Null says:

    Sofge's screed may be annoying, but at least it talks ABOUT a role-playing system. Your so-called “great rebuttals” are purely ad hominem. I was expecting something a little… responsive?

    I think some very good arguments have been made that don’t attack the man at all, actually. Most of them about how the admitted inadequacies of the particular system don’t in any way detract from the man’s accomplishments or laudable passion, so arguing about a particular role-playing system would be completely beside the point. The first fish to flop his arse up onto dry land and lie there gasping will win no footraces, but he still deserves a little respect for getting there; certainly pissing on Gary’s still-warm grave because you misconstrued the entire point of a role-playing system seems a bit extreme.

    RPG systems are all guidelines only – frameworks to allow you to collaboratively tell a story, not rules to a competitive game. Doing ridiculous things like only taking actions because they will gain you xp in the rulebook is just slavishly min-maxing the rules in an attempt to “win”. If it doesn’t result in an entertaining experience, maybe its because you’re attempting to hammer in a nail with a violin. D&D’s biggest contribution was exactly that; the relatively novel idea that the point of the game was to play a part and tell a story, not to add up some score and see who won. And I can certainly see why anyone who played the game but missed that crucial point would have hated it.

    It doesn’t make Gygax a god – and some of the tributes I’ve read really do go a bit far – but burning him in effigy for it is just unwarranted and peevish.

  48. I disagreed with Gygax about many things (particularly his frequent denunciation of in-character play as “amateur theatrics”). By the mid-’90s, AD&D was an unmitigated mess that was desperately in need of the clean-up and modernization that WotC gave it with 3rd Edition. And I think Dave Arneson still gets horribly slighted despite his equal role in the creation of the game.

    But, with all that being said, Sofge is basically saying: “Have you taken a look at Citizen Kane recently? Orson Welles couldn’t even be bothered to use color film!”

    Only it’s even more absurd. Because while Orson Welles was a visionary and Citizen Kane a groundbreaking film, Gygax was the co-creator an entirely new medium.

    (And complaining that D&D “plays like a video game” is like complaining that Lord of the Rings is a rip-off of The Sword of Shannara.)

    (And while we’re on the topic: D&D was published in 1974, not 1975. Could you at least make a marginal attempt at getting the most basic facts right in your hate-filled screed?)

    So, yeah, I disagreed with Gygax. And I wouldn’t play the 1974 edition of D&D for any reason except a good kick of nostalgia.

    But I still tip a hat to the man I still pay my respect because Gygax changed the world. And, IMO, he made it a richer and better place to live. I certainly know that my life would be irrevocably different and utterly poorer if it wasn’t for the innovation of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson.

  49. Mavis says:

    Going to take another stance…. but the man has a point.

    Mr Gygax is the father of the hobby – but like a lot of dad’s I’m not sure he really understood what the hobby became.

    Like a lot of people I wanted to do something on Saturday night in memmoriam (we did actually have 1D4+1 minutes silence). I sat down and thought D&D or Spirit of the Century…..

    I realised that the D&D game would have little opertunity for actual roleplaying – at least in a single one of session. It was more a sort of tactical thing – like a really open game of Descent. Spirit of the century would be fun, and silly and not really about the rules.

    But the D&D would be more appropraite. A dungeon, with death traps, and orcs, and ten foot poles.

    We played D&D in the end, everybody had a good laugh, there was some corking comedy momments (Paladin holding a massive rubber D20 I own and shouting in a broad yorkshire accent “the power of Gygax compells you. Back ‘t monster manual with you”. Being one of them…..

    But actual roleplaying – not so much.

    So I don’t think he’s a troll. He’s just showing the other side of the arguement – the one that’s easy to forget because somebody died and we all remember the best of them and what they did for us.

  50. Terrible says:

    Every now and then I see someone rant about how D&D is more popular than it should be, but so far no one’s proven to me that I’m not having fun when I play it.

  51. T-Boy says:

    @JohnW: Uh, I don’t know. What would you call Dogs in the Vineyard, Sorcerer, Dead Inside and Burning Wheel, then?

  52. Stranger says:

    Isn’t Ars Magica also a qualified “niche” game? Granted I’ve only seen one group in my life play it and 90% of the others never heard of it. The other 10% had some interesting things to say about why they wouldn’t play it.

    And yeah, pissing all over D&D misses the point; it was one of the steps towards starting the hobby with 10000 systems and games to play in. Including Cynnabar.

  53. Roy says:

    Going to take another stance…. but the man has a point.

    Mr Gygax is the father of the hobby – but like a lot of dad's I'm not sure he really understood what the hobby became…

    …So I don't think he's a troll. He's just showing the other side of the arguement – the one that's easy to forget because somebody died and we all remember the best of them and what they did for us.

    That’s because it’s in poor taste and kind of classless to talk ill of the dead without pretty good reason. A despot who murdered his own people dies? Go ahead, talk about what a total monster he was. But, a guy who created one of the most popular and lasting RPG systems in the world dies? In no way does that warrent calling his creation “a monster” or “reprehensible” or calling the man an “unrepentant hack”.

    The article isn’t just a random piece about the author’s perceptions of the failings of D&D- it’s a slam piece about a dead man’s legacy. It’s not that I object to someone not liking D&D- it’s that I think it’s really in poor taste to do so in response to the creator’s death, at a time when people are remembering the game fondly.

    The entire point of the Slate article is to piss on people’s parades- it’s to insult the memory of a man that Slate decided too many other people were remembering fondly.

  54. JohnW says:

    @JohnW: Uh, I don't know. What would you call Dogs in the Vineyard, Sorcerer, Dead Inside and Burning Wheel, then?

    I would call them “Things I’ve never heard of for $1000, Alex.” Or “What are 4 things that have never been in my kitchen?”

    My “Whaaa?” was because I had no idea there was an indie gaming scene. Or that one was required. It sounds… wierd. Are the indie gamers militantly anti-corporate-role-playing?

  55. When the indie game or indie music become militantly anti-corporate? Did I miss something? Has Amaranthia Games besieged EA’s corporate offices?

  56. lplimac says:

    My “Whaaa?” was because I had no idea there was an indie gaming scene. Or that one was required. It sounds… wierd. Are the indie gamers militantly anti-corporate-role-playing?

    In my PnP RPG days the group I was in played a lot of indy games, play testing them for friends and just doing something off the wall and such. Not anti-corporate, just different approach :)

  57. Dillon says:

    The article perhaps has a piece of a point, though. (I did not read it, the pieces quoted make it seem like the sort of article where I want to avoid adding as much traffic as possible). If Dungeons and dragons was released in 1974 at first, that means It’s been about 35 years of “loot and experience” mechanics being a big part of RPG type games, without other types of systems really being though of or used. In a lot of computer RPG type games, loot and experience have become the big timesinks, and the big thing to work towards, while other possibilities for things to do get left out.

    (It was interesting, for example, to be able to read DM of the rings, fill in the basics about how Dungeons and Dragons seems to work, and be able to still understand just about all the game mechanics from computer RPG games.)

  58. Jeff says:

    “But actual roleplaying – not so much.”

    This, again, is related to the group, not the system.
    No system in the world forces people to roleplay, because all a system is are mechanics forming a framework to create a common set of natural laws. No system in the world can force roleplayers to NOT roleplay.

    The existence of mechanics is like a watch. Bear with me here. You can have good watches, and bad watches, but they’re there so you can tell the time. A watch, however, does not dictate if you’re early or late. If you want to be early, you can always be early. If you want to be late, you can definitely be late. To an extent, the quality of the watch determines how finely you can be right on time.

    So, again…
    Regardless of your watch, if you want to be early, you WILL be early. (You can’t debate this. If you’re late, it just means you don’t actually care about being early enough.)

    The comparison here is, being late or early is like roleplaying. Regardless of the system (watch), if you want to roleplay, you will roleplay. This is why there are entire communities of freeform, ruleless roleplaying. However, there is always one thing where you need rules, and that is conflict resolution – combat. Here, you are trying to be exactly on time. The better the system, the better you can get through combat without a headache. The better the watch, the more accurate you can tell the time.

    People roleplay on fricking MMORPGS – which is a genre entirely dedicated to grinding and killing things for loot.

    Just had to get that off my chest. People whining about systems and roleplay just about make me roll snake-eyes.

    Bah, Bruce essentially said it already:
    “As for how people play it, it's a system and any system can be abused. It reflects the people who play it not the other way round.”

  59. Miral says:

    Wavatars stop working, on my site and others.
    These changes happen at the same time on all sites. Draw your own conclusions, but my code hasn't changed.

    That’s my point though. Right now as I type this, wavatars are working on my site and aren’t working on yours. The difference is that on my site I’ve modified the code to escape the ampersands properly. If you want a concrete example, the URL being passed for your own avatar is this (broken up and entity quoted so it will display properly):


    See the double-semicolons? That’s why they’re not working.

  60. @Jeff 59: As a small note, however, there are an increasing number of games in which the rules do require, expect, and support your roleplaying.

    Many people find that this kind of structured improv environment improves their roleplaying — both individually and as a group.

    OTOH, there are also people who find these kinds of structures to be impediments.

  61. Mavis says:


    I understand your point but I disagree.

    Simply put – some systems encourage role-playing and others do not. Some systems facilitate it – others get in the way.

    D&D simply gets in the way of the roleplaying. And from what I’ve heard about 4th ED – this will continue to happen if not get worse.

    MMORPGS are a good example. Yes people RP on MMORPGS – however there actually having to battle the system to achieve it. And frankly – they manage it mainly by utterly ignoring the actual ‘game’ and using it as 3D chat platform.

    I know my group of players, they are roleplayers to the core, and excellent ones at that. So it’s not the group.

  62. Zaghadka says:

    I’m sorry, but I believe that Diplomacy is a passable role-playing game that long predates D&D.

    Gygax published “role-playing” supplements for well established wargame methods, of which the D&D combat system was only a flavor. He didn’t invent the concept, nor was the original D&D particularly revolutionary to anyone but wargamers.

    What he did do, in that context, is help invent the idea of a persistent wargaming universe, the campaign, and that is where his best work lies. In the synthesis of Medieval Clericism, Greek Heroes, Arthurian legend, and world mythology into a cohesive whole.

    That contribution outstrips “role-playing” by a long shot, and I think it is the continued source of D&D’s raw appeal.

    I might also mention that that raw appeal stands on the shoulders of giants, like the whole of world mythology, and the works of Tolkien and Vance. Gygax took too much credit for what he did not do, while still making a lasting contribution to gaming as a whole.

    His contributions are hardly worthy of lionization or demonization, and as much as the linked article is sour grapes and baloney, every other article I have read lauding him is as distorted.

  63. Skythian says:

    “What’s wrong with Dungeons & Dragons? It plays like a video game. ”

    Refer to Shamus’ comments about the relative timeline above. If this was his leading point, it’s hard to read further. What video game(s), exactly, was D&D modelled after again? Hmm?

    “April is a pretty name. Hey, did they name that month after you?” (le sigh)

    Hell, I personally don’t even like the D&D game system very much compared to others (even other variations off it) but am thankful that the original existed so that the variations could spawn in the first place.

  64. Dirty Dan says:

    Say, Mavis, just for the sake of my own knowledge, I’d appreciate an explanation of precisely how D&D gets in the way of roleplaying. I don’t necessarily doubt the possibility of your claim, but I fail thus far to see its merit. Perhaps more to the point, how do other game systems get in the way of roleplaying less than D&D does?

  65. Mike says:

    I gotta admit…. when I got to the “D&D plays like a video game”, I stopped reading.


  66. @Zaghadka: Diplomacy is a strategic wargame. Roleplaying is completely unnecessary and, more importantly, there is a complete lack of any rules representing an avatar’s interaction with the game world.

    To describe Diplomacy as a roleplaying game is to rob the term of all meaning.

  67. Rev Blacky says:

    Everything I would want to say has already been said, so, instead, I shall link you to this: http://www.webcomicsnation.com/ghastly/bih/series.php?view=archive&chapter=28036

  68. JayBee says:

    I’m a relative newcomer to DnD Roleplaying, as opposed to a long-time fan of DnD-inspired video game titles like Neverwinternights and Baldur’s Gate, so my view on whether the experience points system is probably different…

    I don’t think that roleplayers become blood-thirsty monsters merely for the experience – the DM can, as Shamus has demonstrated in his LOTR webcomic and Chainmail Bikini, subtly punish any1 who tends to lean that way.

    I remember losing my temper once, and letting loose a rust dragon on a particularly blood-thirsty warrior decked out in chainmail =P I think loot plays as much a role in the decision to just kill things as experience, but we went around that by equivalent experience and loot irrespective of what path was taken by our players, sometimes rewarding the players for more non-martial actions.

    I don’t think the same can for some video games, though. Despite their best attempts, gamers are looking out to watch the visual and aural eye-candy that comes with trying out a new move or spell in NWN1or2…and I distinctly remember NWN had a peculiar flaw where you could complete quests on a good alignment, then when the script ended, viciously force-attack the quest NPC for experience and loot.

    I think I might have mentioned this in a previous thread, but I think that Witcher had a great method of expunging the experience points by blood craze through its non-transparent choice pattern…players had to think twice b4 choosing to insult an NPC or threaten violence, because the consequences were not easy to forsee.

  69. Baruch says:

    You know, hack’n’slashers will hack’n’slash, roleplayers will roleplay, almost entirely regardless of the system.

    For example, when playing White Wolf games (a system that supposedly supports roleplaying over combat) to try and turn my h’n’s buddies, I still spend most of the time adjudicating combat. If the players feel the best way to get an answer is to rough someone up, they’ll do it no matter the system. So as much as some games are “better” at certain things, the players make the style of play, not the game.

  70. modus_0 says:

    Anyone take a look at the first response under the discussion for the Slate article?

    Even Steve Jackson thinks this guy is a troll.

  71. Lorechaser says:

    modus: Indeed. I have it on good authority that it took SJ quite a while to write that comment, too, because he had to wait until he could post without just using a lot of four letter words.

  72. The whole bit about experience points is just so off the mark it’s unimaginable to discuss it. Experience points are incentive structures. In DM of the Rings, Shamus put it that it’s candy that you bribe players into behaving. More seriously, it’s a way for players to get a feedback for what type of play should be encouraged and to reward smart, funny, exciting, passionate play and effort. Early D&D had you kill and loot. That was the game, so that’s what was rewarded. Palladium has an experience system that includes many different ways of being rewarded. Since I started there, I’ve always thought of that as the logical system, so all my games use not only success in battle but success in negotiation, roleplaying, making other players laugh, etc. as rewards. Further, recently I’ve borrowed from CRPGs and included quest reward experience. Why not? If they had to fight five separate battles to get through a quest, why not reward them again at the end of it for having actually seen it through to completion? If you don’t like a game’s experience system, what you don’t like is what it’s rewarding and how much it’s rewarding it, not the idea that character advancement can be tied to success at playing the game. It’s like the idea that almost everyone has ideas on how to improve the economy but few serious people want to get rid of money or exchange altogether.

    Further, the trend to blame Gary for this is insane. Might it be that the reason looting and killing gets rewarded IS BECAUSE THIS IS WHAT THE LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATOR FINDS FUN? Take any campaign, even a campaign which actively penalizes violence, and you’ll see some morons try to muck it up by stealing, killing and looting. There is visceral fun to beating up a goblin and taking its stuff. I’d say that the persistence of this meme has very little to do with Gary and more to do with human nature.

    Someone mentioned people thinking RPGs were like FF. I’d like to note that that’s ANOTHER thing we can thank Gary for: Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior owed a lot to Gary. Over many generations of product and thanks to different cultures, they’ve become wildly different, but the original Final Fantasy is just RIDDLED with D&D references, so much so I was surprised it didn’t get hit by a copyright infringement suit.

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