Community J!NX Blog

D&D turns 40 Pt 2

The most interesting part about discussing the effect of D&D, and it's legacy with regard to gaming is that so many things we take for granted as a staple of so many games just didn't exist pre-D&D. Character Statistics, Experience Points, Leveling, Character classes, and many of the stereotypical attributes of fantasy races that are often reused endlessly.


Part of what made D&D great is that they stood upon the shoulders on arguably the most influential fantasy author of all time. The work of J.R.R. Tolkien is so evident in the early works that one might even say that D&D is an elaborate Hobbit/LotR fan-made game. Neither Arneson nor Gygax ever denied that they took huge amounts of inspiration from not just Tolkien, but from a vast selection of sources. There is a section of the the 1979 Dungeon Masters Guide dedicated specifically to calling out by name the readings that Gygax himself considers inspirational in the play and creation of D&D. The section known as Appendix N lists, among others, Robert E. Howard of Conan fame, and the venerable H.P. Lovecraft. The magic system of the earlier editions is often referred to as "Vancian magic" as it drawn much of it's inspiration from the works of the author Jack Vance. Inspiration for RPGs has always been disparate and varied, but Appendix N serves as an interesting look into the source material that was available at the time, from which the fledgling game sprung forth.

Even in games such as World of Warcraft, under the hood of combat is the same probability vs difficulty arbitrated by a randomized number.

Discussing mechanics is an exercise in over-explanation, so I will spare you the thousands of words that I would more than happily include were I not merciful. Things such as using dice as the arbiter of a given action's relative probability was a fairly new concept introduced with D&D. It's such a common means of combat and attack resolution in tabletop RPG's that one of the things that made the Amber Diceless system unique was it's total abolition of the randomizing effect of dice. Even in games such as World of Warcraft, under the hood of combat is the same probability vs difficulty arbitrated by a randomized number. At the heart of most games lies a little piece of D&D, whether it's obvious or not. In the same vein, games such as monopoly have used dice, sure. But the 20-sider we know and love was only thought of as a math teaching aid for the most part before TSR decided that they needed more varied probability than multiples of 6-sided die can provide. Not sure if it applies for anyone else, but I'd know a lot, LOT less about statistics if I had never needed to understand probability for Dungeons and Dragons. Thanks Gary!

If you ask a team of developers about things from their childhood that inspired them to create games, you're likely going to hear about some D&D. If not, they likely grew up playing games made by the first generation of D&D players, so in effect it's a 6 degrees of D&D sort of affair. If perchance the developers happen to be Swedish, they also might have played Daemons and Dungeons, which is apparently a homegrown RPG inspired by D&D that was easier to find in those days. Did you need to know that? Maybe not, but now you do. (Muhaha.)

It's ironic that a large complaint about the last game Gygax made was largely a side effect of people's attachment to the tropes he himself helped create.

Gygax and Arneson both went on to work in gamings outside of TSR. Gygax never stopped making RPG games, the last major project he worked on was a game called Lejendary Adventures, which had a divisive reception, partially because of the way it attempted to diverge from the well-worn paths of D&D in a fantasy setting. It's ironic that a large complaint about the last game Gygax made was largely a side effect of people's attachment to the tropes he himself helped create. In a sense, he was the architect of his own issues later on with how beloved his original creation had become.

There are a lot of things to be said about the interplay between D&D, and just about any popular genre of video game today. How much of the effect is intentional, and how much is merely a sign of how deeply ingrained in pop culture the tropes and concepts that were introduced by Dungeons and Dragons have become. It's all really a matter of opinion, but it's a safe statement that the legacy of TSR in general is a major contributor to the shape that games have taken whether by direct influence, or by merely blazing the path that most would eventually follow.

Time to get the weekend rolling,
Fuzzy

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