Monday, April 5, 2010

In Which Jean Wells Loses It: Or, "You're Playing It Wrong!"

I notice no small measure of condescension being heaped upon those who waste their time investigating, and writing about, the history of "the hobby."

This is unfortunate, as looking back allows us to see how we got to where we are today, and helps inform our understanding of the development of the game.

As I look through old issues of The Dragon, I can't help but be reminded of the challenges that the designers faced, in trying to communicate their expectations of how Dungeons and Dragons was to be played.

Here's a fine example of that challenge, from the Sage Advice column, authored by Jean Wells. This is from The Dragon, Issue #37, May 1980.

The question is posed: "How does my 9th level Druid / 10th Level MU, with 18.83 Int, 18.90 Wis and 18.84 Cha, combine his two artifacts, the Apparatus of Kwalish and the Mighty Servant of Leuk-O, to create the ultimate weapon, and can I triple-class, adding Cleric levels to the mix?"

Jean Wells' response: "My first reaction [after reading this letter] was IIIIIEEEE!"

You can read the entire question, and response, by clicking on the excerpt.

My point in posting this is that, in order to understand why the game evolved the way it did, you need to understand what feedback was being provided to the game designers. As you read through the editorials, letters to the editor, and articles in The Dragon, themes begin to emerge, revealing why the game developed (and continues to develop) the way it does.

Some final words from Jean Wells, in the same Sage Advice column: "Readers are once again reminded that Sage Advice is designed to settle specific questions concerning rule definitions or interpretations. General questions about procedure in an adventure or campaign should be handled by the DM of that campaign...."

I don't believe some of the more outrageous questions or situations were the norm. But those were the sorts of things that the game designers were reacting to. Any wonder that the rules became increasingly complicated and detailed, and the actions of the DMs and players increasingly proscribed.

6 comments:

Daddy Grognard said...

Is this one of the earliest examples of Homo Munchkinus?

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Believe it or not, this was not the most outrageous example: one letter reported on a character that had gone up 10 levels in a single session; another, had a 29th level character after two years.

Matthew James Stanham said...

Yeah, this sort of thing is always amusing to read. In later issues the most ridiculous ones are saved for April. As you note, though, this sort of thing did shape the game to come. One of the major things WotC did that TSR never really bothered to do was respond to the demographic in a proactive way, catering to the desires of the audience. That got a very different result from trying to encourage the fans to play "right", and appears to have been very profitable and successful.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

That got a very different result from trying to encourage the fans to play "right"

Precisely. On the one hand, you had the authors of D&D telling people that the rules were 'just guidelines'. Then, when gamers started playing it 'wrong', you had the move towards proscribed play, and away from the rules as guidelines mantra.

Just another of the many contradictions in early D&D.

I give full props to WOTC for catering to their audience. D&D IV is the result.

Chris said...

How does my 9th level Druid / 10th Level MU, with 18.83 Int, 18.90 Wis and 18.84 Cha, combine his two artifacts, the Apparatus of Kwalish and the Mighty Servant of Leuk-O, to create the ultimate weapon, and can I triple-class, adding Cleric levels to the mix?

And I thought HackMaster was a parody game.

Cord the Seeker said...

I was pretty sure, way back when I first read that issue (the first TD I ever bought was #37) that it was a joke entry.