Lacking Natural Simplicity

Random musings on books, code, and tabletop games.

Early TSR; Early vs Later GURPS; D&D Dislike

Early History of TSR

There's a very interesting interview with Gary Gygax in issues nine and ten of OD&DITIES, a zine about Original D&D, with a lot of details about the internals of TSR during Gygax's tenure that make for fascinating reading for anyone interested in the corporate history of the makers of D&D. I think it's a wonderful example of how corporate America goes wrong.

Early GURPS vs. Later GURPS

Gurpsian, posting at, said that GURPS Swashbucklers (here actually refering to the original edition) defined GURPS for him when it was originally released 1 and that GURPS Vehicles defined for him the different road GURPS took in the later 1990s. I think that's an insightful observation. I've travelled a way down the road that GURPS Vehicles took and, although I admire it and CORPS VDS and others of their ilk, I've decide that at this point in my life I don't have any great interest in going any further along that road: if I want to design vehicles for a game the crunchiest I'll get is BESM, and Fudge, Risus, or Story Engine would probably do nicely for most things.

D&D Dislike

I went through a long period where I disliked D&D intensely; I think this is a fairly common reaction. Why does it happen? I think it is because “System Does Matter”: D&D imparts a particular tone or flavor to a game that uses it, a flavor which some find unsatisfactory, and those dissatisfied may over-react and reject the game entirely. For instance, in my case I was irritated firstly by the artificial distinction in AD&D between player characters and the other residents of the shared imaginary world, a distinction rooted in the different mechanical approaches to the two types of characters (PCs on the one hand and monsters and NPCs and later zero-level humans on the other), and secondly by coarse quantification of beings into classes and levels, both things which I think tend to restrict the range of actions and reactions that PCs take with regard to NPCs, forcing them into an unsatisfactory subset of possibilites by the artifacts of the D&D game mechanics. I entirely abandoned D&D (and Tunnels & Trolls as well) for a long time. This was probably an over-reaction, but it did prompt me to explore the alternatives, which was all to the good.

Eventually I got a grip and got over my D&D dislike. I've played (and enjoyed) D&D since; many of the things I disliked about D&D have been fixed in the most recent versions, in an admirable example of applied RPG engineering, but enough remain that I still prefer other games.

However, there is a valuable lesson in this: D&D, as market leader in this field, makes a set of assumptions that are implicitly accepted without any discussion, and in fact the vast majority of people playing D&D lack any vocabulary for analyzing and discussing those assumptions because D&D itself has no use for that vocabulary. Only those dissatisfied with those assumptions find that they need that vocabulary, and then they have to look outside D&D to find it. Due to the insular nature of the roleplaying hobby it may be that many of those dissatisfied players never find an that vocabulary and the alternatives and end up dropping out of the hobby. After all, how frustraing must it be to be dissatisfied with something and not even have a useful vocabulary to express that dissatisfaction?

It is for this reason that I think that the vocabulary and discussion that produced in its heyday and which the The Forge has produced more recently is invaluable: the people involved in those forums have taken the time to distill many of the most important terms and ideas from a vast but largely ephemeral body of folklore and present them in a lasting and organized fashion. Regardless of whether individual elements such as r.g.f.a's “Three-fold Model” or the Forge's “GNS” are useful, the terminology they've developed to talk about these things is invaluable: it lets you figure out what you want from roleplaying games.


Amazon lists an edition as being published in 1990; my copies of both the first and second editions lack a copyright date, as far as I can tell, but the first edition refers to the third edition of the GURPS Basic Set, which has a 1988 copyright..

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