Finding D&D: Communion

It’s not a metaphor. I’m talking about D&D as religion, not merely “religious” as a colorful synonym for “passionate.” This is Finding D&D, Part 2, addressing TSR as orthodoxy and the resulting construction of culture and values.

It’s still just a draft, intended for review & critique and so on. I’ve already spotted a couple things, although this time I did manage to say Lake Geneva correctly. All comments and thoughts and extensions and reflections and objections are welcome.

Wondering what’s next? The plan is:

  • Part 3: Fundamentals – purism, rebellion, and reactionaries, including but not limited to the OSR
  • Part 4: Essentials – inclusiveness and tolerance and other forms of religious arrogance
  • Part 5: So What  – in which my opinions can at least be mentioned

Again, not a joke, not an accusation – this is about real religion, and about taking it seriously as a topic.


29 responses to “Finding D&D: Communion”

  1. The Only Path to Salvation

    Still listening through the video, but there's one thing that immediately came to my mind when you described how the DM was capable of (and institutionally expected to) ignoring the rules in favour of their own story because, after all, only the DM reads the rule-book.

    That absolutely reminded me of how, for much of the history of catholic church, the Bible was only allowed to be written and read in Latin so the priests, usually the only ones capable of understanding it, were the only way of accessing the holy texts. Essentially establishing a monopoly on the knowledge of the doctrine and, consequentially, the path to God and Salvation. Or, in D&D's case, on the rules and story of the game.

    Really interesting stuff.

    • I agree, and will amplify

      I agree, and will amplify your point with the common practice even in those religions which do not keep their texts in an uncommon or antiquated language, only designated institutionally-trained individuals are considered to be able to talk about the text, to "read it right."

      I can't help but point to a lot of twists and turns in the religious history, specifically that the Orthodox Catholic Communion permitted regions to translate the Bible locally, e.g. Russian Orthodox, et cetera, and that the Vulgate was one example. Only much later was Latin considered exotic. But after that point, and definitely after Roman Catholicism broke away from Orthodox Catholic Communion in the late 1000s, the policy you describe was instituted so forcefully that it's still practically definitive that a practicing Roman Catholic has very little idea of what's "in the Bible."

    • I’ll add that in addition to only certain people being “allowed” to read or interpret the text, there is also always a large majority who *could* but simply choose not to bother.

  2. I love it. Thank you for this

    Great video!

    When the hobby is viewed this way its very eye opening and sort of pulls the curtain back. I love it.

    Would you consider games like Dungeon World, D&D Syncretism?

    • Jerry! mmm-mwah! I’m really

      Jerry! mmm-mwah! I'm really glad you like it.

      Dungeon World, Torchbearer, 13th Age, and several others all get the treatment in my 4th planned presentation. It ties into the ongoing practice of d20 in various forms, and it also reaches all the way back to the way that early RuneQuest had to come up with a "kill monsters, take their treasures" location in Glorantha (the Big Rubble) for no reason, or that the first sourcebook for GURPS carefully demonstrated that you could play D&D with it. I consider them "essentialists," from the concept that there's a discernible thread or value or practice through the history of religion, which you can perceive if you put aside local trappings and look for the "essence." Who always somehow seems to be You Know Who. Hinduism's awesome, you know? Those people are like, rilly spiritual. And this guy in it, Vishnu? He's basically Jesus!

      I'll be doing fundamentalism first, though, for the third installment. It'll be all the more hard-core because it's not insulting.

  3. Revisions and reviewing notes

    Much as I like the rough-cut feel of these videos, they are hardly up to Cosmos standards of slickness, or even those of your basic blogerriffic veteran. When and if I make new ones, I hope to preserve some of the spontaneity. The main reason – more than just production value – is that I do find small aggravating details of omission or phrasing. Here's my current list for this one.

    I need to tag entertainment as the key factor in the RPGA-based transition from "kill your way through" to "just have fun, the DM will make it happen." Do not bullshit me about so-called sandbox play. This is transitive storytelling with minor audience participation; it is the flat-out birth of the Impossible Thing Before Breakfast, whose only virtue is that the DM may be plain fun to spend time with. I included the R series as a picture, but should have tagged them as the real "you are here to run through this saga of mine and it will be awesome" signpost. Reptile God and the N series in general is the perfect example of how modules could be packaged toward this end from scratch, but the R series is from just before then, when the convention modules themselves stopped being for tournaments and thus no longer had to be converted like the A series was.

    Some time around minute 14, I say "Forgotten Realms" when I meant "Dragonlance." It's when I'm talking about the sanitizing that occurred in the very early 1980s.

    The Moldvay/Cook series needs more attention, at least a short paragraph characterizing it. You can't get to Mentzer directly from Holmes, and B/X, as it's called, also seems to have penetrated far into the decentralized real-people real-play world of the time, wherever the RPGA and full-spectrum product distribution weren't reaching. Its primary features include getting leveled up past 3rd (obviously), and expanding play to be in a setting with dungeons in it, not a dungeon with an abstract town nearby. Its modules are a whole topic of their own in terms of training for play, The Lost City, Palace of the Silver Princess, et cetera – but that topic is just a subset of my general points about sanitizing and the repurposing of play, so I have to resist.

    • Hey – did you know that the

      Hey – did you know that the famous "race as a class" from that line of games is not in the Holmes version? You can mis-read some of its phrasing to reach that conclusion, which is apparently what happened in Moldvay and was carried on from there. But if you go back and read the Holmes section carefully, without that conclusion already embedded in your mind, you can see that's not actually what it says.

      Overall, I should have hit the "magic words" harder: official, approved for use with, compatibility, and maybe a couple of others. I need to nail down the difference between ordinary branding-speak, in which TSR's usage of these terms would be no different from any others, vs. religious doctrine, which is better understood as a co-option of something cultural into a controlled institution, than merely promotional copy. Consider why putting "approved for use with Rolemaster" on the cover of someone's adventure module would be puzzling, or at most, just a bit of branding that wouldn't make much sense, because why not just freelance it to Iron Crown if you were going to do that.

    • What about computer gaming,
      What about computer gaming, and interactive fiction in general? By which I mean, on paper as well as electronic. It seems to me the historical interweaving is strong, especially in this model you’re highlighting, and getting stronger still during the 80s and 90s. “Transitive storytelling with minor audience participation” could very well be the description of Adventure and all the other text adventures that followed. Also the Choose Your Own Adventure book series, which is said to be heavily influenced by those computer games. And, of course, Fighting Fantasy, which I guess went back to the RPG roots. The 90s brought us the graphic adventures and the plethora of computer and console RPGs… I find it interesting that the entities which include randomizing tools are seen as closer to games, and the ones who don’t, closer to literature.

      Regarding CYOA, it was created by two people who later fell apart and each has their own origin story for the franchise. None of them recognize the obvious influence from computer games. Edward Packard claims he got the idea from telling bedtime stories to his children, who would tell him what the protagonists should do next. If you pressed him a bit, he would talk about Borges’ Garden Of Forking Paths. R. A. Montgomery, on the other hand, claims he got the idea while training with (and perhaps programming?) flight simulators, serving in the Air Force. Again, a “more literary” vs a “more gamey” origin story, nothing about audience as authors.

      What I mean is, what if RPG publishing was influenced by the model of these other phenomenons? It seems it was the heyday of “transitive storytelling with minor audience participation” across multiple media.

    • I’m not sure what you mean by

      I'm not sure what you mean by "what about" … perhaps that I should have mentioned it? Maybe so. I did say that the larger scope of media was involved (or enclosed what I was talking about), but out of my sphere of attention. I'm happy to leave that level of analysis to others.

      The only quibble I have with anything you said concerns influence on role-playing by the computer games. I suggest the influence went at least as strongly, perhaps more, in the other direction. Those tournament tables in 1976 were practically test-operations for what people would be enthusiastically coding as soon as they got home.

    • That’s what I’m trying to say
      That’s what I’m trying to say! What if during the 80s, the arrow of influence went in the opposite direction? RPGs influencing videogames in the 70s, videogames influencing RPGs in the 80s. RPGs giving playstuff, gameystuff, systemstuff; videogames giving “this is how you make money with this” stuff.

    • (perhaps this is where you
      (perhaps this is where you should stop yourself from answering, and instead tell me, “sign up for a paid seminar and we’ll discuss it”?)

    • … is it rude to say, “I don

      … is it rude to say, "I don't care?" Because I don't, at least not in terms of being able to respond to what-about and what-if as if they were triggers for essays I'm dying to write.

      It would interesting to see someone else's analysis of the larger hobby, even cultural picture of the times. It would be very interesting to see their views on how "story" relates to consumerism, and how participation becomes a commodity rather than co-production.

      I've been known to touch on those matters, but mainly from the inside-out, not the larger picture for which my experiences are internal and very small examples. The person who addresses that level of analysis will have to be someone else.

    • (I’ve only now come across
      (I’ve only now come across this! I wish there was a way to be notified when a new comment is up.)

      You did come off a bit mean, until I reread our previous comments. I’m still kind of perplexed – where are your boundaries? I feel like I’m bothering you with “videogamey” stuff – but you do talk about literature, and have made your point about RPGs influencing videogames before. I’m switching to Spanish to be super clear in the following: ¿Cuál es el recorte que estás haciendo? Meaning, how are you framing this, in the academic sense? Why can Dragonlance novels enter the picture, but not Choose Your Own Adventure books and mistery solving videogames? (Wait, is it a matter of personal familiarity?)

      At least this time around I understood you know a bigger picture is there and could be interesting to investigate, but you’re not here to do this. Allright.

      (But it’s so damn fucking interesting, it hurts, man. When you offhandedly say stuff like “participation became a comoddity” I want to know more so bad. It’s like when you and Vincent were talking about status anxiety and extraction, I asked what did you guys mean by extraction and you told me it was just that, the dictionary definition. I’m halfway between believing these are half baked concepts that someone else is going to develop some day, and that it’s just some standard University book you guys have read and I haven’t. Maybe there’s a third option like there’s a book out there neither of us has read but you’re more familiar with its concepts or similar authors, like when I mentioned Bourdieu in an email I sent you. But I swear to God it’s so frustrating to me when you just wave in the direction of concepts I’m dying to study. It’s never clear to me whether you could drop a reference to a book and how much do you actually know. It’s really easy to feel like you know all about this but are simply bored to discuss it. I’m like, just fucking tell me. At least point me in the direction of another author. But I get that what it feels like just simply isn’t what is going on.)

    • Hi Santiago. You’re missing

      Hi Santiago. You're missing my point. I am not shutting down or putting up a boundary to these topics. I'm saying I do not have the time or angle-of-view to be the person to do it, especially not as a response to "what about." My only answer to that is "yes, and please investigate because you are clearly the one who is most motivated." Just because I do not care as much as you do, is no reason for you not to do it.

      Regarding reading and referencing, I do not reference anything I haven't read, or am reading, or about to read, here or at either blog. The ones I'm about to read are a small minority, always catching up but always replaced by new titles. When it comes to scholarly work I don't use online summaries and I don't skim. I admit I'm scrambling regarding so many game titles for recent videos, but I have read almost all, and played almost all of those.

      I think I state clearly when my reading is too limited (e.g. my Legion of Superheroes posts) or a topic is past my breadth of education. I'm pretty sure you're posting in frustration – see the above misunderstanding – and that you're not implying that I am faking knowledge of topics.

      I appreciate your frustration when I reference things and don't run them down in detail for everyone, but with respect, you are the one who is currently in graduate school and have the better resources in literature and people available to you, as well as the motivation and justification. I can suggest this: summarize the interests you're talking about and we can do a seminar – in fact, you should lead it. There are several participants here and at Comics Madness who are scary culture-sociology academics whom I might convince to attend.

    • (I’ll respond properly to
      (I’ll respond properly to this later, but just to clear something right away: You’re right that I’m not implying you fake knowing something you don’t. The fantasy I’m talking about, the paranoid fantasy I slip in and I’m trying to slip out of, is the opposite: that you know something and are not telling me. I… guess I could see how one could turn into the other? If I were to say “But if you really don’t know why are you acting like you do”. But that would be like a guy telling a girl she has to kiss him because he bought her a drink. Gross.)

    • Here’s my response: All right

      Here's my response: All right, yes, please, let's do that! I'm so excited about it that I'm kind of scared. How does exactly one prepare a one-shot seminar that isn't a class? I'm used to giving classes to people about something I know, or helping them find out what they want to write. I'm not so sure how to go about inviting people to a space and asking them "What do you think X is all about" – a more workshoppy, let's-all-research-together thing, but I'm ready and willing to give it a shot. (Well… I do have experience, I have to say, with our local Book Club centered solely on comics.) I've started to summarize my interests, and I think I'll go by the criteria of "stuff I can't just Google and find out what they are" ("transitive storytelling" for instance). If I imitate your set up for seminars, I'd go about it like this:

      • Everybody, bring an example of an entity that combines story/fiction and gameplay, from 1970 to 1989. No RPG game manuals – only modules ("adventures", "scenarios", etc). Your Reptile God would be fine, Ron, and also the ones I know from Toon RPG, like The Better Housetrap (dungeon-y) and Spaced Saps (railroad-y). Other, non-RPG entities are encouraged: Choose Your Own Adventure-style books like Castle Of Frome (where there's only one ending and you go in circles inside a castle trying to escape), text adventures like Hitchiker's Guide To The Galazy, graphic adventures like Maniac Mansion, solo RPG adventures like Tunnels & Trolls' Buffalo Castle (which Google tells me was the first gamebook-like entity), Fighting Fantasy books, the videogame Rogue, you name it.
      • We check whether the story/structure presented therein, if any, is branching or linear (or something else), and whether there are randomizing qualities included.
      • We try to check how much of a commercial publication it is. (But how?)
      • We see where does it fall on a fictitious line-divide, a given year which I'd have to define further, but let's say 1983.
      • We see if there's any discernible pattern or not, crossing our fingers that we're not just borking it from the start with this set up and priming ourselves to see a pattern that is not there.


      I kinda hope it turns out that branching narratives are emphasized where randomizing tools aren't used, but who knows.

      What do you think, Ron? Am I on the right track towards this, or veering off course? Is this spoilery, should I have sent you a private e-mail instead? I appreciate any help.

      And thank you.

  4. Finally getting to this …

    It's hard to express just how important and accurate this all feels to my experience of a hobby that's mattered to me (in varying degrees) across more than four decades of life, and yet also how I don't feel like my personal understanding/attitude quite fits. Rather than baptized-not-practicing, maybe I'm grew-up-around-but-never-joined? If so, then I think I know the exact moment I walked away from the religion-part.

    So, I played a bunch of D&D in junior high/high school. Where yes, "play D&D" meant "play anything RPGish". I can see the religious connection there, but I do want to add that there's also a practical "there's no good word for this thing we do" ("Adventure gaming" somehow didn't work, roleplay had and has so many other contexts) aspect – not to say that wipes-out the religion-connection. But back to me – I played a bunch, co-founded a D&D club at my high school, went out to a Gen Con at UW-Parkside with the other D&D club founder (his mom paid our way, believing it’d look good on our college applications), and attended another con or two (An Origins? Gaming at Sci-Fi cons? Local (to NYC, probably) game cons vanished from memory? I’m not sure, but I don’t *think* I got T&T mail-order or at a local store …). When the RPGA was announced, I was excited. OF COURSE I joined – founding member! And there was going to be a Gen Con East, in Cherry Hill, NJ. I could get a summer job, save some money, and me and some friends from the D&D club could drive to Cherry Hill!

    I remember the convention overall as a great experience, but the RPGA event … not so much. The GM for our group was a “name” – Jim Ward? Mr. RPGA Frank Mentzer himself? I’m not sure. The start of the adventure was a descent down a stairway to a large hallway. This turns out to be a giant illusion/trap, an initial set-piece encounter with an illusory devil. As far as I can tell, you HAD to trigger this (so that all groups can be evaluated “equally”? Because it was an important story-experience component? Not sure.) My friend(s? Not sure if one or more of us were in the same group) and I checked with the other players and opened by saying something like “we move down the corridor with the thief in the lead, checking for traps.” The DM responded with an elaborate “Where do you look? There? (rattle rattle) OK, no traps. Where next? (rattle rattle) …” This was going to be tedious and take forever (and your tournament score was based partly on how far you got). So we just marched on … sprang the trap … and my character was soon paralyzed. The party never found the cache of Cure Paralysis potions, so I did nothing for the rest of session.

    Somehow, I qualified to move on to the next round (sympathy for my Paralysis?), but I didn’t go. I played something else instead. When confronted with “THIS is the way you do it!”, I said “um, that’s not how we’ve been doing it in high school– not what I remembered from back last year (or two?) at UW-Parkside – not how we played the G/D series, or any Judge’s Guild module – and not a lot of fun, actually.” Fair or not, maybe I just decided this religion was not for me. And for almost a decade after, anywhere I looked I found something like the religion rather than the hobby activity I enjoyed so much. I really just consider myself lucky to eventually find people who did RPGs like I wanted.

    I already mentioned that “Basic” Holmes/etc. just didn’t mean anything to me. The same for most post G/D modules (I bought/read the first Dragonlance, but never even tried to run/play it), new-cover 1st edition and anything 2nd edition – any encounters/activity with the hobby I had was not involved with them at all. So I came to 3rd edition without those “holy" (or not) texts as part of my experience.

    I think there’re a good number of gamers who looked outside TSR/D&D in that 2nd edition era. Some folks, of course, just stuck with what they already had, but … can I say that as 2nd edition Catholicism tried-to reign, not-TSR “playing D&D” (in the RPGing anything sense) Protestantism spawned many variations? Some of which really did at least try to ignore D&D? I can’t make a case for that as a phenomena as HUGE as Protestantism, but it seems to fit some folks I know, who kept roleplaying neither with TSR-Orthodox-D&D nor White Wolf “Islam” (well, maybe a dabble here or there). That probably requires "RPGing as religion" rather than just D&D, which is not the claim you're making, so … maybe not, maybe breaking from the religion is all we should say.

    But this helps solidify my understanding of myself-as-roleplayer AROUND the D&D religion, but not really WITHIN it. Which is kinda cool to consider.

    • I will accept “important and

      I will accept “important and accurate” with pleasure and thanks.

      Rather than baptized-not-practicing, maybe I'm grew-up-around-but-never-joined? If so, then I think I know the exact moment I walked away from the religion-part.

      … heh … “give me a child and he is mine forever …” More seriously, I know it is very irritating to people who were active in an institutional religion as kids, for others to say, “oh, so you are Catholic,” (or whatever, especially the generic “Christian”), and even worse, “That explains ‘it.’” Putting the genuinely insulting and objectifying use of phrasing like that aside, I think it’s valuable to think of the most cultural and diffuse level of religion, in which one “swims” regardless of personal belief and practice. Meaningful context, such that not believing and not practicing are still resonant, as opposed to irrelevant.

      I can’t help but look at the early RPGA history you describe and find it hard to identify as merely “grew-up-around.” But ear-punching and tagging individual persons isn’t my goal. I only bring it up because this and your other comments in this series seem to be hunting for some kind of self-label.

      I just recorded the fourth in the series which I think will be relevant to your thoughts about “not really in it.” There is a very developed tradition of semi-religion-but-not-really-but-yes-actually Christian groups and endeavors in the U.S., which were surprisingly helpful in looking at the 1990s and later.

    • Wait, I’m going to amend that

      Wait, I'm going to amend that. A lot.

      No one who was part of genuine practice and even early community-building for an activity that becomes institutionalized, can discuss how they relate to it with anyone for whom the insitution is the norm. The language and reference points simply don't exist. My entire comics blog grapples with this relative to Marvel Comics. My history with it corresponds mostly to modern-day perception that it was "back in those days, before it got its act together," thus both antiquated and irrelevant. Which would be OK on its face, except that the origins of much-loved and much-discussed content are generally forgotten and mythologized into counter-factual nonsense. When it comes to Marvel content, there's no talking to anyone. I get gaslighted by haters and by devoted followers alike, and at best, prompt curiosity.

      So that's what you seem to be describing to me. No one could question your presence and contact with first/early generation D&D and cultural, community, earliest-RPGA activity. But trying to discuss that now, or rather, in my part, talking about how that folk activity, and for many a folk faith, became an insitutional religion, is looking backward. One can't assign that church identity to you even though you participated in the laying-down of the cornerstone of that very church.

      Does that make better sense?

    • Total sense

      Ron, that entirely makes sense – even that first part, substantially. Trying to figure out my own positioning relative to the religion-aspects of D&D is interesting to ME, but a) I have no STRONG conclusion (at least yet), and b) I'm not sure it really connects to your overall points, although we'll see what part 4 brings.

      But that gap between early practice* and institution-as-norm … I think that's one of the important things this viewed-as-religion approach helps illuminate. I suspect the inability-to-discuss goes both ways. So many things about D&D culture – the stress around edition wars, especially – just kinda bounce off me. I can't really take D&D-as-institution seriously, even though I remember a longing for "official" and "compatible" quite clearly.

      *Perhaps "innocent practice"? Early is the easiest way to avoid the institution, but there are probably other paths.

    • I’ll add that “grew-up around

      I'll add that "grew-up around" certainly won't be a "merely" for me, no matter what.

  5. Sigh, I need subtitles…

    Hi Ron! I can't quite "hear" clearly a word you use a couple of times, the first time around 36' 39" ("even those that are considered very very good are considered sort of, you know, xxxxxxxxxx…  so, you know, the Chaosium…" and the second time around 37' 06" ("These things, are considered xxxxxxxx")

    • Have you tried the automatic
      Have you tried the automatic YouTube captions? I use those, they’re very good

    • Thanks, Santiago!  It seems

      Thanks, Santiago!  It seems that the word was "Beta"…

  6. One image that say a thousand words

    41' 48" you say "some of the worst product.." and right on cue, the first of the Avatar Trilogy modules image.  The shittiest modules ever.  PERFECT product placement.

    I know that you are not using the religion analogy to insult people, but well…  I do. I started using it that way (without all the nuances you are using here) in 90s, when I first went online to talk about rpgs, and i found myself surrounded by what did look like as a horde of religious fanatics. People who declared that AD&D was the best rpg ever without even reading another one (most of them acted like if reading another rpg was a sin that could land them in hell for all eternity). People sent into a mindless rage by any sort of critique of the sacred texts. And, exactly as with a lot of catholics, when you cited them some part of the sacred books, you would quickly discover that they had never read most of the text they considered sacred…

    • I checked out that series on

      I checked out that series on your (un-) recommendation. My God, preserve us.

      I remember those days as well. De-institutionalizing TSR did have a salutary effect.

  7. The Wheel of Time

    So this struck me as an interesting moment, that may not be entirely relevant to the whole picture and the discussion of which can go elsewhere if needed.  Also, full disclosure I am a track director for JordanCon, have met the author's widow and members of his Team. And I am involved peripherally with a very passionate WoT fan base, mostly as missionary trying to get them to see science fiction as something worthy of reading and talking about lol. I just wanted to be up front about that.

    My impression of the WoT as a concept and idea and then its execution has never struck me as particularly D&D or exclusively so. I tend to think of Robert Jordan as a quilter who wrote what is in many ways an American fantasy with ideas stictched together from many cultures and ideas, some of them pure SF.  It certainly solidified the fantasy series as default mode that held for twenty years and only recently is feeling some push back.

    Are you saying that WoT solidified a D&D inluenced style of fantasy? I had never considered that work to be one of the examples of that, which I agree do definitely exist and do so largely in a space that does not examine the idea to its depths. I am not putting you on the spot, just merely curious why you draw that conclusion.

    • Hi, and thanks for weighing

      Hi, and thanks for weighing in on this.

      I don’t think of The Wheel of Time as necessarily Dungeons & Dragons, but rather as the late-stage realized expression of a synthesis – of fantasy gaming and fantasy prose fiction. That synthesis included many fantasy games in which D&D was not only well-represented, but also set the standards for how the other games’ material would be deemed “fantasy.” So I’m not saying The Wheel of Time or necessarily any other work of this period was D&D in the sense of representing that specific game; I’m saying it’s the kind of fantasy in which the prose reflects standards and practices of fantasy role-playing (specific/associated game or not), and in which fantasy role-playing game design reflected the kind of fantasy in those works. It’s not “this causes the other” any more by that point, there’s just an “is” for the term fantasy that didn’t exist before.

      But there’s a lot going on there. Since The Sword of Shannara, book publishers had realized they could skin Tolkien indefinitely as long as they dressed it up just a little, and that a given novel or trilogy could become a franchise indefinitely too – as novels became trilogies, trilogies became tetralogies, and so on. Burroughs and Howard pastiche had discovered that a few years before (Lin Carter, L. Sprague deCamp over here, John Norman’s Gor, John Jakes’ Brak) but now the epic/elf fantasy was catching up. None of that had much to do with gaming, except insofar as the young-author cultures overlapped and maybe that the publishers realized there was a horde of naïve scribblers who would produce this stuff unto eternity given a chance.

      It’s almost automatic therefore to ask which game goes with which book, irresistible even. If anyone’s interested, and allowing for being completely wrong, if there’s any specific game content I might identify in the little I read of the first Wheel of Time book, it’s RuneQuest; Will and Emma Shetterly’s Liavek books strike me as Fantasy Hero … well, wait – someone’s going to ask me about Thieves’ World now, aren’t they. My take is that Thieves’ World is based less on role-playing than on one role-player/author trying to convince a bunch of rather skeptical other, emphatically non-role-playing authors (except maybe Zelazny) that it’s a thing, not very successfully either.

      But saying this most seriously, to ask “which game is getting translated into that book” is not the right question and diverts the topic away from its value. As I tried to say initially, there was more going on, and RPG-fantasy was coalescing on its own to be “D&D” no matter what, at the same time that fantasy fiction was undergoing massive economic and editorial and generational transformation, no matter what. They did feed into one another strongly, with role-playing definitely the junior partner, but the causality varies in both intensity and in direction.

      Again, then, I identify The Wheel of Time as a rather perfect cultural moment with distinct steps leading to it. From gaming, those steps certainly began with Dragonlance and continued with The Forgotten Realms. From the fantasy author culture, one could identify Thieves’ World as a first explicit attempt, then turn to less explicit but more definite steps or participants with role-playing savvy authors Stephen Brust, the Shetterlys, Raymond Feist, David Eddings, P. C. Hodgell, and Dennis McKiernan.

      One of the key points regarding The Wheel of Time concerns Robert Jordan as a perceived ideal – I know nothing of, and am not speaking of, the person – for aspiring fantasy authors and aspiring ambitious DM/GMs, who could now think of those roles as synonymous.

      Does that make sense or help to get at what you’re observing, or inquiring?

    • Yep

      Yes and it does make a lot of sense. The last paragraph is especially poignant I think as people tended to mythologize Robert Jordan even before his passing and much more since.  You could also look at Moorcock's interesting relationship with rpgs and any affects from the New Wave; the fetishizing of Elric, and the entire concept of the Appendix N in terms of turning on or influencing people to the things that supposedly turned on or influenced the people who designed D&D. And the very real sense that the revival of Lovecraft is directly tied to the popularity of Call of Cthulhu.

      Looking at D&D as a religion, do we see the seeds of that religion within the venn diagdram of Fantasy Readers and War Gamers? Is there a role to be assigned, however unwillingly and unwittingly to the variois Conans, Middle Earth, the Eternal Champion, and lets throw in Three Hearts and Three Lions just for completionist sake.  Maybe off topic, maybe missing the point, but interesting questions in my head. 

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