Saturday, March 21, 2009

Combat at best is something to be done quickly so as to get on with the fun...

Going through some old White Dwarf magazines, I stumbled across this letter from Gary Gygax responding to a (quite critical) article about combat in D&D, written by Roger Musson. This argument about realism in D&D is an old one (clearly), and you'll probably recognize some of the themes, which are still being earnestly repeated today. I've reproduced Gary's letter in its entirety, with no changes to formatting. All emphasis is from the original. 

What strikes me is the comment quoted in the title of this post. While I recognize the danger of taking a specific, context-bound argument and treating it as if it's a "true" revelation about someone's overall opinions, I still find this comment on the place of combat in D&D worth quoting. 

White Dwarf #7, June/July 1978, Letters, p. 11

Dear WD,

I read the article Combat and Armour Class by Roger Musson with considerable dismay. It appears that the good gentleman does not know what D&D is all about.

Dungeons & Dragons is a fantasy game, of course, and this most reasonably indicates that statements regarding "realism" in a game must go out the window. (Quite frankly, there is no game with any true realism in it, or it would be real and not a game. Folks seeking realism should go and participate in whatever the game is based on, if possible, viz. if they are looking for realism in wargames they should enlist in the military service.) It got worse thereafter.

D&D is a HEROIC fantasy game. Who can slit Conan's throat at a blow? The examples are too numerous to mention, but the point is that the game is aimed at allowing participants to create a heroic character who is not subject to some fluke. Getting killed requires a lot of (mis-)play in most cases. How does the fighter escape the dragon's breath? The same way other superheroes do – bending a link of chain or slipping into an unnoticed crevasse in the rock he was chained to or whatever, i.e. the same way all other larger-than-life sword & sorcery heroes manage to avoid certain death. 

In summation, most players find that the game of seeking and gaining, with the ensuing increase in character capability is the thing. Combat at best is something to be done quickly so as to get on with the fun, and IT MUST NOT BE LOADED SO AS TO GIVE PLAYERS NO CHANCE TO ESCAPE IF IT IS GOING AGAINST THEM. Neither, of course, must it be a walkover. (And Conan is usually in a shirt of mail in battle!) Enough said.

Best Wishes,

E. Gary Gygax, Lake Geneva, USA.