Saturday, December 15, 2012

Interview with Jim Harland - Part Eight of Nine

Yes, it's 'pulp; and it's 'sword and planet', too.


Jim Harland publishes the "harlandski" blog [Link in the left column for you] from Central Asia, and contacted me last month to ask me some questions. I'm reprinting the conversation for your amusement, with his cooperation...

Jim's questions are in >italics, and my replies are in the plain text. In about a week, I'll save these posts as pages so they are available for you.


>Thank you for drawing my attention to Gygax's Barsoom game. I was surprised
>to discover from Peterson that OD&D had a terrain type Desert (Mars) with
>Burrough's creatures to encounter - clearly Gygax couldn't quite let it
>drop!

    Nobody can; it's just too good for games. There are several companies that make not-Barsoom figures, and I regularly run 'pulp' scenarios with them.

>That makes sense. So would you say that OD&D was *really* influenced by
>Tolkien, but then Gygax brought in Conan and so on more or less for
>marketing purposes? Or do you think that the influence of pulp fantasy was
>real?

    Back in the day, there wasn't much of a distinction between 'serious' fantasy / science fiction and 'pulp'. It was all one big lump of stuff that you got in the main in plain brown paper wrappers and didn't tell anyone about. 'Naughty' magazines with grainy pictures of half-clad women were *** much *** more *** respectable then things like "Amazing" and "Thrilling Wonder Stories".

    Everybody started out with Tolkein; it went mass media in the US while I was in high school, and became respectable because it was a) British and b) written by a real Professor of English Literature. Everyything else was a 'niche' work, and so far under the radar as to be invisible. Middle-earth kicked open the door, and Conan and Cthullu soon followed - they have also now become a mass market genre and 'socially acceptable'.

    I do think the 'pulp' media was a real influence on RPGs as well as miniatures; heck, some guy named George told me back in 1976 that his movie was based entirely on the pulps, and it seemed to do quite well when it came out in 1977. Some space opera thing, as I recall, that looked like Kurusawa's "Hidden Fortress" with rayguns instead of katanas. Alec Guiness as Toshiro Mufune, too, which was nice... :) :) :)

> I've been enjoying educating myself over the past few weeks in some of the
>literature which may have influenced Gygax and Arneson, and have enjoyed
>reading Peterson's analysis of this. I'd be really interested to hear your
>opinion on the matter. One particular question I have is about whether
>Gygax and Arneson intended the information in the OD&D books to be used
>selectively (in the same way that the historical part of Chainmail must
>have been intended - you wouldn't field all the different historical types
>in one battle), or if they had some idea of creating a separate D&D
>'world'. It seems to me that over time D&D has developed its own world,
>being an amalgam of what has gone before, and frankly making little sense
>'as is'. I wonder if Gygax and Arneson instead intended people to use their
>books to create their own more logically consistent fantasy worlds, only
>taking what they needed to do that? Or am I over analysing? Having read
>something about the original Blackmoor campaign it seems to me that it was
>pretty light-hearted and people didn't worry too much about plausibility.

    Yes, they intended GMs to use the material as needed, and no, there was not any real intention of doing a 'D & D world'. The concept did exist until after the first few Gen Cons, when Gary and the TSR staff got hit with complaints about 'lack of consistency' in the various GM's worlds.

    Dave's Blackmoor canmpaign was indeed very light-hearted, and not at all serious. Gary's Greyhawk was more serious, as befitted somebody who took history seriously, and then of course you have Phil's Tekumel. The idea was that people were getting together, having fun, and socializing over the game table. One was, it was assumed, going to make up their own world or adapt something from the literature.

    The fundimetal assumption behind OD&D was that the GM was *literate*, was familiar with the fantsay genres of sword-and-planet, sword-and-sorcery, and 'pulp' adventures, and had an imagination. Sadly, TSR, as well as all of us individual GMs from that time and place, found out that none of the above was true in the gaming population (with exeptions, of course.) and to a great extent is still true. I've had a huge problem with gamers on my blog who don't understand that Gary, Dave, and Phil all 'made stuff up' as they went; gamers seem to think that all Great Game Authors arrived on the scene with everything thought out and pre-planned, and that all they have to do is get a copy of the One True Rules to be able to be the same as Gary or Dave.

    No. One has to do what you are doing, read the 'source material' like you are doing, and have fun. Phil originally intended to use 'real' Tekumel as a backdrop for telling stories about his world ala Robert E. Howard, and for him 'game' Tekumel was something he did on 'poker night with the boys' in his basement. Later Tekumel gamers have really freaked out over this, and I keep getting bombarded with questions about 'official Tekumel'. There is no such thing; there's Phil's novels, and his publications, all of which have a lot of input from his gamers, and that was *** Phil's Tekumel ***. (He encourgaed people to create their oen Tekumels, and a lot of gamers these days seem to have an issue with that.) What we had was a 'shared world' concept, where everyone in his basement contributed to the published product. The D&D world-settings evolved the same way, but give the larger number of people who were writing, you get something like five world settings in AD&D and the later editions.

    The original idea was to "make something up and have fun."

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