Saturday, December 15, 2012

Intereview with Jim Harland - Part Nine of Nine

The game lounge, during the Tsolyani New Year's party.
Note the tasteful flaming skull; nothing but the best, around here.

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.

>It's hard for me to imagine the taboo nature of fantasy literature as you
>describe it, though it is also something I've picked up from Peterson, from
>Burroughs calling himself "Normal Bean" through to half-apologetic adverts
>for Chainmail's fantasy supplements. I suppose Tolkien did a lot to make
>fantasy literature more respectable, as you suggest.

    Yes, he did, and both "Star Wars" and "Star Trek The Motion Picture" did a lot to 'mainstream' the genre. You just didn't mention reading F/SF, as it was really and truly considered 'that weird stuff' and very socially unacceptable. The so-called 'men's adventure magazines', those cheap pulps with scantily-clad ladies being menaced by various Evil Villians on the lurid covers, were much more respectable because reading them indicated to on-lookers that one was at least 'normal'. 'Naughty', maybe, but 'normal'.

    Have a look at the furor over the 'peplum' genre of sword and sandal movies, and you can get an idea of what those times were like.

>What you say about Barker, Arneson and Gygax "making things up" also makes
>a lot of sense. After all, fantasy is about imagination, and as I
>understand it what was revolutionary about OD&D and EPT was the possibility
>of exploring worlds of the imagination in a new way. I am also interested
>in the clamour you get from fans who want to know the "canonical" Tekumel
>universe according to its Creator, and their discomfiture when they
>discover that at least in part things were made up as you went along. I
>suppose this is a universal human flaw, to search for certainties amidst
>complex processes. I am glad that you are able to provide a richer picture
>of how things worked!

    I don't know if it's a human flaw, as you say; I think it has a lot more to do with the 'vertical integration' of the game industry. The model that TSR, Games Workshop, and a number of other companies adopted was that the gamer had to buy only the 'official' material from the 'official' outlets in order to be an 'official' player of the 'official' game and win the Big Prizes at the 'official' tournaments. TSR's Role-Playing Game Association led the way on this, and I think it got worse as the game hobby got more and more fragmented.

    The 'canonistas' frankly drive me crazy. I've had people tell me that something that Prof. Barker did in the 1970s 'isn't canon' because he wrote something in 1982 that doesn't match the 1974 object. I keep repeating over and over again that Phil wrote source materials as he needed them, and like any author who worked for over sixty years one has to 'average' the published materials and use what works in one's own games with one's own game group. I do it all the time, and I haven't had any problems over the past decade in my game group because I do a reasonably good job of presenting Phil's world as Phil saw it.

    And what really drives me nuts is that these people need to have to have An Expert tell them what to think or do, or otherwise they'll get it wrong. I've had running fights with a lot of these people for years, and with a lot of the OSR folks over how Gary and Dave ran their games; it amazes me to get the constant reaction of "What! They made it up?!? NOOOOO!!! Tell me that's not true!!!" from people who have come into RPG gaming since the 1990s and totally flip out when they find out about the very free-form and open-architecture natuere of gaming in the RPG and 'skirmish' genres in the middle-to-late 1970s and early 1980s. It reminds me of the way the 'grognard' miniatures gamers had to exactly replicate the actual historical conditions for a particular battle, and then play it out on the table exactly how the actual battle went.

    'Skirmish' miniatures games, which is where a lot of the RPG people came from in the early days (see the Braunsteins that Dave Wesley ran, for example) encouraged thinking and imagination, as well as creativity. That seems to have gotten lost, as most gamers these days rely on the manufacturers' 'fluff' to tell them what to do. It's amazing; I once saw one of the local gamers accused of cheating in a miniatures game because he refused a flank (later called locally The Tactic) and won the game. I keep hammering away on the notion that one can use their imagination, and 'make it up'.

    Heck, I 'fake it' all the time, and I can do it because I'm literate and know the material. I do all the number crunching for the rules in my head, and I don't take up table time with it and bore my players. They seem to like it, and enjoy the games. There may be hope yet...

>I've just started the last chapter of Playing at the World, and am enjoying
>every section and every footnote - thanks again for the recommendation (via
>your blog), it is *just* the book I was looking for!

    It *is* fun, isn't it? As I said on my blog, he's got it exactly, and there's something in the book to offend everyone! :)

>I'm also hoping to blog about my recent 'sources of D&D / Tekumel' reading

    Cool! I'll look forward to that!

[And I should note that Jim has this up on his blog; link to there over in the left-hand column, under 'harlandski'.]


  1. The absolute requirement to do things exactly the way Barker (Gary/Dave/Greg Stafford) wrote it, and not GMing because they don't feel up to the task, gives me nausea.

  2. Thanks for your comment!!! I agree with you - there is no 'right' or 'wrong' way to run an RPG, even with detailed world-settings. Heck, people need to just get out there and have some fun, and not worry about 'getting it right'!

    yours, chirine