Saturday, December 15, 2012

Interview with Jim Harland - Part Seven of Nine

Who are all these wackos, anyway?
From 1987

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.

>What you say about Gygax's low view of his consumers' intellectual capacity
>is also interesting in terms of another thing I've come to through
>Peterson's book, that is the link Gygax makes between 'pulp' fantasy
>fiction and D&D, leaving out explicit mention of Tolkien in his preface to
>OD&D (though Tolkien's characters were still very much in evidence in the
>text itself). I wonder if this slight shift was motivated in part by an
>attempt to avoid 'highbrow' (and in this I would included Tolkien)
>connotations of the game, preferring to root it in 'lowbrow' pulp fiction?
>This would seem to go against the earlier statements of Gygax (in Chainmail
>but also in the fanzines quoted by Peterson) that what he was interested in
>was producing Tolkien gaming.

    Gary's big problem was being sued by Prof. Tolkein. Back in those days, copyright and IP issues were generally ignored in favor of making a quick buck. Gary ran afoul ot the Burroughs Estate (ERB. Inc.) for coming out with a Barsoom-based game, as did Heritage Miniatures for making the miniatures. Gary had used a lot of Tolkein stuff in "Chainmail" for the 'fantasy flavor', and was really annoyed when most gamers hadn't even heard of Tolkein and then the Professor's lawyers got their grips on him. At that time, American publishers tried to exploit a supposed loophole in US copyright law that they said allowed them to publish books from the UK without bothering to get the author's permission (see also Don Wohlheim and Ace Publishing doing the first 'bootleg' copies of "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings", and then getting their tails sued off); SPI, for example, produced a massive board game based in Middle-earth and simulating the Battle of the Five Armies, but they also got caught and had to release the thing as the PRESTAGS series of board games.

    *** ALL *** so-called 'fantasy gaming' (really historical miniatures with 'funny hats on') back in those piratical times was based either in Middle-earth or Hyborea, and both miniatures companies and rules-writers worked very hard to cash in on the fantasy craze before the bubble burst. It did, and very quickly, as everybody in the industry found that they had really over-estimated the consumers, and really under-estimated the lawyers. Hence the shift in Gary's position over time; he wasn't stupid, and he found out the hard way that dumbing down the product sold more copies. And with him having four kids to feed, I don't blame him; he was really, really poor.

    OD&D works really well if one is as well-read and imaginative as Dave and Gary were. If one isn't, it's a hopeless mess. I still run into this, even today; I make a very strong effort to educate my players (and others) about the F/SF fiction that Phil read and enjoyed, and which inspired him to write his own fiction and create the game aspects of the world. I used to watch both Dave and Gary get very fustrated at the lack on literacy in the people that they ran games for at conventions, and both Phil and I ran into the very same problem in our games. I think everyone in the business would agree, in private of course, that nobody ever made any money in the game industry trying to sell 'highbrow' materials to people. "Lowbrow", on the other hand, sold like the proverbial hotcakes and this is still true today.

>I sincerely hope you do continue to write "To Serve the Petal Throne" -
>great stuff! Please find attached the typos I found, together with some
>places where I found repetitions of words distracting, and you might want
>to consider using synonyms or paraphrase. Please could you send this on to
>your daughter and/or put us in touch as you see fit.

    I am planning on continuing the project. And your comments and corections are very welcome, too, as what you are seeing is the absolute raw text as it comes off my fingers at the computer. I don't even pretend to be a very good typist, what with being both dyslexic and ambidexterous, so any help is welcome! I'll pass this along to Kerry, of course.


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