Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Required Reading

"Appendix N" and the Roots of the Game.
What you bring to the table in terms of background is important to how you play the game. Our understanding of everything is shaped by what we have been exposed to. Each new experience is interpreted in light of all our past experiences. The creators of the world's first role-playing game (1974) shared a common background in the books they read and in the hobby of tabletop miniatures and board wargames. As it turns out, I shared much the same background. The game they created is a good fit for me. Its assumptions and tropes make sense and are relatable and I have enjoyed the game they created for four decades and more.
Nothing remains static, however, and the hobby has evolved since those early days when the three little brown books were the only game available. This has been true since the beginning. It was barely a year after publication of the world's first role-playing game when Flying Buffalo, Inc. started selling Ken St. Andre's Tunnels & Trolls and the folks at TSR released Empire of the Petal Throne - an adaptation of the little brown books for M.A.R. Barker's Tekumel setting.
In 2014 the 5th edition of the world's most popular FRP game was released, and since that time it too has been evolving. Arguably more people are playing than ever before and doing so in ways probably not imagined by the game's original creators. Online play is now the norm as the world-wide pandemic has made sitting around a table playing face-to-face problematic. Virtual tabletop software makes electronic dice rolls, colorful shared mapping and tactical display all very common elements of the game. Video streaming has created a market for watching others role-play as entertainment. The hobby has changed and will continue to do so.
Over the years I have enjoyed many conversations among fellow gamers about "what we are reading". A shared enthusiasm for science fiction and fantasy literature is one of the things which brought many of us into the hobby and gave us some common ground beyond our interest in role-playing, or "adventure gaming" as it was originally termed. The rise in popularity of The Lord Of The Rings novels coincided with that of the world's first role-playing game and the popularity of one seemed to "feed" off the other as fans talked among themselves.
Appendix N - the sources of inspiration author E. Gary Gygax attributes to influencing his thinking in creating the Advanced game (and by backward extension the little brown books and Chainmail's Fantasy Supplement) includes way more than the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Having read a number of the sources listed prior to publication of Appendix N in the Dungeon Masters Guide (1979), I delved into Appendix N with a passion almost as soon as I was introduced and have continued to seek out and enjoy reading the authors listed in that document to this day. It goes almost without saying that this has influenced my approach to FRP gaming. Awareness of this has also made me acutely cognoscente that many others playing the game today do not share a background in reading Appendix N sources.
Our view of what the game can and should be is colored by our knowledge and experiences outside of the game. Put simply, people who have little to no grounding in the Appendix N sources bring a much different mind-set to FRP than those who do. The common ground is just not present. I think this explains much of what I am observing in our hobby today.
It is the nature of things to change, to evolve and to often reflect the preferences of those involved with shaping the future. This post is not arguing otherwise. My thoughts today are merely an effort to better understand and enjoy our shared hobby experience and to remind myself that there has never been "one right way to play the game". If you and others at your table are having fun, then that is the right way for you to play the game. I am becoming increasingly aware that playing with others who share a love for the Appendix N authors is how I most enjoy FRP gaming.
Play the right game for you and with those who enjoy playing as you do.

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