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Friday, 23 March 2018

An Interview with Rob Kuntz (Part 2 of 3)

Here's part 2 of our interview with one of the Founding Fathers of D&D: Robert J. Kuntz!

See part I here!

See Part III here!

4. What did you think of the Old School Renaissance when it first started? What do you think of what it has become now?  Have you looked at or played many OSR games? Do you have any favorites?
In terms of the OSR culture, what do you think about it? Do you think it's too exclusive? Not exclusive enough? Too nostalgic? What do you think that people who weren't actually there most consistently get wrong about the "Old School" era and style?

A: You pose many questions regarding that so I will answer them all as one.  Where there isn't an answer for any specific, just consider it not important in my view.

First, I am an originator of that era (1972-1974) so I have no stream to look back upon to thereby qualify that I am this or that by modern day, removed from the source, standards ("old school" or not); and neither does that matter, in retrospect, as it is ALL about design to me now as it was then.

The ethic--call it what you will--is inherently wrapped up in design; and what is being positioned as a "school" is concerned with (or should be concerned with) this latter point alone.

The concern promoted and extolled by the originators was a DIY ethic of open design features, and this can be tracked all the way back to the original game and its accompanying products, letters and fan magazine quotes and articles, roughly 1974-1977 for the OD&D ethic.

So, nothing has changed in me or through me as a designer with the advent of such a modernized movement; and neither do I track it closely because designers either come together and compare notes or they do not.  And I guarantee that BitD I had no time, proclivity or want to have knowledge of every designer, their design attitudes, their products, published or not.  I learned of these through play-testing, or by buying a product and playing it, or through speaking with designers about design at conventions, the latter being more likely and preferable back then as face-to-face allowed designers to make cases as to why their designs differed from those preceding them.  Folks might also be aware that I created the Three Castles Award which awards for "best RPG design" and is presented at North Texas RPG Con every year.  During the time when I was also empaneled as a judge for TCA I was impressed with a couple of designs, like Stars Without Number and Jeff Dee's Cavemaster.  If I want to keep up on current market offerings or designer projects--which IMO do not change the latitude of entrenched RPG design too much these days--I read reviews or, better, listen to a few trusted voices.

A point, above, touches on "design differences" and was an all-important point of the original ethic as it is, again, wrapped up in the idea of design originality.  We (Gary, myself and Arneson) were not of the mode, so easily found then as now, that proclaimed we were in a contest to see who could be the most ordinary.  If that had been the design attitude back then D&D/RPG as we know it would not have been born. Capturing that design attitude and maintaining and progressing it--fully understanding what it means both personally and professionally--is very difficult if not foreign for many who class themselves as designers. So if there is a "wrong" from that perspective it would be in continuing to link your design attitude(s) to a narrow set of rules, especially when one considers the open form of the original ethic.  There's also an obverse side to this--the moral compunction--because some designers produce crap and only rise above that when they decide one day not to continue producing crap and move away from a group (or school) and set out on their own odyssey.  And here I come full circle back to Arneson who originated the now classical ethic but also maintained a "design differences" attitude.

5. Do you have anything to say about the current handling of D&D by Wizards of the Coast? What do you think about it? What do you think Gary Gygax would think about it?

A: WotC has positioned its D&D brand as a big ship in a smallish pond.  That it has a heritage much bigger than that in being the first company to produce an RPG is, IMO, a simplistic plan which sides with "first and foremost" (thus it sides with the market) and does not expand too much upon the design horizons so easily accessible to them.

This has been a problem since the earliest TSR days.  TSR attempted to "ride" the success of D&D with other RPG designs (their titles are extensive) but made the same mistake as their board game precursors by adhering to linear models that could be understood as having little difference in their base designs from one offering to the next.

This is a consequence, really, of either having created a sound and easily executed design in the first place or of complacency due to marketing strategies which ultimately forced TSR when upon this course to compete with itself through its different RPGs.  The idea of playing different games (in TSR's case, game 'genres') would have been suited best with different systems for each but that would have required possible market instability, and so TSR would not sidle away from what was currently working for their bottom line.

This left TSR with its most supported and best performing game, D&D; and now we fast forward to the present.  Now as then the independents and smaller companies are leading the charge in design differences for RPGs because their stakes are a "no loss" to them in the short or long term.  Because of this, and just as it befell TSR, WotC has sacrificed its RPG design preeminence for brand preeminence alone.

I believe that's a short-sighted philosophy, this TSR model of putting all of your eggs in one basket.  It also tends to hint at many things: entrenchment of R&D, marketing leading design, short-term profits and stability versus long term concerns, and others, all of which can be dumped into the category of "cyclical".  One could also call it the repeated "safe bet".

Their move to 5E is the first (though very late in coming) sign of displacing this linear model because the game can be scaled to suit the needs of player groups wanting different levels of complexity.  That realization is important since it either points to a market push-back due to lost revenues which caused a correction to occur; or, WotC got some design traction back after drifting astern for too many years (in fact both might be the case, with the correction being the 'design traction').  I have a "wait and see" attitude regarding which of the two, above, I choose to believe in in the long term.

In the short term all seems to be going well for them.  Gary Gygax would have said two things about it:  If you enjoy what you are playing, play it; and, I play my own designs.

6. Will your upcoming book on the History of D&D have any really big bombshells? Anything you think will really surprise people or that hasn't been revealed in the previous books on the history of the hobby released so far? 

There will be many surprises for some; there's a lot of different types and degrees of subject matter included in it:  design oriented, personal accounts, gamer-oriented accounts, stories and RPG and wargame reports (some with original maps and/or diagrams) never before accessed, and much more.  Its parts also include the greater span of the LGTSA's history and activities that sets the stage leading up to the advent of Arneson introducing the RPG concept to us in 1972.

Therein will be found a very detailed account of the first RPG game ever played by the LGTSA members and Gary's and the LGTSA's immediate and sustained reactions to this.

For another, there will be a very detailed account of Don Kaye.  Who is Don Kaye? Heads shake in wonderment.  He was Gary's childhood friend and the co-founder of TSR.  He was also my friend and gaming buddy; and his story will be told through the latter lens, as he died early in TSR's history and he, and his impacts, have been forgotten about ever since.

The book has way more fan and designer oriented slants and also, in my view, will be more humanistic than other books to date which are in many cases disfranchised from that perspective due to their authors' isolation in regard to the holistic matter:  I was there after all and am one of the few remaining people on the planet that can forward different and/or convergent points of view on the subjects I forward, clarify or expand upon.


Stay tuned for part 3 in a couple of days!


Currently Smoking: Neerup Billiard + Peterson Wild Atlantic

1 comment:

  1. Finally some info about Don Kaye. I will be awaiting in great anticipation.