Friday, April 2, 2010

Gygax on Religion in D&D: Oct-1982

Frequently I'm browsing through my Dragon Magazine archive CD for a certain article, and I come across an interesting bit from one of Gygax's Sorcerer's Scroll articles. Usually it's interesting because of how forcefully he contradicts something he wrote at another time. This one's from Dragon #66, p. 28 (October 1982). It begins with a negative response to someone who's criticized Deities & Demigods, then:

This capable and knowledgeable individual suggests that data on the deities is insufficient for usefulness in an AD&D™ campaign. That religion, being so much a part of our real history, must likewise play a part in your campaign. J. R. R. Tolkien did not agree, for he wrote many pages without mention of religion. Most of the heroic fantasy and swords & sorcery books written do not feature any particular religious zeal on the part of their protagonists. Consider Conan, Fafhrd and Grey Mouser, Harold Shea, and the list goes on and on. I do not agree that it needs be a significant part of the campaign. As AD&D™ games depend on participant input for their character, the detailing of deities and those who serve them is strictly a part of the role playing aspect of the game. Must all evil characters sound sinister? Does an elf have to be flighty? Need a ranger be lugubrious? Actually, the game system tells you what is necessary for a campaign, but how the campaign is role-played is strictly up to the DM and players.

Now, the two things I'll point out here are this. (1) This fundamentally contradicts the text he wrote in the Deities & Demigods book itself about what a core, indispensable element it was to AD&D. (He goes on in this article to say that he doesn't use the DDG in his own campaign, except in cases of transference to other worlds.) And (2) Note that his first supporting reference to the traditions of fantasy literature is -- as always! -- Tolkien. Only secondarily does he add in examples from Conan, Fafhrd, Harold Shea, etc.

As is often the case in these fundamentalist-text games, I'd be happy to claim allegiance to this position that "I do not agree that it [religion] needs be a significant part of the campaign", if it weren't for the awareness that you can find basically the exact opposite (regarding Clerics, etc.) in many other places in his writing.

7 comments:

  1. "That religion, being so much a part of our real history, must likewise play a part in your campaign."

    This statement implies to me that he is referring to "real world" religion as it appears in the real world.

    The rest of what he says muddies this as his central premise.

    Although, to be honest, Tolkien's heroes are actually quite religious in a non-religious way. And Conan, Fafhrad & the Mouser all deal with religious antagonists without themselves being overly religious (By Crom!).

    I suspect what he is actually saying is that the D&DG write-ups are just fodder for individual DMs and players to be inspired by for their own roleplaying purposes.

    But does that jive with what he said in D&DG? Maybe. It all depends on what you ignore and highlight.

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  2. Quotes like this are ones I enjoy, because they clearly show that, whatever else is going on -- and there's a lot going on here -- Gary didn't understand Tolkien very well.

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  3. Gygax: Dragon #66
    If, as a DM, you want
    someone else to do all of your creative thinking for you, by all
    means shun the DEITIES & DEMIGODS book. Creative folk
    who have a desire to employ some imagination in their gaming
    are directed to that useful work.

    and
    the DEITIES & DEMIGODS book is an excellent fact compendium from
    which the DM can build a pantheon


    He is saying DDG is incomplete by design to encourage DM creativity but he clearly recommends it highly.

    We are not privy to the original piece by the ex-TSR man Gygax dislikes but we can deduce that Gygax believes it is not a good idea to present religion in a form so complete that it would intrude on or distort a creative DMs campaign, something we can infer was being recommended by exTSR.

    With regard to Tolkien he is saying that the presentation of religion is unobtrusive (in lotr?) so that a DM would have to invent the rituals, the priests and their teachings for a middle earth campaign.

    I think you didn't read the article very carefully.

    The subject of religion in AD&D is a fascinating one however, perhaps the most interesting of all.

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  4. I agree that religion in D&D is potentially quite fascinating. In ancient times when I first started playing D&D ca. 1980, religion in-game was about as vanilla as possible (not even god names). But, over the years, I've found that it adds a lot of interest to a campaign setting. My current game has a fairly complex religious component to it which I feel serves to give greater depth to the setting. I love flipping through DDG but I would never use it again for my own game.

    I think this hits on a bigger issue that's been bugging me - the use of purchased products (or free downloads) to make a campaign. A lot of the OSR angst stems from that conflict, I think, at least indirectly. I will buy and read stuff others have written, but almost solely to get discrete ideas, never to flesh out my campaign world or to run as a full on adventure. There is nothing inherently wrong with doing that, especially if you lack the time or creativity, but if you want to "make the game your own" you have to make the game ON your own. (Disclaimer: I did use Fane of the Toad as a sublevel of my megadungeon, but I consider that the exception that proves the rule).

    Oh, and I agree with James that Gygax didn't understand Tolkien. I used to think he always downplayed LOTR as a mixture of legal protection and because he wanted to not come off as being derivative. I now believe that he just did not quite "get it." That is all for the better, if you ask me, as he focused on his pulp influences. Although I am the biggest Tolkienphile imaginable, I abhor the idea of running a Middle Earth campaign.

    (That's the most I've written for a blog comment in a long time and I am not even fired up - must be the spring weather).

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  5. "I'd be happy to claim allegiance to this position that 'I do not agree that it [religion] needs be a significant part of the campaign', if it weren't for the awareness that you can find basically the exact opposite (regarding Clerics, etc.) in many other places in his writing."

    People often revise their opinions over time.

    When in doubt, I'll put the most faith in the most recent quote.

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  6. That being said, it's your game. Pledge allegiance to whatever opinion is going to be most helpful to it.

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  7. "The subject of religion in AD&D is a fascinating one however, perhaps the most interesting of all."

    Tru dat IMO. The playing field of D&D is the borderlands between the real, the surreal, the unreal, and the unknown...

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