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Subject: "Playing at the World", a history of wargames and D&D. Interview with the author rss

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Dr Caligari
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There is a new book out (which I have not read yet), "Playing at the World: A History of Simulating Wars, People and Fantastic Adventures from Chess to Role-Playing Games" by one Jon Peterson. Apparently a very well researched and detailed history of wargames and role-playing games.

Wired magazine interviewed author Jon Peterson and you can read it here:

http://www.wired.com/geekdad/2012/09/new-d-d-history-book/
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It looks really interesting. I've ordered a copy (oddly, cheaper from Amazon.ca than Amazon.com, which is a nice change).
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Dave Terhune
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This is a blatant example of frivolous geek gold spending.
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He's signing copies of it for one of the reward levels for the D&D documentary on Kickstarter.
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Björn Hansson
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Got the feeling from the interview that it is focused on RPGs.
 
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Darrell Hanning
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OK, so why does the image excerpt make me think the author equates wargames with Australopithecus, and RPGs with Homo Sapiens?

I see the potential for a serious disagreement between him and me.
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An interesting quote from the interview:

Peterson: The key thread appears in the work of the younger Reiswitz, in the 1820s. He first introduced to wargaming two separate but intertwined components: referees and dice.

Reiswitz developed a game where verbal orders took the place of movements on a board, where a referee interpreted statements of intention from the players and converted them into results in the game world. This feedback loop, where the referee explains the state of the world and players then describe the actions they would like to attempt, is the fundamental innovation that underlies role-playing games. It bounced across languages and continents until it resurfaced in America in the work of Totten in the 1880s, which Twin Cities gamers later rediscovered and made part of their games in the late 1960s.

This achievement alone would be sufficient to earn a place in the pantheon of gaming gods, but the younger Reiswitz was also the first to grasp how statistics and probability could be combined to let dice resolve fictional events in a game. At his day job at the artillery ranges, he learned the differences in likelihood of striking targets with firearms at different ranges, and from those statistical models, he was able to assign a probability that die throws could resolve as game events. I believe this is where the fundamental principle of simulation was invented, and it was something then unprecedented in intellectual history. He also grasped that dice were a critical enabler for the referee as well, because dice are impartial: an omnipotent referee could always show an unconscious bias towards participants in the game, but dice kept the referee honest.

These two innovations walked hand in hand through the centuries right up to your table top.
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DarrellKH wrote:
OK, so why does the image excerpt make me think the author equates wargames with Australopithecus, and RPGs with Homo Sapiens?

I see the potential for a serious disagreement between him and me.

Yeah! I say we go grab our clubs, enter into his ZOC, and beat the ... oh, uh, wait. Ugh.
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Isaac Citrom
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I looked at the table of contents. It is a book about the history of RPG. The history of wargames is addressed only inasmuch as a precursor to RPG.

When I first read 700+ pages I thought to myself, 'no way a publisher would agree to finance that.' I was not surprised to see that he finally self-published.

I certanly like his scholarly and in-depth approach. I think Peterson adds to the World's body of knowledge. However, I'm not that interested in the topic to read several pages on the nascency of Armour Class, though Im sure there are plenty of people who are.
.
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Darrell Hanning
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DaveyJJ wrote:
DarrellKH wrote:
OK, so why does the image excerpt make me think the author equates wargames with Australopithecus, and RPGs with Homo Sapiens?

I see the potential for a serious disagreement between him and me.

Yeah! I say we go grab our clubs, enter into his ZOC, and beat the ... oh, uh, wait. Ugh.


I'll take my A-10C against his troll any frigging day of the week. Let's see what he makes of a lunch of 20mm cannon fire at 6000 rounds per minute.

Suddenly, I have insane thoughts of making a sequel to SPI's Sorcerer ...
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Jon Peterson
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While I'd agree that D&D is the thread that ties the book together, I wouldn't say that the history of wargames is only addressed in as much as wargames are precursors to RPGs. Anyway, D&D was as much a wargame as an RPG, when it first came out.

I'd say that of the five chapters and epilogue, the first half of Chapter One is about wargaming, mostly introductory to board and miniature wargaming, up to the beginning of fantasy gaming. Chapter Two has little to do with wargaming. Chapter Three contains a one-hundred page self-contained history of wargames (from around pg200-300), which I think approaches the 18th and 19th century sources in far greater detail than any previous book you'll see. A source like Perla, say, had never seen Reiswitz or Hellwig or any of the other source described here. Chapter Four covers some political wargaming, up to and including Diplomacy, and then postal Diplomacy. Chapter Five and the Epilogue don't say much about wargames. On balance, I'd say it's maybe a quarter of the book.

But yeah, no one would blame you for skipping the details about how armor class or saving throws - even if Tony Bath did invent them.
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Welcome to BGG Jon, hope to see you around the neighborhoods.
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Thank you Andre - I just ordered a copy.
 
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Dr Caligari
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increment wrote:
...D&D was as much a wargame as an RPG, when it first came out.


That is an insightful comment. I will look forward to these types of observations in your book.

I will be ordering your book shortly.
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Cool beans. I'll have to read it to see if Dave Arneson finally gets the credit he deserves devil

Seriously, I'll have to check your book out. I spent more time in space than in the dungeon in ye olden daze and GDW's roots in wargaming was a pretty heavy influence on me & my tastes in games.

I hope you stick around and contribute as well.
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Thanks to the heads up about D&D Kickstarter Doc, I did the 3 birds with one stone.
 
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Just got my copy in the mail today.

Had no idea it was 600+ pages, and when they say 600+ pages, I mean small font, not including the extensive footnotes, bibliography, etc. This thing could have been written by David Glantz or somefink.

On that note, love the "wargame map" from 1797 (Figure 28).

Much to see and do, here.
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Jon Peterson
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The back cover of the book is also an excerpt from the wargame maps published in that same 1797 edition of Venturini. What's amazing is how many of the concepts we associate with modern board wargaming they anticipated, back then: different terrain types are one that's obvious from the map.

I would definitely be happy to let David Glantz take over revisions for future editions, if he's interested.
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increment wrote:

The back cover of the book is also an excerpt from the wargame maps published in that same 1797 edition of Venturini. What's amazing is how many of the concepts we associate with modern board wargaming they anticipated, back then: different terrain types are one that's obvious from the map.

I would definitely be happy to let David Glantz take over revisions for future editions, if he's interested.


I should clarify that I *like* David Glantz and his style of fact-based, no-nonsense writing in case it was not obvious by my post (and it may well not have been).

Not finding a lot of time to sit down with the book, but have flipped through, read some sections that caught my eye, then went back and made a concerted effort to start from the beginning. Too early to share any impressions, but would be interested in hearing those of others.

 
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Cracky McCracken
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increment wrote:
Anyway, D&D was as much a wargame as an RPG, when it first came out.


No it wasn't. I started playing D&D in '79 and was a member of a wargaming club. They were and are completely different.

D&D evolved from wargaming. Wargames came first by a mile. Chainmail, which was the very earliest incarnation of D&D was a tabletop minis game much like Warhammer.
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Cracky wrote:
increment wrote:
Anyway, D&D was as much a wargame as an RPG, when it first came out.


No it wasn't. I started playing D&D in '79 and was a member of a wargaming club. They were and are completely different.

D&D evolved from wargaming. Wargames came first by a mile. Chainmail, which was the very earliest incarnation of D&D was a tabletop minis game much like Warhammer.


It's not really clear what point you're trying to make. What I'm getting from the statement

D&D was as much a wargame as an RPG, when it first came out

is that early games concentrated on individual combats between characters and monsters, characters vs. characters, etc., as much as the other "story" elements of the game.

I'm not sure that what you are saying contradicts it. Maybe you could go into a little more detail about a "typical" game session circa 1979 and expand on what a typical session would focus on - i.e. storyline/quests, or miniatures-driven combat, and where the emphasis in gameplay was - because that's what I am seeing the basis of the statement being? Sorry to put words in anyone's mouth if I've gotten it wrong.
 
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Cracky wrote:
increment wrote:
Anyway, D&D was as much a wargame as an RPG, when it first came out.


No it wasn't. I started playing D&D in '79 and was a member of a wargaming club. They were and are completely different.


Experiences from '79 don't precisely matter, in a discussion of
'when it first came out'. Indeed, chances are rather likely you weren't
even using the three little books by that date.

My experience is a little earlier, but I don't have the temerity to
suggest that I understood how it was first played. Those original books
don't give a lot of role-playing discussion - but they DO represent
man-to-man tactical combat in significant detail (within a fantasy
realm).

Quote:
D&D evolved from wargaming. Wargames came first by a mile. Chainmail, which was the very earliest incarnation of D&D was a tabletop minis game much like Warhammer.



This is puzzling me as much as it seems to puzzle Michael.

I can't disagree with it, but come away with a big 'so?'


I guess the point is the 'as much...as'. RPGs have evolved significantly
since the old D&D (even in my time) much more towards something about
telling a personal story - and much less about measuring out movement
for tactical combat. From that light, I don't see quibbling.
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D&D was what it is today, a group of players running characters, and a referee running the show.

So you had tabletop wargaming... chit-n-hex wargaming and D&D.

D&D directly evolved from a small set of tabletop rules called Chainmail (1974?). But yeah, it's a huge leap. The two types of gaming bear little resemblance. The one thing D&D did inheret from tabletop gaming was the need for a referee however.

And i still love all three. There's a 6'x4' Warhammer table downstairs, a GMT wargame setup right here, and all my beloved D&D4e stuff in the next room. (Oh yeah, and wargamers still tend to look down at RPGers , that hasn't changed)
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Cracky wrote:
D&D was what it is today, a group of players running characters, and a referee running the show.

So you had tabletop wargaming... chit-n-hex wargaming and D&D.

D&D directly evolved from a small set of tabletop rules called Chainmail (1974?). But yeah, it's a huge leap. The two types of gaming bear little resemblance. The one thing D&D did inheret from tabletop gaming was the need for a referee however.


But I didn't get the sense that was being disputed by the statement you're taking exception with. I get the sense you're taking pursuing a narrow definition of "wargame", on the other hand.

Seems to be a common theme in threads here.

Anyway, you didn't answer my question - were early games of D & D centred around combat to a greater degree than later games? The author seems to have done a great deal of research around this (as noted, I own the book and have started reading it), while you haven't really presented anything empirical other than to say you remember playing in 1979. What were the sessions like? How did they contrast to later sessions? Would be interested to hear your impressions. For that matter, how heavy was the influence of Chainmail? You're stating that D & D isn't a wargame, but you're not saying why. I know plenty of wargames that have been played with a referee - that alone wouldn't disqualify it.
 
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Cracky McCracken
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I got ya Michael... Dungeoncrawling with graph paper and pencils. From the start. Huge leap from tabletop gaming. But i think that's why it took off, college kids and boys with paper routes could afford to play it. Gary Gygax was a bigtime tabletop gamer and Dave Arneson introduced the idea of zooming right in on detailed individuals instead of armies.

From Gary you got the endless charts and tables and rolling for this and that, from Dave you got the actual concept of roleplaying individual heros.
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Cracky wrote:
The one thing D&D did inheret from tabletop gaming was the need for a referee however.


I've played plenty of minis without a referee. Most of them on top
of tables (naval being the general exception). I'd suggest that all
the movement rates, spell radii, and the like were pretty much designed
for minis 1-1 scale use. Very much a direct line from chainmail. The
things inherited from minis gamers were damned cryptic to those of
us without that background (then again, stuff having nothing to do with
minis - like %liar - were none too clear either).

Quote:
And i still love all three. There's a 6'x4' Warhammer table downstairs, a GMT wargame setup right here, and all my beloved D&D4e stuff in the next room. (Oh yeah, and wargamers still tend to look down at RPGers :D, that hasn't changed)


Never was a fan of whorehammer (or much of anything GW). Perhaps
the best fantasy minis system I saw was the D&D Swords & Spells.
As to historical tactical stuff - nothing can beat minis for that;
problem with cost time and space though, all of which kept me to
tactical boardgames, in order to enjoy so many eras.
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