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Author Topic: "D&D fantasy" What is it?  (Read 8421 times)
Jack Spencer Jr
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« on: November 13, 2002, 04:34:25 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
I consider "D&D fantasy" to be a thing-in-itself with no direct parallel in fiction that's not gaming-derived. In other words, D&D fantasy is not high fantasy, epic fantasy, Tolkien-inspired, or anything else besides D&D fantasy. I do not restrict D&D fantasy, as an activity, to TSR games, but use it as a term for a type of play and game design that has been repeated by many companies.

...

...I do have to cop to real contempt for D&D fantasy. Once it's isolated from appreciation for its source material (and most D&D gamers have not read that source material!), I see no merit in it whatsoever that is not provided by an average shoot'em-up video game. But this is a personal failing on my part - I fully admit to the possibility that others' appreciation for it is a 100% parallel to my appreciation for superhero comics.


Ron posted this in this thread. To keep that thread on track, I'd like to move this topic over here, which seemed to fit in this forum better.

I guess the real question before the pannel is: what is D&D fantasy. I mean if it's not high fantasy, epic fantasy, Tolkien-inspired, or anything else, then what is it exactly? Oh, and can we please stick to defining D&D fantasy and not catalog all of the different sub-genres of fanstasy and the aspects thereof. That will only confuse the issue and no one really cares anyway.

Also, in that thread Ron touched on the idea of legitimacy or if D&D fantasy is a Bad Thing (tm). I will go out on a limb here and say it is legitimate, not because I think so but because history has taught me that things are legitimate regardless of what I might think. ANd I think it's a bad thing only insofar as some people simply refuse to believe an RPG could be anything else but, much like how some believe comic books can't be anything but super heroes.

Anyway, D&D fantasy: what is it?
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Evan Waters
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« Reply #1 on: November 13, 2002, 07:57:36 PM »

At the very baseline, "D&D fantasy" is a fusion of the two majorly accepted schools of "high fantasy" writing: Tolkienian myth-worlds with elves and dwarves and orcs and such, and "sword-and-sorcery" writing where the emphasis is on action and adventure. The fusion naturally produces some weird results: the standard dungeon crawl is something like what would happen if Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser joined up with Gandalf to journey through the Mines of Moria, on the understanding that they'd get to keep whatever mithril was still lying arond.

Is it legitimate? Uh... heck, why not? I mean, I'd get quickly bored if pure dungeon-crawling was all that ever went on, but I think the whole idea of "D&D fantasy" is to provide a baseline world for DMs to build on- they don't have to create a whole world as in a truly generic game (GURPS, BESM, etc.), but they're not definitively saddled with one either. So I'd say it's legitimate as a starting point, and a lot of DMs seem to like building from it. As for what it offers that, say, a shoot-'em-up video game doesn't, I'd say the same thing all RPGs offer- flexibility, room to improvise things (even on a pure hack-n-slash level: "Why don't we try to rig some kind of large spear out of this fallen beam, and then get the dragon to charge"), and of course a bit of imagination. I find video games modeled on the D&D and general RPing concept to be rather ruthless- they never fudge, they only give you so many choices, and they don't respond to your needs as a player. In actual play, D&D fantasy doesn't rule out creativity.
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Eric J.
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« Reply #2 on: November 13, 2002, 08:13:51 PM »

I would argue with your last statement.  The system doesn't allow creativity.  At least to the point where to use creativity, you don't have to think up new rules.  You have how many possible actions?  Use a skill, feat, spell (if you're lucky) or attack.  You can say that all RPGs are like that, but I dissagree.  D&D has so many rules for each of these things that it becomes impossible.  Each special ability and spell has detailed prescribed rules that must be followed so that any action is carried out in identical ways.  But that's not the point.  He was talking about D&D fiction.  It think that, by that, he means the genre of D&D that he is always refering to.  It is a fact that some people never consider thining outside of D&D.  As a consequence, dozens of other products have been released as modified D&D, which as I describe to my friends is Quasi-Pseudo-Tolkein.
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Evan Waters
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« Reply #3 on: November 13, 2002, 08:43:51 PM »

Quote from: Pyron
I would argue with your last statement.  The system doesn't allow creativity.  At least to the point where to use creativity, you don't have to think up new rules.  


You don't. The core mechanic works for any task where there's a chance for faliure. The DM decides a relevant skill or ability or both, sets a DC, you roll.

Quote
You have how many possible actions?  Use a skill, feat, spell (if you're lucky) or attack.  You can say that all RPGs are like that, but I dissagree.  D&D has so many rules for each of these things that it becomes impossible.


Impossible? It gives modifiers for *a good number* of situations, but not *each and every conceivable one.* And like any RPG- in opposition to a video game, which was the analogy- you can try things not covered by the rules. A real-life DM can improvise- a computer processor can't.

Quote
 Each special ability and spell has detailed prescribed rules that must be followed so that any action is carried out in identical ways.  


Not for abilities, and not for skills. Ability checks can handle anything not specifically covered by a skill or feat.
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greyorm
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« Reply #4 on: November 13, 2002, 08:45:27 PM »

I agree with Evan, except to say that D&D Fantasy is comprised of one more element: it takes the worst from each of the two, and none of the good stuff.

By this I mean (frex) it takes elves & dwarves, but leaves out the epic myth; takes the action & adventure, but leaves out the heroism and cinema.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio
Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #5 on: November 13, 2002, 09:02:15 PM »

Quote from: greyorm
I agree with Evan, except to say that D&D Fantasy is comprised of one more element: it takes the worst from each of the two, and none of the good stuff.

By this I mean (frex) it takes elves & dwarves, but leaves out the epic myth; takes the action & adventure, but leaves out the heroism and cinema.


Is this what is meant by generic fantasy?
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talysman
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« Reply #6 on: November 13, 2002, 09:14:32 PM »

here's how I break it down:

    [*]D&D fantasy is almost always pseudomedieval.
    by this, I mean medieval color layered on a more modern setting. there are nation-states in almost all D&D worlds, as well as other modern concepts like: taxes, exchange rates and tithes based on percentages; shops with merchandise on display; citizens talking about equality, tolerance, and other modern sensibilities; magic as a substitute for technology, and so on. most of it boils down to a disguised version of our society, with the economics perhaps resembling the california gold rush. when D&D fantasy attempts a nonmedieval setting, it usually layers the new setting's color on top of the medieval color, which is still layered on modern society.
    [*]D&D fantasy is "feature rich".
    I don't mean that it's necessarily good, or that the many elements in the setting actually mesh together. but there is a lot of background material in D&D fantasy. can you imagine D&D and its clones without a "monster manual" or a list of spells?  this goes for D&D fantasy novels as well: creatures, spells, potions, and the like tend to be well-catalogued in D&D fantasy worlds; there's little mystery or minimalism.
    [*]D&D fantasy has a simplified morality.
    it's what people used to call "comicbook morality", back when comicbooks weren't written by people with literary aspirations. it's also a lot like the morality in old-time westerns. good guys are good, bad guys are bad. it's ok to mug someone and steal their gold if you are the opposite alignment of whatever they are. even the religion is simplified, despite the nine alignment system: the gods are involved in turf wars and occasionally grant adventurers special powers in exchange for alliegance.
    [*]D&D fantasy is about what you can do rather than how you feel.
    this ties in with the simpilified morality. D&D fantasy is about killing monsters, solving puzzles, and gathering treasure. it's not a travelogue of a fantastic world, nor is it an exploration of deep moral issues.
    [*]D&D fantasy tends to escalate.
    it may start out small, but since there is not much personality or plot in anything that happens, the only way to build excitement up to a story climax is to keep piling on bigger and bigger things. more monsters! more treasure! more powerful spells! and then finally there's a direct battle with the gods and it's all downhill from there.
    [/list:u]

    there's more to it than that, but I think you get the picture. D&D fantasy isn't high fantasy or swords & sorcery, or any other kind of fantasy, mainly because it's not very literary, in the sense that it doesn't depend on complex themes, detailed characterization, colorful descriptions or anything like that. I think really old westerns, like hopalong cassidy, as well as gangster/g-men movies (but not film noire) are the real ancestors of D&D fantasy. the fantasy element, really, only comes from the amazement people felt when they read tolkien and said "WOW, he described an entire imaginary world!"
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    John Laviolette
    (aka Talysman the Ur-Beatle)
    rpg projects: http://www.globalsurrealism.com/rpg
    talysman
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    « Reply #7 on: November 13, 2002, 09:29:43 PM »

    Quote from: Pyron
    I would argue with your last statement.  The system doesn't allow creativity.  At least to the point where to use creativity, you don't have to think up new rules.  You have how many possible actions?  Use a skill, feat, spell (if you're lucky) or attack.  You can say that all RPGs are like that, but I dissagree.  D&D has so many rules for each of these things that it becomes impossible.  Each special ability and spell has detailed prescribed rules that must be followed so that any action is carried out in identical ways.  But that's not the point.  He was talking about D&D fiction.  It think that, by that, he means the genre of D&D that he is always refering to.  It is a fact that some people never consider thining outside of D&D.  As a consequence, dozens of other products have been released as modified D&D, which as I describe to my friends is Quasi-Pseudo-Tolkein.


    your comments about the system really only apply to D20. doesn't apply to original D&D at all... but D&D fantasy definitely existed by then.

    I would classify Aspirin's Another Fine Myth, Gygax's Gord books, Craig Shaw Gardner's books (A Malady of Magics, etc.,) Lyndon Hardy's Master of Five Magics, and Terry Pratchett's Discworld books as D&D fantasy. Pratchett is the best writer of the group and is writing more boredline parody than D&D fantasy, followed by Aspirin, then the more serious Master of Five Magics, and on down. it's the light writing style, the thinly-disguised modernist details, the piles upon piles of fantastic objects and creatures, and the stripped-down characters that group them together.
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    John Laviolette
    (aka Talysman the Ur-Beatle)
    rpg projects: http://www.globalsurrealism.com/rpg
    Eric J.
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    « Reply #8 on: November 13, 2002, 09:34:33 PM »

    Pratchet makes fun of D&D btw.  My statement does not only apply to D20.  D&D has caried the same premise the whole damned time.  If you are one of thoes people who believes that D&D was corrupted by 3rd edition, I don't know what to say.  In my mind, 3rd was the embodiement of everything that third ever was, but organized better.  D&D has very complex rules regarding almost any situation.  You have to admit that.  They have dozens of suppliments that help you with new situations that the Core Rules should already cover.  What should I say?  And I'm not saying that D&D is bad.  Hell.  It's the reason we're all here, isn't it?  Without D&D there would be no RPGs.  I simply think that the sim. tactic that they try to pull off is a joke.  I mean, why should you have to write into a magaizine just to know how a spell can affect something in a certain type of environment?  I'm not even going to begin...
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    Evan Waters
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    Posts: 40


    « Reply #9 on: November 13, 2002, 09:38:41 PM »

    So am I the only one who feels that D&D fantasy has its virtues?
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    Eric J.
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    « Reply #10 on: November 13, 2002, 09:41:48 PM »

    No.  It think that it has it's virtues.  It just isn't the most posative effect on contemporary RPG material.
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    talysman
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    « Reply #11 on: November 13, 2002, 10:18:37 PM »

    Quote from: Evan Waters

    So am I the only one who feels that D&D fantasy has its virtues?


    nope. I tend to avoid stuff like Dragonlance and the Forgotten Realms novels, but I've read other stuff that I consider to be D&D fantasy. and I even like to play an occasional dungeon crawl. note that I compared D&D fantasy to Hopalong Cassidy or a low-budget gangster movie. not my favorite genres, but sometimes they're fun to watch.

    Quote from: Pyron
    Pratchet makes fun of D&D btw.  My statement does not only apply to D20.  D&D has caried the same premise the whole damned time.  If you are one of thoes people who believes that D&D was corrupted by 3rd edition, I don't know what to say.


    I'm not talking about corrupting the rules. I'm saying if you pick up really old (pre-1st edition) D&D books, there are way fewer rules. the spells are still detailed out (although with fewer stats,) but there was no bonus for specific weapons against specific armor types, no proficiency checks (and no proficiencies!) it was a very stripped down, "make it up as you go along" system.

    and my point is: people started writing D&D fantasy stories back when D&D was stripped down. the complexity of d20 has no effect on D&D fantasy; it's just the culmination of years of rules-lawyering and obsessive analysis. there was certainly a lurking motivation to add all that obsessive detail, since the catalogues of monsters and spells sort of "pointed the way".
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    John Laviolette
    (aka Talysman the Ur-Beatle)
    rpg projects: http://www.globalsurrealism.com/rpg
    Ian Cooper
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    « Reply #12 on: November 14, 2002, 03:36:36 AM »

    Quote from: talysman
    D&D fantasy is almost always pseudomedieval.
    by this, I mean medieval color layered on a more modern setting.


    This came up in a couple of parallel threads on rpg.net. My point was that Tolkien's shire is not pseudo-medieval, but pseudo 18th C (or 17th C according to Steve Dempsey) England, with medieval technologies. The class-conscious, non-feudal, shire with its inns, tobacco, farmers out of Beatrix Potter, represents a part of English mythology that Tolkein was trying to capture and is a literary fiction not an 'alternative universe'.  Muchof LoTR plays with the themes and origins of English myth (the Riders of Rohan are pseudo-Saxons, the Elves pseudo-Celts).

    D&D bolted another poetic fiction - the pseudo-medievalism/pseudo-celtic  Arthurian Romance - to a portion of Tolkien's poetic fiction of English mythology, overlayed the whole with pseudo-Vancian magic and came up with a curious hybrid. Then gamers began to bolt real-world sociology, history, politics back on top to fix the 'unreality' of poetic concepts. The result is a curious beast niether sure of its poetic origins nor its status as poetry or fact.

    What is fascinating is how fantasy literature, like gaming, is becoming dominated by this style.
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    Evan Waters
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    « Reply #13 on: November 14, 2002, 08:27:09 AM »

    The thing is, I do think there are problems with modern fantasy literature, I'm just not sure they have anything to do with "D&D fantasy" as such.

    Basically, I see the two problems of current fantasy writing as: 1) a fixation on series, and 2) a fixation on "the quest".

    By "series", I mean simply that it seems like every single fantasy book you pick up nowadays is "Book One of the Something-or-other Cycle". I think this is primarily a publishing thing- publishers like selling 3 books to a customer instead of one- but I haven't seen much resistance to it by authors. It's like they're not interested in telling a complete story in one book anymore. Granted, this dates as far back as Narnia, but it has gotten irritating as of late.

    "The quest" is self-explanatory, but I think one could expand it to mean any fantasy book where the emphasis is on travelling all over a particular landscape. This is a more definite Tolkien influence- the whole LOTR saga is as much about the geography of Middle Earth as it is about anything happening in it- and again, I'm wondering, "can't you just set your story in one place?" It's not like Robin Hood had to travel far outside Sherwood Forest for things to get interesting. Now every fantasy book has a map in the front of it.

    This has veered off-topic, hasn't it? Sorry.
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    Valamir
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    « Reply #14 on: November 14, 2002, 08:40:04 AM »

    Quote
    Granted, this dates as far back as Narnia


    Actually, every single one of the Narnia books is a complete story in and of itself.  They just happen to all be set in the same world.  There's a minor thread or two that ties together, but are absolutely unnecessary to the story.

    Its easy to see the difference between threads that necessary.  Just check out the size of the book.  9 times in 10 a modern book series are very thick because as much as 1/3 of the text is summarizing (painfully so) the events of the prior books (no worse offender than Jean Auel who actually just cut and pasted entire scenes from earlier books as "memories" in later ones).  This is because the publisher wants to pretend the books stand alone, but they can't without the reader knowing all the other stuff.

    Unlike, say Narnia, where you could read them for the first time in any order and not miss anything.

    I think one of the strengths of the Harry Potter series is that they actually hold together very well as individual stories.  You could pick up the fourth book and read it and get a complete story without really having alot of holes from prior books.
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