A couple books about the history of D&D

I was first introduced to D&D in 1979 by some friends in school and was soon addicted. I spent inumerable hours creating maps and dungeons for my buddies to explore, and rolling up characters to populate my own worlds or to play in another kid’s campaign. I played straight through high school but only occassionally when I’d return home from college. After college our group switched to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (a Games Workshop game for which there were some awesome modules being written at the time), but I’ll never forget the real thrill of adventure of those early D&D sessions. Perhaps in a bid to recapture some of that spirit, or maybe because my own kids have expressed an interest in the game I recently picked up a couple of books about the history of the creation of D&D and its legacy.

Empire of ImaginationThe first, Empire of Imagination is a short book by Michael Witwer which focuses on the life of one of the creators of D&D, Gary Gygax. Its a biography of sorts, as well as an entertaining history of D&D, Gary’s life, how he made his passion for wargaming into a business, how he lost control of that business, and his legacy. Witwer does a fairly good job of recounting the history of Gary’s personal saga but it seems to be written from a fan’s point of view and comes off a bit one-sided. I would have liked to see more interviews and stories from other perspectives – especially from Dave Arneson, the main co-creator of D&D who is painted in a less than flattering light. All in all though my main gripe about the book is that it was too short, which is a criticism all authors should strive for.

of Dice and MenI then read Of Dice and Men by David Ewalt. Ewalt treats the subject of roleplaying with an obvious reverence which all gamers can appreciate. He includes interviews with a wide range of folks, reports from the field from gaming conventions, and recounts his visit to Gary Gygax’s home town and the memorial Gary Con. Obviously targeted at folks who don’t know very much about roleplaying, the book is heavy on explanation of the topic which might make it slow for hard-core gamers. The story is sprinkled with vignettes describing the heroic actions of various gaming personas using in-game prose which gives a real flavour for what roleplaying is all about. Entertaining and informative, the book does tend to center very much around Ewalt and his personal experiences which can start to read more like a blog than a history, though his boots-on-the-ground investigative work and extensive footnotes counter this to some extent.

These books reminded me of how much I miss playing D&D regularly. Both provide a lot of references which have already led me to several lost nights of investigation on the internet researching the colorful cast of characters who surrounded Gary and have continued to create great games since those early days. I can recommend both!

Plato was not a mystic

This is a pet peeve of mine so I hope you’ll forgive this rant. I found the following image in my G+ stream, and was digesting the quote and noticed it was attributed to Plato. I subscribe to the idea that quotations should be properly sourced, and there wasn’t any mention of what book this was from which of course spurred me on to investigate. It’s become common to attribute all kinds of new agey quotations to great historical figures on the internet, and while you might like the sentiment, Plato almost certainly would not have. I’m no fan of Plato myself, but while “Wordsworth Dictionary of Musical Quotations” attributes the quote to him, they curiously don’t provide a source. There are several folks who have taken the time to point out the problem with this quotation, this one describes the problem with it nicely.

…and I agree with the author here who says: “If you don’t do the work necessary to confirm the source, what you post is no better than chain mail and spam. And the gods know we have enough of that online already.”

music gives life

An Epicurian argument

It was just an image with an interesting quotation on it, an internet meme like any other but the author was purportedly Cicero. Being interested in ancient history, I knew there would likely be a better story around the quotation than the sugary sweet sentiment of the sentence taken out of context. The quote, as I suspected, wasn’t entirely accurate but it was indeed from Cicero’s De Natura Deorum, perhaps one of the greatest philosophical tomes which has survived from that time. And time is important here – this book was written 45 years before the birth of Christ and yet the arguments presented in it seem quite modern. Indeed, even atoms are mentioned – the idea that all matter is composed of tiny atoms, while not identical to modern atomic theory, is certainly not new. In the book, Cicero uses the device of various philosophers arguing to lay out the Stoic, Epicurian, and Academic points of view. The quote in question is found in an Epicurian argument. For more about the main two philosophies read these few pages in another introduction to De Natura. Click read more below for an English translation of the quote in full context.

cicero

Continue reading “An Epicurian argument”

Thomas Jefferson on News

To your request of my opinion of the manner in which a newspaper should be conducted so as to be most useful, I should answer, “by restraining it to true facts and sound principles only.” Yet I fear such a paper would find few subscribers. It is a melancholy truth that a suppression of the press could not more completely deprive the nation of its benefits than is done by its abandoned prostitution to falsehood. Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this state of misinformation is known only to those who are in situations to confront facts within their knowledge with the lies of the day. I really look with commiseration over the great body of my fellow citizens who, reading newspapers, live and die in the belief that they have known something of what has been passing in the world in their time; whereas the accounts they have read in newspapers are just as true a history of any other period of the world as of the present, except that the real names of the day are affixed to their fables. General facts may indeed be collected from them, such as that Europe is now at war, that Bonaparte has been a successful warrior, that he has subjected a great portion of Europe to his will, etc., but no details can be relied on. I will add that the man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them, inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors. He who reads nothing will still learn the great facts, and the details are all false.

Thomas Jefferson, from a letter to John Norvell, 1807
from http://www.britannica.com/presidents/article-9116906

Thomas Jefferson on patents

If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it.

from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to Isaac McPherson, 13 Aug. 1813