Thursday, October 01, 2009

Indie Game Designer James Maliszewski Interviews Role Playing Founding Father Ken St. Andre

The Role Playing Game hobby is approaching its 40th anniversary. Like any phenomenon that has been around for any good length of time, the hobby is beginning to see the passing of its founders. Over the past couple of years, several of the founding fathers of role playing have passed away: Gary Gygax, David Arneson, and Tom Moldvay to name just a few.

It is odd that Cinerati did a blog post for both Gygax and Arneson, but not for Moldvay. It is true that Gygax and Arneson invented Dungeons and Dragons, and thus the RPG hobby, but it was Tom Moldvay who made the game fun to play and was among the first designers to show me that D&D could be about more than "kick down door, kill monster, loot stuff, repeat." His design work on Isle of Dread too the adventure out of the dungeon and into the world, it also added more "story" to the experience. Then came Castle Amber, maybe the single most important module in D&D history. Without this module, there would have been no Ravenloft and Mystara would be a much less interesting world. Moldvay used the works of Clark Ashton Smith as an inspiration for the module and demonstrated completely how a module could be used to tell stories. Player's of the module are even treated to a nice "Fall of the House of Usher" moment. Moldvay's career in gaming was an important one, to the hobby in general and to me in particular.

It was an oversight that I didn't blog a nice obit for Moldvay, it is unforgivable that I never wrote any posts praising his work -- a situation that will be corrected soon enough. We too often forget to write about those who work in the gaming industry while they still live -- I have yet to find a recent update or post on the internet regarding J. Eric Holmes who wrote the first Basic Dungeons & Dragons book. In today's information age, it is baffling that we don't keep better track of gaming's founding fathers.

This is what makes James Maliszewski's recent interview with Ken St. Andre for Escapist Magazine such a treat. Where Gygax and Arneson are the founding fathers of the tabletop roleplaying hobby, Ken St. Andre is arguably the founding father of the roleplaying game industry (a title he likely shares with Rick Loomis). His Tunnels and Trolls was the second roleplaying game published and its publication turned rpg gaming from a monopoly into an industry -- that's quite an achievement. St. Andre's Tunnels and Trolls has, like D&D, gone through a number of editions. While it has never achieved the popularity of the flagship of rpg gaming, T&T still has an active and loyal group of followers -- many of whom meet up at Ken's Trollhalla website to chat about gaming, play online games, and generally geek out.

Ken St. Andre is still very much with us, though he did just finish a series of treatments for prostate cancer, and will likely be around for years to come. This is great for the members of Trollhalla, like me, but it is articles like Maliszewski's that expose more gamers to the thoughts of Ken St. Andre. I don't agree with all of Ken's design philosophies, but he is certainly one of the game designers whose contributions I return to again and again.

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