D&D 5E The D&D Multiverse Part 2- The Remix Culture of the Gygaxian Multiverse

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Four months ago I started this series, and then ... eh, stuff happens. But if you didn't read the first post, this post won't make a whole lot of sense. So, I highly recommend reading the prior history of D&D Multiverse here:

Now I'm returning to the subject to get back and address the issue I left unresolved:
In the next post I write, I will discuss, a little more, about the foundational weirdness of D&D and why we should want to continue that with 5e.

In order to really dig into this, I'm going to be making generalizations; please note that all people are different, and all tables are different, but it's very difficult to discuss things without being able to refer to a general "gestalt."
That said, I am already acknowledging that whatever I write, yes, of course you and your table do things differently.

Now ....


1. OD&D and Gygaxian 1e Were Too Weird to Live, and Too Rare to Die
One thing that I think often gets lost when discussing early D&D is how truly bizarre it could be. And the reason for this is that it wasn't "pure." It wasn't just Tolkien-esque high fantasy. Nor was it simply appropriated Howard/Leiber swords & sorcery. It wasn't extrapolated wargaming. And it wasn't the myths of a particular country.

It was all of it, and more. Because there were no particular preconceptions as to what had to be in D&D, or what had to be excluded. Where did your monsters come from? Well, anywhere! Little bit of Arabian mythology? Put in a djinn. Want to put in a little John Carter homage? How about some carnivorous apes, or giant white ones? Did you see some cool toys? Why not a ankheg, or an owl bear? Do you like 50s monster movies? How about some giant ants? Rakshasas, dinosaurs, critters from Japanese or Irish or Egyptian mythology? They were all fair game.

Everything was put into a blender, and became "D&D."

And it was the same with the remainder of the core rules; holy knights on steeds bound by oaths (Paladins) and wandering martial artists (Monks) and vaguely-Celtic spellcasters (Druids) and organized groups of killers-for-pay (Assassins) all hobnobbed in the same general vicinity. Any type of thematic weirdness was quickly covered up in the general concept of D&D.

These ideas were further explored in the overall weirdness that we saw in early D&D; early modules referenced dinosaurs, space travel, and parallel or pocket universes.

As recounted numerous times, the earliest adventures run by Gygax himself had PCs crossing over to Boot Hill or Isle of the Ape (King Kong, dinosaurs). Entire sessions could revolve around the party ending up on the spaceship Warden from Metamorphosis Alpha. I don't want to continue belaboring this point (since that was largely what the first post was about), but weirdness was baked into D&D's core from the beginning.


2. Experimentation and the Prime Material Plane
Part of the reasons that experimentation and "remix culture" was so built-in to D&D from the beginning was because of the general acceptance of the Gygaxian multiverse. As the 1e DMG put it- all worlds, and all possible worlds, were contained within the prime material plane. This had some profound ramifications-
It meant that your home campaign and mine, both set in Greyhawk, contemporaneously existed side-by-side (and that would allow players to bring PCs from one home campaign to another).
It also meant that, for example, all the Gamma World campaigns also existed in the prime material plane.
And our "Earth" (aka, what we would now call D&D Modern) existed.
And Alice in Wonderland's universe.

In short, the PCs could travel to any possible reality. This sort of free-for-all also extended into the printed material- such as spaceships (Barrier Peaks) and Alice in Wonderland (EX1 and 2) and even the various planes referenced in Q1. It was even relatively common for home groups to use a "cafeteria" approach to employing Deities and Demigods or its antecedent OD&D supplement.

These same feelings- what we would call "the streams being crossed" was also just a general part of the gestalt of that era. It was common to see fantasy works which had "modern people" placed in Fantasy settings (e.g., Stephen Donaldson) or technology that was indistinguishable from magic (Julian May) or parallel universes (Zelazny). Over time, however, and especially with the increased settings in 2e, that feeling calcified.

First, as the Prime Material plane became ... less interesting. Focus shifted to the outer planes, or to a specific campaign setting (such as Planescape).
Second, as specific campaign settings became the locus of creativity; in other words, instead of having more generic "D&D" settings with expansive weirdness, you began to get more focused settings with specific rules. Dark Sun is amazing, but it also relies on specific rules to make it amazing.


3. Weirdness and 5e
This is where I get to the more interesting, and likely controversial, part of my general thoughts; what does any of this have to do with 5e?

Here's the thing- there are times when I feel that for some people, OSR (and OD&D / 1e specifically) is viewed as a reaction to 5e.

I’m old! And I’m not happy! And I don’t like things now compared to the way they used to be. All this progress — phooey! In my day, we didn’t have these cash machines that would give you money when you needed it. There was only one bank in each state — it was open only one hour a year. And you’d get in line, seventeen miles long, and the line became an angry mob of people– fornicators and bards, mutant children and soulless, dead-eyed elves— and you waited for years and by the time you got to the teller, you were senile and arthritic and you couldn’t remember your own name. You were born, got in line, and ya died! And that’s the way it was and we liked it!

D&D was simpler then. There wasn’t all this concern about fun! It my days, we didn’t need to have fun. When you started playing D&D, you were given a few scrap pieces of paper and some pencils and told to start mapping. You wouldn't be told piddly little details like distances and directions by the DM. If you tried to ask how big a room was just so you could map it and find your way out, well, you'd be attacked by an ethereal mummy just for showin' that DM up! And that’s the way it was and we liked it!

D&D was a carnival! We entertained ourselves! We didn’t need youtube to learn how to play D&D or fancy figur-eeeeeens to visualize the battle. In my day, there was only one way to see how the battle was going — it was called ”Stare at the sun!” That’s right! Our theater of the mind was really theater of the sun. You'd just stare at it until you eyeballs burst into flames! And you thought, “Oh, no! Maybe I shouldn’t have stared directly into the burning sun with my eyes wide open.” But it was too late! Your head was on fire and the rest of your party was roastin' marshmallows over it. And that’s the way we played D&D and we liked it!


Ahem. Different rule-sets do play different, but while the older rulesets can be used for "dungeon crawls," it truly does them a disservice given that they were used for so much more than that, even at the time. More importantly, it ignores the many things that 5e is doing right!

One thing that is certainly true today is that we have a lot more influences on culture and on the game. For example, it is much easier and more common for players to want to base characters off of anime, or any one of a number of diverse sources that weren't commonly available in the 70s and 80s (with a few notable exceptions like Battleship Yamato, Robotech, and G-Force). But while the overall diversity in that sense has increased, I would say that the specific tolerance for those things that break the verisimilitude of a campaign setting has greatly decreased.

For example, I would say that it very common to see people on forums today make comments like, "I don't like science fiction in my fantasy." Or, "I don't let people bring their own characters into my campaign."

To put this in a more specific context:
In OD&D/1e terms, you might have a campaign setting that was generally medieval tech, but an individual might have a firearm or even a laser rifle.
In 5e, it is generally seen that the campaign setting itself would have to allow the specific tech for most DMs to approve it.

In short, while I think that overall 5e has done an amazing job of incorporating numerous diverse cultural cues and viewpoints, the one thing it is not so great at is allowing the "weird" exception. Something which has long been baked into D&D's DNA.


Anyway, I realized the other day that I never finished the prior post, so I'm throwing this out there for discussion in a little more half-baked fashion than I normally do. Have at it!
 

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The section of the 1e DMG that contained rules for porting characters back and forth between Gamma World, AD&D, and Boot Hill further encouraged DMs and players to keep that tradition up, to hit "pulse" on the blender yet again and see what came out. But...

These ideas were further explored in the overall weirdness that we saw in early D&D; early modules referenced dinosaurs, space travel, and parallel or pocket universes.

As recounted numerous times, the earliest adventures run by Gygax himself had PCs crossing over to Boot Hill or Isle of the Ape (King Kong, dinosaurs). Entire sessions could revolve around the party ending up on the spaceship Warden from Metamorphosis Alpha. I don't want to continue belaboring this point (since that was largely what the first post was about), but weirdness was baked into D&D's core from the beginning.

...I was very much a "keep sci-fi out of my fantasy" type of person back then. So though we played Gamma World, we never actually crossed those streams. In hindsight, I wish I had. Now I'm much more easy-going when it comes to genre-smooshing. I love stuff like Burroughs' Barsoom tales, getting weird with fantasy.

For example, I would say that it very common to see people on forums today make comments like, "I don't like science fiction in my fantasy." Or, "I don't let people bring their own characters into my campaign."
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I love stuff like Burroughs' Barsoom tales, getting weird with fantasy.

I've gotten to the point in life when I tell people that the upcoming campaign will have a lot of Burroughs in it.

They go in thinking, "Cool! John Carter!"

....but what I don't say is it isn't Edgar Rice .... It's William S.

KIRn.gif
 
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I would absolutely love a D&D-WSB mashup! Be very careful when you go to see the clerics of Interzone for healing...

Which, honestly, using the cutups method to plot an adventure is a great idea for breaking out of a rut.

I've gotten to the point in life when I tell people that the upcoming campaign will have a lot of Burroughs in it.

They go in thinking, "Cool! Conan John Carter!"

....but what I don't say is it isn't Edgar Rice .... It's William S.

KIRn.gif
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I would absolutely love a D&D-WSB mashup! Be very careful when you go to see the clerics of Interzone for healing...

Which, honestly, using the cutups method to plot an adventure is a great idea for breaking out of a rut.

I was going to make a comment about Dr. Benway, but then I saw that I had inexplicably confused REH and ERB.

This is what happens in your dotage!
 

Urriak Uruk

Gaming is fun, and fun is for everyone
Ahem. Different rule-sets do play different, but while the older rulesets can be used for "dungeon crawls," it truly does them a disservice given that they were used for so much more than that, even at the time. More importantly, it ignores the many things that 5e is doing right!

One thing that is certainly true today is that we have a lot more influences on culture and on the game. For example, it is much easier and more common for players to want to base characters off of anime, or any one of a number of diverse sources that weren't commonly available in the 70s and 80s (with a few notable exceptions like Battleship Yamato, Robotech, and G-Force). But while the overall diversity in that sense has increased, I would say that the specific tolerance for those things that break the verisimilitude of a campaign setting has greatly decreased.

For example, I would say that it very common to see people on forums today make comments like, "I don't like science fiction in my fantasy." Or, "I don't let people bring their own characters into my campaign."

To put this in a more specific context:
In OD&D/1e terms, you might have a campaign setting that was generally medieval tech, but an individual might have a firearm or even a laser rifle.
In 5e, it is generally seen that the campaign setting itself would have to allow the specific tech for most DMs to approve it.

In short, while I think that overall 5e has done an amazing job of incorporating numerous diverse cultural cues and viewpoints, the one thing it is not so great at is allowing the "weird" exception. Something which has long been baked into D&D's DNA.


Anyway, I realized the other day that I never finished the prior post, so I'm throwing this out there for discussion in a little more half-baked fashion than I normally do. Have at it!

So I am curious here, especially to the lines I've bolded... is there any proof that this is true? Or is this just a gut feeling some of us have?

I say that, because when looking at 5E products, I don't know how much influence of various cultures we have on the game. I think the last book that really felt non-European inspired was Tomb of Annihilation, which was a while ago, and got a fair amount of the "exoticism" criticism. More recent books and adventure seem to tack a lot closer to European style fantasy. The new settings, Ravenloft (largely European-Gothic), Theros (Greek mythology) and the adventures Rime of the Frostmaiden (frozen colonialism, Scandinavian), and Descent into Avernus (Christian hell) seem to be pulling a lot from European cultures than other ones. There's exceptions within all those texts I mentioned, but it still tacks very close to Europe.

But 5E does seem very "weird" friendly, at least compared to 4E. We are getting a very weird Feywild book soon, and Rime of the Frostmaiden had a bunch of weird things including a crash Spelljammer and time travel. Other adventures like Avernus and Chult have weird things sprinkled throughout, and they're definitely not technologically consistent. In Dragon Heist, the drow villains have gunpowder and flintlocks, which feels extremely out of place and game-changing to a setting.

Anyway, I'm not really disagreeing with your opinions, but I am hoping you'll clarify a bit more as I think I've misunderstood your conclusion here.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Anyway, I'm not really disagreeing with your opinions, but I am hoping you'll clarify a bit more as I think I've misunderstood your conclusion here.

God points. To further elaborate-

This essay is more muddled than most because it is reflecting a few conflicting thoughts; to illustrate where I was going-
1. OD&D and AD&D were fundamentally weird in a way that many people today do not fully understand.
2. As a subset of (1), the multiverse within the prime material plane (the Gygaxian multiverse) was part of this allowed weirdness.
3. Over time, we have moved away from the multiverse / PMP theory when it comes to D&D for a multitude of reasons- emphasis on specific campaign settings, interest in the outer planes instead of alternate material planes, etc.
4. I think that the explicit inclusion of the alternate Gygaxian multiverse allows for more weirdness and fun play, which I think is a good thing. More importantly, it's very much optional, given that you can have as much, or as little, as you want.

However, I also wanted to make sure that the following was acknowledged-
A. This isn't meant as a slam on 5e at all. I think that 5e already incorporates a lot of base-level weirdness; you list some great examples. I will return to this issue.
B. In addition, there are some people who use OSR (or OD&D/1e) as a kind of reaction to modern gaming. The whole, "In the old days, we just went into dungeons, killed orcs, and were happy." I think that's an inaccurate representation of what OD&D/1e represented at their best (and weirdest), and I didn't want this to be a any kind of edition takedown.

Looking back at (A)- I think that the difference is consistency; there is a premium placed on "world building" that ... well, maybe didn't exist in the earlier editions. 5e's worlds already start off plenty weird, but there is (in general) less tolerance for deviation from established D&D norms.

Finally, w/r/t to the some of the specific bolded parts, I will end with an anecdote and an observation.

Anecdote- as I have often remarked, I don't think many people realize how different things are today than they were in the 70s and 80s. To use an easy example- if you lived outside of major (and I mean major, as in NYC or LA) cities or certain ethnic enclaves, your options for food were American, Italian (American), and maybe Chinese (made for Americans). Maybe .... maybe texmex. In 1983, sushi was used as a punchline in a movie (Valley Girl) about foreign food- at the time, the idea of eating raw fish was bizarre. In 1988, I remember that you couldn't get bagels (BAGELS!) in large parts of the U.S. outside of, MAYBE, the frozen section with Lender's. And hummus? Forget it. America, in so many ways, was much less worldly than it is now.

Anyway, the point being that while in the 70s and into the 80s, you might see kids playing "Cowboys & Indians," today you'd be much more likely to be able to learn real, relevant, and factual information about Native Americans. There is just a massive difference in actual exposure and knowledge. I didn't want to go too deeply into that since it is largely orthogonal to the main point I was making, but I also thought it was necessary to acknowledge it.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
1. OD&D and Gygaxian 1e Were Too Weird to Live, and Too Rare to Die
...

It was all of it, and more. Because there were no particular preconceptions as to what had to be in D&D, or what had to be excluded.

So, you say, "Because..." which is suggesting that this is the root cause, and I think you've not quite hit it.

You seem to be treating D&D as if it was its own, independent thing, but, like all other bits of culture, it happened (an continues to happen) in a cultural context. And that context includes the science fiction and fantasy of the time. And while there were the Leibers and Tolkiens, the sci-fi/fantasy world was... really freaking weird in the 60s and 70s.

We tend to lose this when we think of the literature of the day, because what we know today are mostly the novels of the age, which tend to be a little more self-consistent. But in Gygax's day, it would not be terribly far off to say that the day-to-day genre was dominated by short stories, which we almost never reprint today. As TV grew, we slowly replaced printed short stories with TV shows of similar structure.

Star Trek went western at the OK Corral back in 1968 (ST:TOS Season 3 Episode 6, "Spectre of the Gun"). They went Alice In wonderland two years earlier in "Shore Leave". They went time traveling in "Tomorrow is Yesterday", "City on the Edge of Forever", and "Assignment: Earth". Played with Greek myth in "Who Mourns for Adonis". They mucked in with 1920s gangsters in "A Piece of the Action", fought in Roman gladiatorial games in "Bread and Circuses", and jumped into an alternate universe in "Mirror, Mirror". And this was all just one show!

Those years of sci-fi and fantasy understandably included a lot of experimentation in what was possible, without quite so much consideration as to why one should do it. The result was, I say, embracing the irony, rather Frankenstinian, and not terribly cohesive.

D&D was a microcosm of this - a lot of, "Hey, look, we can do this!!!" But, like the rest of teh sci-fi/fantasy world, D&D shifted from just playign with pieces, to trying to build cohesive structures, and the mish-mash of weird shifted into targeted use of weird. Weird stuff in modern genre works is generally there for specific effect, not just for the sake of weird itself.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
So, you say, "Because..." which is suggesting that this is the root cause, and I think you've not quite hit it.

You seem to be treating D&D as if it was its own, independent thing, but, like all other bits of culture, it happened (an continues to happen) in a cultural context. And that context includes the science fiction and fantasy of the time. And while there were the Leibers and Tolkiens, the sci-fi/fantasy world was... really freaking weird in the 60s and 70s.

We tend to lose this when we think of the literature of the day, because what we know today are mostly the novels of the age, which tend to be a little more self-consistent. But in Gygax's day, it would not be terribly far off to say that the day-to-day genre was dominated by short stories, which we almost never reprint today. As TV grew, we slowly replaced printed short stories with TV shows of similar structure.

I agree with this, and I originally wrote a longer section that I couldn't really do justice to, and condensed it to the following:

These same feelings- what we would call "the streams being crossed" was also just a general part of the gestalt of that era. It was common to see fantasy works which had "modern people" placed in Fantasy settings (e.g., Stephen Donaldson) or technology that was indistinguishable from magic (Julian May) or parallel universes (Zelazny).

But yeah- the 1961 Hugo Award nominee, Scylla's Daughter (Leiber) was a sword & sorcery adventure that had a modern German time traveler with a Lankhmar/German dictionary interacting with Fafhrd and the Mouser. Different times!
 

One thing I'd also add is that with the emphasis on short stories, they were presented in the pulps at first, then later in anthologies like those Lin Carter edited and curated in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, or Flashing Swords. In the pulps especially, you were being presented with an already remixed menu of stories, a wild array of weird fantasy, horror, and sci-fi ideas being hurled at the reader.

We tend to lose this when we think of the literature of the day, because what we know today are mostly the novels of the age, which tend to be a little more self-consistent. But in Gygax's day, it would not be terribly far off to say that the day-to-day genre was dominated by short stories, which we almost never reprint today. As TV grew, we slowly replaced printed short stories with TV shows of similar structure.
 


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