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D&D General Tracy Hickman: The third founder of (modern) D&D?

Yora

Legend
I only got into D&D in 2000, only weeks before the release of 3rd edition, and the vast amount of D&D material in my early days was 2nd edition stuff. I really only got an actual glimps into earlier D&D six years or so ago.
And looking at the full corpus of D&D material in hindsight, I think the biggest shift D&D ever did in tone and style was during the late 80s with the development of AD&D 2nd edition. It's a time where most of the original people had left the company and you got a new leadership with very different visions for the future.

And one man in particular really stands out to me in the credits of a number of 1st edition and BECMI adventures that clearly show the start of a new trend. Tracy Hickmann.
Pharaoh in 1982, Ravenloft and Rahasia in 1983, and of course Dragonlance in 1984.

Arneson came up with the idea for dungeon crawling heroes and Gygax developed it into a commercial product. But it seems to me that Hickmann might actually have singlehandedly introduced and codified the idea of adventures as stories that the PCs participate in, rather as dungeons to be cleared that have some background story attached to them, which the players might discover pieces off if they look for it carefully.
If that is a good thing or not is an entirely different discussion. But I feel that Hickmann's contribution to D&D was as transformative as Arneson's idea to turn the Chainmail wargame into a dungeon crawler.
 

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I think Dragonlance was the first adventure path as we know them today. There were linked adventures before that, but the concept really formed with the DL series.
Really? I would give that to Against the Giants/Decent into the Depths/Vault of the Drow/Queen of the Demonweb Pits.

The Slavelords sequence looks pretty much like a modern adventure path when bundled together too.
 

Yora

Legend
I would heartily disagree - contributor, yes, "third founder", no.

Zeb Cook had more influence over D&D during that time than Hickman did and was credited as the author on second edition on top of that.
While Cook certainly was a very important figure, I don't know of any ways in which he significantly changed the form of the game to what it is today.
Open to new insights, though.
 


Yora

Legend
Really? I would give that to Against the Giants/Decent into the Depths/Vault of the Drow/Queen of the Demonweb Pits.

The Slavelords sequence looks pretty much like a modern adventure path when bundled together too.
The GDQ series certainly is linked, but it does not really have a story that the players are taking part in. The content of the modules is just the dungeon floorplans and the opposition standing in the way to their goal. (Which inexplicably switches without reason during the final module when the players are suddenly supposed to kill Lolth, who had nothing to do with the enemies the players try to defeat in the first six parts.)
 

GuyBoy

Adventurer
I’d say Hickman was a very significant contributor to the development of the game (even though I personally don’t care much for DL) but I wouldn’t go as far as saying he is a founder.
I don’t think you can step beyond Gygax and Arneson as founders.
I’d rank Greenwood, Cook, Mohan, Jacqays, Bledsaw, Baker and some others to be just as significant as Hickman. And huge thanks to all of them.
 

Yora

Legend
My view is that D&D at the end of the 80s is a very different beast to D&D at the start of the 80s. Even though the rules didn't change much, I feel the approach to what roleplaying is has turned into a distinctively different thing. Even 4th edition didn't stray meaningfully from the new paradigm.
And I think that this change, that is very much visible with Ravenloft and the success of Dragonlance as a series, is a big a leap as going from a fantasy skirmish wargame to dungeon crawling.
Quite possibly a better term for this, but I think the works of Cook, Greenwood, and Jaquays were much more refinements of existing structures than real innovations.

Though I also want to say that I am not at all a fan of Hickmann's work. I think almost everything that's wrong (in my eyes) with D&D today can be traced back to the terrible idea that was Dragonlance. I think the widespread adoption of scripted adventures was a disaster for RPGs.
 

guachi

Adventurer
Ravenloft AND DragonLance? I think you could give it to him (and Laura Hickman for the modules and Margaret Weis for the books) as the biggest influence after the creators of D&D itself, chronologically. Hickman influenced two tracks of early to mid-'80s D&D - adventure design and best-selling books that ushered in dozens of other books.

Then I think you have to go to Ed Greenwood because of Forgotten Realms and the D&D focus in the late '80s and '90s - settings.
 

GuyBoy

Adventurer
You make an excellent argument.
Like you, I really didn’t like the scripted nature of DL, whereas I did love Jaquays’ work in particular. For me, the latter summed up the magic of early D&D.
 

Yora

Legend
I definitely do like Jaquay's work. Caverns of Thracia is an amazing execution of the dungeoncrawl concept. And The Savage Frontier is my favorite D&D setting book by a wide margin.
Ravenloft AND DragonLance?
While I have not read Pharaoh myself, I've often seen it mentioned as groundbreaking, and it later got re-released as Desert of Desolation.

While Rahasia is not that amazing, it really stands out from the other modules in the B series. Very different feel and approach to story. It was the first thing he had submitted to TSR as part of his job application in 1980.
 



overgeeked

B/X Known World
I think Dragonlance was the first adventure path as we know them today. There were linked adventures before that, but the concept really formed with the DL series.
Really? I would give that to Against the Giants/Decent into the Depths/Vault of the Drow/Queen of the Demonweb Pits.

The Slavelords sequence looks pretty much like a modern adventure path when bundled together too.
I think those are proto-adventure paths.
For D&D perhaps. Call of Cthulhu had Shadows of Yog-Sothoth in 1982 and Masks of Nyarlathotep in 1984. Both are clearly adventure paths as we'd recognize them today.
 

Yora

Legend
I think even though I very much dislike the modern type of adventures that evolved from it, I think the original idea to have the players be participants of a story rather than sieving through what's left after a story had basically ended was actually quite briliant.
The big problem is when specific scenes are scripted in a way that requires that previous scenes have to happen in specific ways, and that the GM has to manipulate the actions taken by the players to ensure that the outcome of each scene follows the script.
At this point, you're no longer playing a game. You're performing a stage play. In which the main actors do not know the script and what they are requited to do. Players can still chose how they want to fight the battle, but their choices do not affect the outcome of the battle. The script dictates which battles will be won or lost. And players understand that, so there is little real pressure or incentive to do something smart.
Players enjoy listening to the story they are being told while rolling the (largely irrelevant) dice. But when you already have everyone at the table with characters and dice, it's just such a shame that the time is not being spend creating a new unknown story in a way that no other narrative medium can.
That this has been the defauly for published adventures and how GMs are taught to create their own content for the last three decades is the great tragedy of RPGs.
 

TerraDave

5ever, or until 2024
Ravenloft, obviously. Tie in novels, sure. Every TSR employee going from a would be war game designer to would be novelist, maybe.

But the DL series is not today's adventure path. It also wasn't just Hickman's creation--by a long shot. And 3e was a big pushback against a lot of what happened in late 1e and 2e.

That combination of players following a plot, and DMs following a meta-plot, not just for a particular adventure but for their world, has largely come and mostly gone.
 

Stormonu

Legend
Dragonlance kept me from abandoning D&D in the 80's. I was getting tired of the mindless dungeon-crawling, and the story-based approach made me realize there was a whole aspect of D&D I was previously unaware of. (Though I have to agree, attempting to run the actual DL module series is unappetizing - as would attempting to recreate a campaign doing the same exact Lord of the Rings as the books. But the ideas and general storyline are great!)

And hands down, Ravenloft is my favorite adventure of all time.

I wouldn't put Hickman as a founder, but definately an architect and an influencer.
 

toucanbuzz

Legend
Interesting theory. Per the book Arts and Arcana: A Visual History, Hickman “immediately saw more to [Dragonlance] than just packaged adventures: it would include books, calendars, wargames, miniatures, and even a novelization of the series, augmented by short stories in Dragon magazine.” TSR bought in and it revolutionized the industry. They'd never done anything like this before. Introduce "Project Overlord."

TSR and Hickman also recognized that it'd be a pipeline for bringing in new players. If readers liked the books, maybe they'd like the idea of playing the adventures of their favorite characters. If players liked the modules, maybe they'd read the books. Say what you will about scripted and railroad, it made a ton of money. It was a new way of doing business. Followed by calendars, art books, 8 video games, and hundreds of millions from the books alone, it worked.

So, can't argue against it.
 

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