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

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.
While they are connected adventures, they aren't something you can set a full campaign around, which is the goal of an AP. You can (as I have) take several of these connected adventures and forge your own AP out of them by starting with the Temple of Elemental Evil, onto the Slavers, then Against the Giants, Descent, and Queen of the Demonweb Pits. The DL series, however, was completely intended to serve as a full campaign by running each adventure.
 

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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.
I agree that Shadows of Yog-Sothoth had everything you would expect of a modern adventure path, but, whilst it predates Dragonlance, it came after Demonweb and Slavelords (both completed 1981). It was first to be published as a single volume though.

There is a tendency to forget about the non-D&D games that where around in the 80s that made significant contributions to modern D&D.
 

As for the concept of the story driven adventure, I would say The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh (1981), by Browne and Turnbull, got there before the Hickmans.

But all those Not-D&Ds were already putting out story driven adventures, because they didn't have the dungeon bash conceit as a default.
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1980.
 

Not a founder, but I agree that Laura and Tracy Hickman are indeed hugely influential, pivotal figures in the shift of tone, scope, and goals of quite a lot of D&D and D&D groups between 1st ed and 2nd ed. Whether that's to the good or the bad is largely a matter of taste.

Going back to the origins in the 70s, as Jon Peterson talks about in Playing at the World and his recent The Elusive Shift, you had fantasy fiction fans wanting to use D&D as more of a story emulator (the wargamers or quasi-wargamers were the other big "faction" of players). Laura and Tracy were arguably the first (or at least the most prominent) writers at TSR to seem to REALLY cater to that goal and orientation. And by the time 2E came out, that was more the default expectation of the rulebooks.
 


Yora

Legend
Because it's not just Dragonlance that is relevant here.

While it seems Laura Hickmann was involved in Dragonlance in some form, she's not credited as a writer of the adventure series, from what I can tell, which is mostly Tracy Hickmann and Doug Niles.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
I wouldn't say Hickman. It would have to be both Weis and Hickman. She may not have written the adventures, she was hired on as an editor and wound up working with Hickman to write the books and plot out the adventures, consequently, for "Project Overlord" Dragonlance.

Those names are just as inextricably linked as Gygax and Arnesen, for me.
 

Because it's not just Dragonlance that is relevant here.

While it seems Laura Hickmann was involved in Dragonlance in some form, she's not credited as a writer of the adventure series, from what I can tell, which is mostly Tracy Hickmann and Doug Niles.
Laura is credited for DL8 (Dragons of War), but given how women where credited back then her contribution may have been much greater.
 

Arilyn

Hero
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.
I agree. Having more story attracted more players, who were looking to be heroes in their own tales. The recommended reading in Appendix N, in my opinion, is not what you got in early D&D. I was initially so excited about the idea of roleplaying, and I got a series of puzzles and poking cautiously down endless corridors.

I abandoned D&D before DL. Warhammer's "The Enemy Within" brought me back into roleplaying because it was a big sprawling adventure. RPGs and playstyles are a huge mix right now, and that's good for attracting more people to the hobby. I believe DL was a first step in opening things up.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Provocative thesis! Probably needs to be longer, a bit more meandering, with a few pop culture quotes. Jus' sayin'.

As to the substance, as you might know from my avatar, this is something I am somewhat familiar with. So breaking it down-

1. Is Hickman a founder, or a third founder, after Arneson and Gygax? Absolutely not. I get that this is partly provocative, but you don't just get to have tons of founders of something. D&D was founded (started) by Gygax and Arneson. If you wanted to expand the grouping, you would still need to keep it to the people that were that at ... the founding. So we'd be looking at people like Tim Kask, Rob Kuntz, and Jim Ward. If you wanted to, you could also look at the artists who helped create the "look" of early D&D- Otus, Dee, Trampier.


2. Next, there is the question of "eras" of D&D. We often talk about "editions" because those are clear breaks. But IMO, the "TSR" era (OD&D-1e-2e, and without going into the B/X and BECMI line for right now) is really broken down into these three eras-
Early- 1974-1984
Mid- 1985-1994
Late- 1995-2000

A brief explanation- early D&D is pretty much a continual evolution, expansion, and (occasionally) refinement of a set of rules starting with OD&D and going through 1984, with a general vibe, feel, and aesthetic that is largely the same.

Mid D&D is when that "early D&D" artwork is completely superseded by the "E" art department (Elmore, Easley and Co.- Parkinson, Caldwell, etc.) and we began to see a change in the modules and the rulebooks, along with the ouster of the Gygax. Ironically, the rules really switched starting with Gygax's last, rushed book that was a quick cash grab- unearthed arcana. This is the 1.5-2.0 era.

Late era D&D is the decline, but also when the market was flooded with player options (call this 2.5). This was also a marked shift in the game, and those player option splat books became an idea that would continue on in later editions in various forms.


3. I think Hickman was fine- I think that Pharaoh (which was actually originally written around 1977, along with the original Ravenloft) which he wrote with his wife, was one of the great examples of early D&D. Ravenloft ... that was a really, really good module that has resonated through time to the extent that an entire campaign setting was based off of it.

But you are putting a lot of emphasis on the Dragonlance modules. Have you ... played them? I remember when they came out! I was really excited to play the first one! The whole idea ... steel as currency (it seemed cool at the time). Dragons. All of it. But you know what?

The. Modules. Suck. They are so bad. Even at the time, they were terrible. The books, on the other hand, were ... well, I'll just say that they were decent if you were starving for workman-like fantasy fiction at the time- it's not like the early 80s were a great time for that. It was Dragonlance, terrible puns in Xanth, just not a great time. The books sold really well. But that's not D&D- and Dragonlance is also Weis.

The Weis issue is one thing- I mean, we'd have to, at a minimum, have to acknowledge Margret Weis and Laura Hickman. Otherwise ....

(continued, premature publication again!)
 

Arilyn

Hero
I never read the DL modules. I did try reading the books, and found them lacklustre. They were, and still are, hugely popular, so I think they did play a big part in attracting new players, and perhaps, keeping old ones. DL has a large fan base. It even survived that terrible animated... thing. 😏
 

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.
Yes very very well said. If I was looking for a "third most important", I'd definitely be looking at Zeb Cook. Hickman factors in for sure, but the sheer amount of ultra-influential stuff Cook was involved with or the primary author on is staggering.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
4. Hickman has certainly been feted for his contributions to TTPGs. He's in the Adventure Gaming Hall of Fame- which is pretty august company. But ... he only worked for TSR for a short period of time. His actual gaming contributions to TSR are limited.

You have Pharaoh, Rahasia, and Ravenloft which were written prior to TSR (albeit edited, of course, for publication).
You have Martek* and Ravenloft II.
And you have the Dragonlance modules (DL series). Which weren't great for playing. And, to be honest, Dragonlance is a decent setting, but it's not like it's the greatest ever setting.

And the Hickmans (plural) didn't invent the idea of more narrative-based adventures, either. That had been going on for some time, both within and without D&D.

I say none of this to disparage their work, which was great. I still remember how amazing the original I6 (Ravenloft) was, and, obviously, I have more than a little fondness for Pharaoh! But they are definitely not the "third founders" of modern D&D.

*Fun fact- he didn't write the middle one in the trilogy.


EDIT: To be absolutely clear, I think we can honor Tracy Hickman individually, the Hickmans (Tracy and Laura), and Margaret Weis for all of their amazing work- both for D&D, and independently, both in RPGs, and in fantasy. But Tracy Hickman's actual contributions to D&D do not come close to making them him the third most important figure in the history of D&D. He's not even the first-most important figure in the middle era of TSR. IMO.
 

Stormonu

Legend
As an aside, Ravenloft 2 is really written to better fit Call of Cthulhu than D&D, with all the deep investigation and hidden-clue handouts.

Dragonlance really turned out to be a mixed bag. I am fairly fond of the original novels (Twilight, Night, Dawn & Twin trilogy), but the adventures translated poorly for actual use (they are a DM dream to read through and follow along with the novels, but a nightmare to run because of the Heroes). Yet, they have been popular enough to have been reprinted for each edition, including 5th Age.

However, the likes of Ravenloft, Pharoah and the Dragonlance series did hit a switch at TSR - story based sold. Unfortunately, they ended up taking the wrong part of the lesson to heart - the railroad story. Part of it was because you could only cover so much in a restricted page count and therefore have to pick your battles and fill out what you think is the most likely path. But a lot of it turned out to be a case of “failed story writer has a tale to tell, but got handed a module instead.”
 

Yora

Legend
Yes very very well said. If I was looking for a "third most important", I'd definitely be looking at Zeb Cook. Hickman factors in for sure, but the sheer amount of ultra-influential stuff Cook was involved with or the primary author on is staggering.
I'm a big Cook fan, but I've never seen him connected to any major innovation.

The Isle of Dread is a wonderful work giving a peek at something with great potential, but it then remained pretty much the only of it's kind and the concept never caught on comercially. Thunder Pass maybe counting as a successor. (Not that familiar with that one.)
 

I re-read DL1 just last week or so. It's an interesting snapshot of the development of D&D. It feels like a halfway point between the older dungeon/hexcrawls and the story-focused adventures. So you have an area you can wander around doing whatever for a while, but then you have these timed story events, and you eventually go to Xak Tsaroth. Tomb of Annihilation has a lot in common with it.

Now, where it got into trouble was the emphasis on the pregens. I think the adventures would've played very differently if they were explicitly designed to be played with your own characters. DL1 kinda allows for it, though it doesn't really tell you what to do with Goldmoon/The Crystal Staff, both of which are pretty vital to the adventure's conclusion. I guess she shows up as an NPC, but that just weakens the adventure. I know we tried it using the pregens and found that unsatisfying, so we just stopped and went back to our regular campaign.

BARF! BARF! The DL modules were so bad as adventures I gave most of mine away for free. I forget which ones did not allow for character death.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I'm a big Cook fan, but I've never seen him connected to any major innovation.


There's a bunch of stuff in there, but even if you stop at 2e, OA, and Planescape, that would be sufficient.
 

ART!

Hero
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.
There's a weird dynamic wherein the PCs are "supposed to" succeed, and so anything less than defeating the big bad or stopping the big bad thing from happening results in a world in which the big bad is causing big bad things. That's fine except that these adventures don't provide much if any insight into what that world might be like now or how to play games in it.

Or you have adventures like Tomb of Annihilation which are pretty much designed to kill PCs, which can start to feel like a video game where you have to complete the level - no matter how many tries it takes - before you can get to the next level. But then you also don't want games in which there's no threat of death (unless you're playing a game in which death is not the stakes).

It's complicated.
 

I'm a big Cook fan, but I've never seen him connected to any major innovation.

The Isle of Dread is a wonderful work giving a peek at something with great potential, but it then remained pretty much the only of it's kind and the concept never caught on comercially. Thunder Pass maybe counting as a successor. (Not that familiar with that one.)
We're talking influence though, not innovation. Impact on D&D. Zeb Cook's work has had absolutely huge impact. Larger, I think, in the long term, than Hickman's idea re: a world existing to support a campaign rather than vice-versa.
 

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