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

guachi

Adventurer
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.

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.

I didn't pick up a copy of Pharaoh until 2015 (and got it signed by Hickman!). I also should have mentioned that as well. Its design and layout are stellar. Really lays into the 3 Pillars in each encounter. It's so much easier to run Pharaoh than basically any 5e adventure.

Rahasia reads better than it plays and could do with some tightening up. But it's serviceable and, like you said, it's different.
 

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GuyBoy

Adventurer
I liked both Ravenloft ( a lot) and Pharaoh. However, with all respect to Hickman, I felt DL was the campaign equivalent of the DMPC issue; your character existed to tell the story of the DL campaign. Too much of a railroad.
I’m conscious that my experience might have been tainted as I played under a DM who was such a DL fan that he wouldn’t allow anything to break from orthodoxy.
Once again, respect for his work, but not a founder (that’s G and A only), and I’d still place behind Jaquays, Cook, Kuntz, Bledsaw in importance. And Greenwood too, though I’m more Greyhawk than FR.
 

While it seems Laura Hickman 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 and Tracy were the writers of Rahasia & Pharaoh (independently, before TSR took them on board), as well as Ravenloft, and the concept for Dragonlance. So if I were looking to recognize their impact on the direction of D&D, I think I'd want to include both of them.

Margaret Weis was brought in from editing in the book department to team up with Tracy on the novels.

As you say, the DL modules were primarily Tracy Hickman and Doug Niles, with some contributions from Laura Hickman, Michael Dobson, and a few others in later entries.
 


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.
In fact, reading/listening to Peterson it really seems like dnd emerges communally as an activity before it becomes a product. Even with OD&D, a lot of people say that the incomplete and confusing nature of those supplements led players to create very different types of games, and for scenes to spring up, for example in california and in the UK. So thinking of it this way might be better than enumerating a list of founders, though certainly Hickman was influential.

I'm not sure exactly where it started, but Hickman and ravenloft/dragon lance certainly helped establish the "trad" style of play. But this style was also prevalent in CoC and later in WoD games.
 

Yora

Legend
My thought was mostly on the shaping of what we think of as a "modern D&D type campaign", bassed on the assumption that AD&D 2nd edition is a distinctive different phenomenon than OD&D was.
When you really go back to the origins of RPGs, you have to go back to 19th century military theorists. In the same way that Arneson made a revolutionary leap turning the wargame into a dungeon crawler, I see a similarly big leap in turning the dungeon crawler into story-adventures.
 

My thought was mostly on the shaping of what we think of as a "modern D&D type campaign", bassed on the assumption that AD&D 2nd edition is a distinctive different phenomenon than OD&D was.
When you really go back to the origins of RPGs, you have to go back to 19th century military theorists. In the same way that Arneson made a revolutionary leap turning the wargame into a dungeon crawler, I see a similarly big leap in turning the dungeon crawler into story-adventures.
But it's hard to pinpoint a spot when that happened, as Malmuria notes and Peterson documents. People were definitely already doing it in the 70s by the time the Hickmans started publishing modules catering more to that strain.
 

Hickman was a giant and definitely deserves more credit. His adventures had amazing maps, evocative locations, memorable villains, and a compelling backstory that made everything seem more real. Unforgettable stuff.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
In fact, reading/listening to Peterson it really seems like dnd emerges communally as an activity before it becomes a product. Even with OD&D, a lot of people say that the incomplete and confusing nature of those supplements led players to create very different types of games, and for scenes to spring up, for example in california and in the UK. So thinking of it this way might be better than enumerating a list of founders, though certainly Hickman was influential.

I'm not sure exactly where it started, but Hickman and ravenloft/dragon lance certainly helped establish the "trad" style of play. But this style was also prevalent in CoC and later in WoD games.
I view the D&D founders, Arneson as more narrativist and Gygax as more a "mechanic for everything". I suspect Arneson would approve of D&D 5e skills, that emphasize the storytelling context. But both of them were wargamers and liked complicated mechanics for combat.
 

I view the D&D founders, Arneson as more narrativist and Gygax as more a "mechanic for everything". I suspect Arneson would approve of D&D 5e skills, that emphasize the storytelling context. But both of them were wargamers and liked complicated mechanics for combat.
What's interesting is that even prussian war gamers struggled with how detailed their ruleset should be. As rules got increasingly simulationist, there was a 'rulings not rules' movement that sought to simplify the mechanical complexity by trusting the judgement of the referee.

Original kriegsspiel was codified and expanded into a rather crunchy affair (the board gamers among us would call it "heavy") formally termed rigid kriegsspiel. The game slowly evolved to a point where military strategists realized that a neutral referee (the "umpire") could help arbitrate fog of war and interpretation of complex rules. However, the rules were so complex that the umpire was increasingly taxed by the role as the years progressed. Lieutenant Wilhelm Jacob Meckel published a treatise in 1873 and another in 1875 in which he expressed four complaints about the overcomplicated rules of kriegsspiel:

1) The rules constrain the umpire, preventing him from applying his expertise
2) the rules are too rigid to realistically model all possible outcomes in a battle, because the real world is complex and ever-changing
3) the computations for casualties slow down the game and have a minor impact on a player's decisions anyway
4) few officers are willing to make the effort to learn the rules

The fourth issue was the most serious, as the Prussian military struggled to meet the growing demand for umpires. If that sounds like "forever GM syndrome," well, that's exactly what it was back in the late 1800s! Meckel proposed dispensing with some of the rules and giving the umpire more discretion to arbitrate events as he saw fit. The only things he kept were the dice and the losses tables for assessing casualties.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
What's interesting is that even prussian war gamers struggled with how detailed their ruleset should be. As rules got increasingly simulationist, there was a 'rulings not rules' movement that sought to simplify the mechanical complexity by trusting the judgement of the referee.
Yeah, the Arneson-Gygax combat mechanics are quite complex.

The D&D tradition has streamlined and simplified much of it, and I am grateful!
 

Mallus

Legend
Dragonlance gave D&D players their very own Lord of the Rings-style fantasy epic to star in. This was appreciated by the wave of players who came primarily from fantasy fiction reading backgrounds, rather than wargaming.

It doesn’t make Weiss & Hickman founders, but they’re surely important figures in the history of D&D history, especially as its wargaming roots have faded.
 

Marc_C

Solitary Role Playing
No.

I would say Frank Mentzer is the third designer since he supplied several additional rules to the B/X system which resulted in the Rules Cyclopedia. The domain and the war machines rules to name a few.
 

Steel_Wind

Adventurer
I've read through this thread and a couple of things stand out:

1 - There is a LOT of knee-twitch DragonLance hate here. Actually, some of the modules are excellent and their map designs were breakthroughs at the time. They made a ton of dough for a good reason;

2- None of you have mentioned what specific mechanic Hickman invented and used to introduce, maintain, and advance the story in his adventure design. Hickman's main contribution to adventure design was THE EVENT. Prior to Hickman's contributions, we had encounters -- we didn't have "Events" which took place at a pre-determined time or otherwise independent of players entering a room which were designed to maintain the plot and advance the story. Gygax didn't do that. Arneson didn't do that. Neither did Jaquays, Cook or anybody else mentioned here other than Hickman. Events were NEW. They stayed with us and have remained a fixture in all modern adventure design since. THAT is the contribution of Hickman - and it is why he has had more of an effect in modern adventure design than any other designer. That contribution was far more important than any other design element -- or person -- mentioned in this thread with respect to adventure design. THAT was Hickman; and

3. WOW. I appreciate that this is a forum discussion dominated by D&D DMs where homebrew tends to be more the rule than the exception, but the suggestion that inter-locking adventures and meta-plots is somehow passe is an eye opener into the biases of some posting here.

Quare: What do you think most GMs of Pathfinder Adv Path or Starfinder Adv Path would have to say about the importance of the Event as a means of introducing, maintaining, and advancing the story in modern Adventure Path designs? Might that possibly -- just maybe -- have something to do with the contributions of Mr. Hickman that is under discussion here?
 
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dave2008

Legend
I've read through this thread and a couple of things stand out:

1 - There is a LOT of knee-twitch DragonLance hate here. Actually, some of the modules are excellent and their map designs were breakthroughs at the time. They made a ton of dough for a good reason;

2- None of you have mentioned what specific mechanic Hickman invented and used to introduce, maintain, and advance the story in his adventure design. Hickman's main contribution to adventure design was THE EVENT. Prior to Hickman's contributions, we had encounters -- we didn't have "Events" which took place at a pre-determined time or otherwise independent of players entering a room which were designed to maintain the plot and advance the story. Gygax didn't do that. Arneson didn't do that. Neither did Jaquays, Cook or anybody else mentioned here other than Hickman. Events were NEW. They stayed with us and have remained a fixture in all modern adventure design since. THAT is the contribution of Hickman - and it is why he has had more of an effect in modern adventure design than any other designer. That contribution was far more important than any other design element -- or person -- mentioned in this thread with respect to adventure design. THAT was Hickman; and

3. WOW. I appreciate that this is a forum discussion dominated by D&D DMs where homebrew tends to be more the rule than the exception, but the suggestion that inter-locking adventures and meta-plots is somehow passe is an eye opener into the biases of some posting here.

Quare: What do you think most GMs of Pathfinder Adv Path or Starfinder Adv Path would have to say about the importance of the Event as a means of introducing, maintaining, and advancing the story in modern Adventure Path designs? Might that possibly -- just maybe -- have something to do with the contributions of Mr. Hickman that is under discussion here?
In 30+ yrs of playing D&D I have never had success with running a published adventure so perhaps I am not grasping the importance of, or what it even is, an "Event." Can you expand on that?

Also, I do wonder how important such an invention is if I can play D&D for 30 yrs and completely avoid it.
 


pemerton

Legend
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
Are you talking about commercial development of the idea, especially via TSR? Then perhaps yes.

Are you just talking about the idea itself? Then I think no. In the late 70s Lewis Pulsipher, writing in White Dwarf, was already distinguishing between D&D played as a wargame and D&D played as a "novel".

(EDIT: I've finished reading the thread, and see @Malmuria and @Mannahnin have made similar points.)

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.
I don't agree re 4e D&D. 4e is the closest D&D has come to integrating "indie" design techniques into D&D - closed scene resolution for non-combat (skill challenges) as well as combat; player-authored quests; a focus on conflict as the driver of play ("skip to the fun"; scene-based resolution with the encounter-power and heaing paradigm); separating PC advancement from meeting requirements/tasks set by the GM (XP awarded based merely on playing, especially post-DMG 2; treasure awarded via a per-level parcel system).

And those indie techniques are a direct reaction to Hickman-style design, although more in its White Wolf form than in its second-half-of-the-1980s D&D form.
 
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GreyLord

Hero
I come more from the Gygax arena of gameplay early on, BUT I'd say that what is being attributed to the Hickmans was not actually something (in my opinion) that originated with them.

Gygax was a type of playstyle you could say, or the dungeon crawler (but even with that, there were bounteous things that occurred outside the dungeon, as anyone who reads the AD&D PHB could discern with the titles, land ownership or rule, nobility management, etc), but you ALSO had Arneson. To my mind his playstyle was in many ways the continuous adventure that you see in Dragonlance.

He may not have had as big an impact publically as Gygax, but from what I have heard (never participated in them myself or was offered to participate) his was in line with how many see adventures today, going overland and going from one adventure to the next in a series of ongoing events.

This playstyle was one that was played regularly even before the Hickmans. Sure, most of it were probably each groups home self styled campaign, but it existed. Hickman probably played in this playstyle already and just wrote adventures to cater to it, rather than inventing it or creating it...

PERSONAL OPINION...of course.
 

Desdichado

Adventurer
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.

From a publisher/developer side, maybe. However, I think Hickman just reflected what was going on in the player base rather than creating something new in the player base. In the earliest days of D&D, everyone who played came in through the vector of wargames, because it grew out of and was an appendage to the hobby of wargaming at one point. By the time the 80s rolled around, it had found a great deal of mainstream success, and not with wargamers. Too many people were in the hobby who'd never heard of a wargame or had anything to do with the wargaming hobby circuit. They came into the game as they heard about it because they were fans of fantasy fiction, so they always naturally wanted the product of their game sessions to somehow resemble more the books that they were reading, rather than pixel-bitching of random rooms, or whatever.

It took a little bit of time for the original guard of writers and developers to make room for someone who came into the hobby through this vector before products started resembling it a bit more, but Hickman didn't create it, nor did he change, in my opinion, the dynamic of what kinds of products were being demanded by the customer base. He just reflected it, and his type of products were successful because they were what a big chunk of the player base was trying to do and reaching for on their own already anyway.
 

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