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Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Dragon Issue #22 - Gary's Vision of the Computerization of D&D

There is something special about issue #22 of The Dragon. Maybe it's the preview of the DMG that's included. It could be some of the opinionated reviews Gary gives of competing periodicals (if you think I trash "wayward Kickstarters" hard you aint seen nothing). Tonight's post is instead about Gary's vision from 35 years ago as concerns computers and D&D.
DUNGEONS & DRAGONS can be played on a computer. Computers are most certainly a big aspect of the near future, particularly the home computer. Non-programmable computer games are already making big inroads into the toy and hobby market. They will grow still more, and soon programmable games will join this trend. D&D program cassettes plugged into a home computer would obviate the need for a DM or other players. Thus the labor of setting up a campaign or the necessity of having a fairly large group to play in it would be removed. The graphic display would be exciting, and the computer would slave away doing all of the record work and mechanics necessary to the game, giving nearly instantaneous results to the player or players. Computerization of D&D has many other benefits also, and such games would not destroy the human-run campaign but supplement game participation. This is the direction we hope to make available to D&D. Let’s see if my foresight is as keen as my hindsight.
Now, I was a huge fan of the Gold Box D&D games on the Commodore 64. Well, except for Hillsfar or whatever it was. The games that was not a game, but I digress. They did not, howerver, replace gaming with a true gaming group.

To be honest, I don't think that 35 years later we are even near the point that a true RPG can be run without a human behind the DM Screen (literal, virtual or otherwise). Computer can deal with preprogramed options. Players seem to always find the choices in between. As much as I like Oblivion, Fallout, Dragon Age and the rest, they are RPGs in name only

Players also like rolling their own dice, for real or virtually, but the idea of computerized game aids has come far. They don't replace the DM, but make his job easier.

So, how was Gary's vision on the future? I think he did fairly well, even if he thought the benefits would arrive sooner than they did.

In any case, I do have 2 copies of this particular issue of The Dragon. It will be gifted in an upcoming OSR Christmas 2014 giveaway ;)


  1. Re: computer games simulating RPGs - a quote from an old gaming buddy: "until I can pick my nose and put a booger on your characters shirt, it ain't a real RPG."

    For all I know there are games out there now that let you do this, but he's still got a point.

    1. You can probably do that in Dwarf Fortress. If you can't yet, I'm sure it'll be in there a few releases down the line.

  2. I've done MMORPGs with friends and they're fun, but certainly not the same. Computers can't handle the inspirations and mad plots of real people. It's that unpredictability that makes gaming with a real GM irreplaceable.

    I just wrapped up a game session where we had five players physically at the table and two more telecommuting in on a laptop. Technology certainly expands what we can do with games, but it's not ready to replace a good GM yet.

    1. indeed. There's no substitute.

      However, MMORPGs are but one evolutionary branch. At the time of this article, these were the state of the art.
      Interactive Fiction (and MUDs) have all but died off. Graphical adventures won the day.
      (and Dark Tower was a fun---if fruitless---evolutionary dead-end.)

  3. Also, I love this issue of Dragon for the SCA write-up!

    1. Issue #24 has the SCA article by Allen Hammack.

    2. Thank you for the correction!

  4. I disagree with those who say computer RPGs aren't actual RPGs. They may be limited and limiting, perhaps even binary, but that doesn't mean the player hasn't assumed the role of a character who goes adventuring or whatever constitutes a "game" in that player's eye. If there's roleplaying and a game, then it's a roleplaying game.

    Nevertheless, I still believe that pencil & paper tabletop RPGs are king!