Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Early Influences

One of the things I find interesting in the "Grognard" discussions I find on Grognardia and Google+ (which I'm still learning my way around) is looking back at the way we used to play, our early related interests, and how they reflected back into our gaming interests.

The thing is, there was a lot less fantasy of the sword`n'sorcery type in the late 70's.  The thing that strikes me about Gygax's list at the end of the original DMG is pretty close to being a comprehensive list of the major fantasy authors up to that time.

The thing about fantasy RPG's is that they fit in quite neatly with a body of interests most of us who played them back in the day shared, at least to some degree.  Not that we'd all read, or would read, or like, all the same books or all the same things.  But there tended to be a great deal of overlap.  When D&D appeared, it was natural that it would appeal to kids like us.

What were some of those things?  For me:

TV Shows: Lost in Space, The Outer Limits, Star Trek (of course!).  Many cartoons, such as Johnny Quest, the adventure cartoons they ran as part of The Banana Splits - The Arabian Nights, Danger Island, The Three Musketeers and especially The Adventures of Huck Finn, which I dearly loved.

Movies: the weekend airwaves were full of good stuff all through my childhood.  50's sci-fi movies ran during the day, and at night we had Creature Features, which ran the cream of those as well as the Universal and Hammer horror films.  Also all the Japanese giant monster movies, which I was immensely enamored of.  There wasn't a lot of sword-and-fantasy, but Harryhausen movies like the Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts definitely filled the bill, and helped cement my concept of fantasy in my formative years. Tarzan movies and many westerns (The Searchers!) made an impression, too.  I would be remiss if I didn't mention Star Wars, which was kind of like a little a-bomb dropped on my generation's imagination back in `77.

Comics: an incalculable influence.  I loved comics as did most of the kids I knew who also ended up getting into RPG's.  The mid-60's-era Marvels were the best (I was fortunate enough to have inherited a bunch, plus Marvel was always reprinting their classics, and it was easy to get into their earlier history.  Also the "Marvel Universe" was only 10-15 years old then, and constantly referenced in their current titles at the time), but they were still publishing some exciting and innovative comics at the time (Tomb Of Dracula, Man-Thing, pretty much anything Steve Gerber was doing).  And anything Jack Kirby did - classic Marvel stories, his Fourth World series, The Demon, The Eternals, even late stuff like the much-maligned Devil Dinosaur had enormous impact on me.  Prince Valiant in the Sunday papers, too.

Books and Stories:  I already mentioned Gygax's list.  By the time I started playing D&D, I'd read The Hobbit and parts of Lord of the Rings.  The Bakshi adaptation came out not too long after my first exposure to the game (I liked it at the time but find it nigh-unwatchable now).  I knew Conan from the comics (of course) but was picking up the Ace collections when I could find them used and cheap.  I hadn't yet begun to notice that the stories by Howard alone were superior to any of the completions/pastiches, but all of my favorites at that point were Howard-written.  I'd read a bit of Burroughs (again, first exposure had been through comics - DC's Weird Worlds very freely adapted John Carter and Pellucidar, and later Marvel's John Carter series - nice artwork by Gil Kane), some of H.P. Lovecraft's stories (total mind-fuckers), the first of the "Narnia" books and Andre Norton's "Steel Magic" which also made quite an impression on me.  Not long before I ran my first campaign I was reading Leiber's Fafhrd/Mouser stories.  I was well aware of Moorcock's stuff but didn't read any till later.  I can't ignore the many books of fairy tales, knights and such that I always scooped up when I saw them, because I realized at a very early age that I loved that sort of thing.  So Greek mythology, King Arthur, Robin Hood, and Ivanhoe surely went into the hopper.  Edward Eager's books, especially Half Magic and Knight's Castle were very important.  Oh, and I can't forget the Arabian Nights!  We had a very nice illustrated edition that inspired me a lot very early, and of course the aforementioned Sinbad movies.

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