Open Form Contraction

Open Form Contraction

In the case of the original freeform concept to which D&D attached itself to as a template: this remained pure and unfettered, pre-1974-1977. It was its redaction (...) in 1978 by way of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rule-set that started the contraction of the open form conceptual ranges inherent to it. Over the intervening years, 1978-present, and especially starting with the 3rd edition of the game, the remains of the open form concept all but disappeared; and so too did Arneson's vision-born philosophy, as originally and successfully promoted through TSR, disappear, rarely to be heard from again.

Here is a second quote from Dave Arneson's True Genius:

there was what I call a trailing divergence as the genie having been let out of the bottle and thus it was hard to re-cork it; but this soon faded as the community still embracing this progressive design ideology shrunk into obscurity, ostracized, unsupported, and then belittled in Gary's editorials. Any hope for its resurgence was dealt a devastating blow with the release of the 3rd edition of the game with its rigidly defined systematization that made AD&D linked with pre-made adventures look like a rusted, mechanical stepchild.

In the next breath, Rob J. Kuntz goes on:

This model has now been progressed by industry leaders and others to a polished and methodical formula, a conveyor belt line of pre-made du jour for everything. With it comes entertainement and number crunching on a grand scale, but minus the persistent and empowering creative component that in turn spurs growth possibilities on all mutually beneficial levels as it once did.

That's a lot of quoting, with the additional load of a video interview. I am in the middle of reading the book and these are the quotes I found salient for now.

When I was first exposed to tabletop role playing games, the limitlessness of them striked me. I find the "genie out of its bottle" image fitting, and its lexical field opens for the "contraction of the open form" image and closes.

In November 1972, Rob Kuntz, seventeen at that time, was one of the players when Dave Arneson demonstrated Blackmoor to the Lake Geneva gamers around Gary Gygax, releasing the genie for them. There had been a two or more years incubation period in the Twin Cities before the exposition by the lake.

It must have felt like a revelation. Gary Gygax gave a form to what Dave Arneson transmitted to him, enter Dungeons and Dragons.

Why the contraction of the form? Between the first two quotes reproduced above, the book arrays Gary Gygax citations, they go from "Why have us do any more of your imagining for you?" (1974) to "Those who insist on altering the framework should design their own game." (1978). Quite the volte-face.

The first trailer for One D&D is still fresh, reading about a "contraction of the form" reminded me of it. The reaction to One D&D I found the most interesting is the one by Dungeon Masterpiece that says "Wizards of the Coast will have created the "Apple Ecosystem" equivalent of Dungeon and Dragons.". Maybe Mr. Kuntz tells us that TSR then WotC built a walled garden, and Baron de Ropp tells us the gated community will get cosier.

The tales of the early success of Dungeons and Dragons is full of reports of "user questions" about the rules and the game. The response (by mail and by phone) to these questions consumes a lot of time that could be devoted to creating more content. The questions should not stop though as they yield a precious insight into how what you built is used out there. Some kind of a FAQ document emerges as a parry, and further editions of the rules make the shield larger.

If the genie out of the bottle is play and its contracted form on shelves is a game, not all "users" will free the genie completely. Dollar bills were exchanged for that game, it can't be discarded whole, whatever the genius of the emerging genie.

If it's a game, there are rules, and it happens that some of the burden of applying them is handled by the players. Rule interpretation conflicts will appear, referees will be afraid of misinterpreting rules, questions to the wardens of the one and true form will be formulated. I have the impression that a barrage of questions was fired at TSR and that it contributed to "contracting the form", hand in hand, with "making it into a product".

I recently met two young players, post-Magic players, and it seems that Dungeons and Dragons is limited to 5th edition and Critical Role. Characters are crafty combinations with backstories. They disregard homegrown rules as "not the true thing" and, as players, often choose character over party.


I go on reading Dave Arneson's True Genius, I expect it to show me the Genie and its genius. I think that D&D is a contracted form, but I also think that the Genie has been liberated and that it is well and alive. The tree of knowledge still sits in the middle of the walled garden and it still bears fruit.

The tree is still connected to the mycelia of our network of blogs.