Monday, January 05, 2009

Silver Age Goodness

James Maliszewski has dubbed the period just after what he considers the apex of D&D to be the “Silver Age”, as opposed to the Golden Age that came just before it. Among the hallmarks of this Silver Age is an emphasis on realism:

This is very evident in the pages of Dragon from the period, which, if looked at today, would no doubt seem unduly obsessed with minutiae, such as a "realistic" method of calculating a character's height and weight based on his ability scores or determining how far a character could jump up or across based on the same. "Realism" was a watchword of the Silver Age.

I won't argue with this, and I'm certain it had a strong impact on how I play the game, even today. My first issue of Dragon did have a Holloway painting on the cover, and with articles on how to part heroes from their horded wealth, it's likely the Silver Age was already in full swing by the time I started reading that magazine.

Much of the derision aimed at the Silver Age now appears to focus on the mechanical excesses of the age: using computer software to generate the minutiae of local weather patterns or “not one but two different articles on the physics of falling damage”. There can be no denying that such things filled the pages of Dragon back in those days. But the quest for realism took may different forms.

Among my favorites are the various articles by Katherine Kerr on actual, real-world history. “Who Lives in that Castle?” (#80, December '83, with a cover by Caldwell) described how castles were run, the various roles of their inhabitants, and what you might expect to see them doing on an average day. It was, in short, what happened in the castle after a PC had built it. If the 12th level Lord decided to muster an army and make war upon his neighbors, you could turn to Ms. Kerr's “An Army Travels on its Stomach” (#94, February '85, cover again by Caldwell, but so different from his usual work that you wouldn't guess that from a casual glance) for a primer on muscle-powered logistics. And if you want this army to clash with barbarians from beyond the borders of the civilized world, you might want to peruse her “The Real Barbarians” (#72, April '83, cover again by Caldwell in his more traditional style) for some ideas on how historic barbarians, in this case primarily Goths and Celts, did things.

All of these articles were extremely light in terms of game mechanics. In those days, Dragon was still the magazine of the RPG hobby and not yet a full-time house organ for TSR. Ms. Kerr's articles were clearly written to be used with any game system, and most fell more heavily on the RP side of RPG. There were no stats falconers nor were there random tables for food spoilage. There was, however, a wealth of useful information a DM could use right at the table. Who might have been near the east tower when Lady Maggion was assassinated? Do the PCs have enough time to take the long way around Gritterwood and still arrive before the legions of the Iron Duke? Will a chieftain of the Mammoth Clans better appreciate a gift of iron spearheads or gold jewelry? Sure, you could always make it up if you really needed to, but it was nice to have something to start with, some key to spark the imagination. And for those of us who love verisimilitude, it was handy to know that Charlemagne's ox-drawn wagons rarely bettered an average of twelve miles per day, while the blazingly fast Roman legions could manage closer to twenty.

UPDATE: Similar thoughts from Sir Larkins, with illustrations.


Norman J. Harman Jr. said...

I wish I had better memory. I don't remember the contents of those articles but I remember the titles once you mention them.

My Dragon subscription must have been during the Silver Age cause that's the only kind of article I remember outside of the Best of's.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I frankly liked the "Silver Age" better than the Golden. The Golden Age was certainly exciting, with loads of brand-new ideas, but it lacked coherence or consistency and that got old after a while.