Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Me and Orson Welles

No, my post's title does not refer to the Richard Linklater film of the same name, although I have been planning to check out that picture in the near future.  Rather, I intend to briefly comment on an actual parallel that exists between Welles as a theater director and myself as a DM.

You see, I am currently reading Simon Callow's superbly written biography of Orson Welles, The Road to Xanadu, and am at the point in the mid-1930s when Welles (working with producer John Houseman) is making his first significant mark on the American theater scene with his all-black-cast adaptation of Macbeth.  Callow writes of Welles that:

"He was not, in fact, a great innovator at all; he was a great fulfiller.  Pragmatic rather than visionary, he was supreme as a doer."  (p. 242)

I think this aptly describes me (and perhaps many others) as a DM: a cobbler together of ideas, a hybridizer, a fulfiller.  I like that word.  Because while I am in awe of innovators and folks who can think "outside the box," what seems to matter most at the game table (or at least my game table) is an ability to flex with what you are given, to mix and match elements borrowed from anywhere, and to pragmatically address the narrative and game needs of the players and NPCs as they arise.  True innovation can be quite inspirational, and innovative ideas often provide the fodder that we doers work with, but at the end of the day, I am not ashamed to stand with Welles as a workmanlike borrower and weaver of other people's innovations. 


  1. Dig the new header illo. That's a quintessential fighter. Probably going to get pwned by the OB, but, that's the life.

  2. I agree. The gravest insult for a fighter is to get pawned by an owlbear, and have to sit in the owlbear pawnshop for 3 months next to tarnished owlbear saxophones and crappy owlbear Squier Stratocasters. It burns!

    But to your post, Carter, does this 'fulfiller' shed light on your famous quote: "I always admire the Lennon/Arneson, but I'm more of the McCartney/Gygax in the end." [or something like that ... my notebook is packed away.]

    That is, was Welles a Gygax, a Soles, a McCartney?

  3. @imago1: Yes, that is my favorite pic of both the OB and a classic D&D fighter.

    @Spawn: I think you're onto something with that Welles - Gygax - McCartney - Soles connection. At least I keep good company, eh?

  4. P.S. Though it may be read either way, I tend to think it's the owlbear delivering the "lunch money" line.

  5. I totally know what you mean. My creativity has always been about cobbling and assembling, less about pulling amazingly original ideas out of thin air.

    My analogy for some years now has been that if gaming is music, then I'm a jazz musician improvising around standards, rather than a rock musician writing their own original songs.

  6. Spawn of Endra: don't forget those dinky porcelain owlbear figurines you get in specially marked boxes of Red Rose Tea. Bunch of those wind up collecting dust down at Lou's Pawn & Pwn and the cheapo antique shops.

  7. Thanks. That salvaged some honour for me. ;)

    I was always the clobber of bits.

  8. @sirlarkins and Andreas: I think many of us are of this stripe, and I like the jazz musician analogy, playing "variations on standards." Even guys like Raggi who seem so innovative from an outside POV claim to be pragmatists like Welles, so I think this is a common thing amongst DMs.