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Like many (all?) of you that played it, 1st Edition AD&D (“1e”) taught me words I never knew. I started playing at age 9 in 1977, which was long before I studied Latin. 1e, not Fr. Wood, taught me id est, exempli gratia, and quod vide. In fact, during my 23 years away from the game, I still went out of my way to use q.v. in my writing, and continue to do so today. For whatever reason, that one stuck with me.
Another word I learned was “thrice” from the androsphinx, who could roar thrice per day. In 8th grade, I taught my mythology teacher the word, “pantheon,” which I had learned from the 1e Deities & Demigods three or four years earlier.
Mr. Joyce: You mean the Parthenon in Greece?
Me: No, Mr. Joyce. “Pantheon” refers to a culture’s collection of gods, as in the “Norse pantheon,” “Greek pantheon,” or “Indian pantheon.”
Mr. Joyce: Oh, I never knew that.
I clearly remember studying for the SATs when I was in 8th grade (my older brother was getting ready to take them, and I was in the room), and my mother asked us a practice question. I don’t remember the exact animal, but it was something like, “Elephant:herbivore::human:?” I knew the answer was omnivore before I was given the choices. My brother had never heard the word. I played D&D; he didn’t. Ironic in light of his and my mother’s participation in my Satanic Panic persecution.
All last month, Dictionary.com’s Word of the Day has been what I call, “D&D words.” For a brief instant, I thought that was odd, but I quickly realized this is because it’s Halloween, and everything scary has a place in D&D. But “empyrean”? An article on the difference between a catapult and a trebuchet? Hmmm. . . . Maybe Halloween was just an excuse for their editors to let their geek flags fly.
The Fiend Folio: A Tome of Creatures Malevolent and Benign.
Commenting on this on Facebook inspired many of you to share your own gains in vocabulary care of 1e: pseudo (from pseudo-dragon), homunculus, milieu, tableau, miscellaneous, simulacrum, clairaudience, glaive, carrion, alignment, satyriasis, melee, charisma, dexterity, projectile, theocracy, ethereal, omniscient, oubliette, hierophant, brazier (but pronounced as brassiere), and some alternative terms for prostitutes (1e DMG, page 192). It depends not only on your schooling, but also on how old you were when you started playing, so everyone has their own list. I know a lot of you learned math through 1e, or later editions for that matter, but I was always mathematically inclined, so 1e math was easy for me. But we all learned a lot. Spelling was my Achilles heel, and to this day D&D is teaching me how to spell. As of last week, I can write ixitxachitl without having to look it up. Of course, I’m not sure how that one’s going to enrich my life.
My friend (Vic) and I are (slowly) creating our own RPG, and I have a Word document called, “Big Words,” that contains a lot of obscure English words, and a few outside of English. The way we’re using them is as title for class and racial abilities. E.g., ataraia is “a state of freedom from emotional disturbance and anxiety; tranquility.” This could be the name of an ability or spell that calms emotions. The definition of ataraia is inherent in the (let’s say) spell description, so you can learn the word if you want. If you don’t want to learn the word, it doesn’t matter. It’s not going to cause confusion because it can be ignored in favor of the text you need to read anyway.
Other Subject Matter
But it was more than just words. I also learned some science. E.g., I memorized all the types of insanity (1e DMG, page 83). Looking at them now, I’m not sure this made me a qualified psychologist, but it did make me aware of them and raised my interest in science. I also flexed my future constitutional law chops by learning the definitions of several forms of government (1e DMG, page 89), and got some more science from the section on disease (1e DMG, page 89).
There’s also the fact that I loved being able to fight characters from mythology and legend, and there was something valuable to that. Joel over on Facebook said he learned the tales of Baba Yaga from the 1e DMG.
An Even Deeper Learning
A discussion of my post on Lord Gygax’s writing technique prompted my friend, SRM, to point out what is probably the most important aspect of what we learned from 1e:
I’m also a bit grateful to that design when I was younger. It, along with similar traditions (philosophy in particular) taught me powerful cognitive lessons of attention and textual analysis. More than anyone at that point in my life, Gygax had me scrambling to the library and the Oxford English Dictionary just so I could understand what the fuck he was saying.
Stephen’s a bit foul-mouthed, and though I’m in no place to judge, I do.
Moreover, as far as I can remember, 1e was my earliest experience with regularly thinking outside the box. I’ve always tried to see a bigger picture than my dopey, anti-intellectual siblings (who didn’t jump on that bandwagon until adulthood), but 1e was a near-constant exercise in that. Even when preparing an adventure, you had to think outside the box of the box outside of which your players were thinking.
In other words, you had to anticipate that your players would find a way around the obstacles you wrote for them and put a larger obstacle around that. It was always a war of who could outthink whom. Whether playing or preparing, you were flexing your creative muscles, and it was so enjoyable that you had fun learning. That’s probably the best lesson of them all, and RPGs are perfect in this regard.
But you all knew that already.
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