Dave and I disagree on how to handle any number of things, and both of our campaigns differ from the “rules” found in D&D. If the time ever comes when all aspects of fantasy are covered and the vast majority of its players agree on how the game should be played, D&D will have become staid and boring indeed. Sorry, but I don’t believe that there is anything desirable in having various campaigns playing similarly to one another.
I desire variance in interpretation and, as long as I am editor of the TSR line and its magazine, I will do my utmost to see that there is as little trend towards standardization as possible. Each campaign should be a “variant”, and there is no “official interpretation” from me or anyone else.Gary Gygax, Letter to Alarums and Excursions #2
This is a post I’ve been gnawing on for a while. I’ve had this title in my drafts with nothing in the content block for months. I wasn’t entirely sure about the thesis. The thought occurred to me one day when I was doing some sort of menial task and punched it into my WordPress app to be developed later. It seemed right, but also a little outrageous to say it that way.
James’ post is about the quotes from a letter Gary Gygax published in the second issue of Alarums and Excursions. James makes the observation that in this letter we get to see “Gamer Gary” as opposed to the later Advanced Dungeons & Dragons era “Corporate Gary”. I agree with that take and both of his posts are worth a read. You can find them HERE and HERE.
There are couple of ideas in that quoted text I want to direct your attention to. The first sentence of the quote, “…both of our campaigns differ from the “rules” found in D&D,” seems to sum up the way Gary thought about the game. He states clearly that his campaign and Dave’s campaign were different from what was published in Dungeons and Dragons. He was telling everyone, “We don’t play it by the rules.”
The original version of Dungeons & Dragons was open to interpretation and variation. It was assumed by Gary and Dave that you were going to do your own thing. Note the quotation marks around the word, “rules.” Gary is expressing with those quotes that rules were guidelines or suggestions about how to set up your own fantasy campaign.
He goes on to say that enthusiasts creating their own variants of Dungeons & Dragons was desirable! It was characteristic of wargame hobbyists to create a “variant” of your favorite game. Part of the hobby was changing mechanisms to create a variation of a game or create a whole new game. This, of course, was how Dungeons and Dragons came to be in the first place. Dave Arneson iterated on what Dave Wesley had done and Gary did the same with Dave Arneson’s work on Blackmoor. All three were building off of other wargame designs and mechanisms they had picked up from other games or articles in magazines.
In a recent interview on the Wandering DM’s Podcast, one of the film makers who made of Secrets of Blackmoor, quoted a gamer from Minneapolis. This particular individual had played in the campaigns of Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson and M.A.R. Barker. He had a view of all three games that not many people had the opportunity to experience.
The quote is almost exactly the title of the post I had written down months ago. I’m paraphrasing, “I played Greyhawk with Gary, Blackmoor with Dave and Tekumel with Phil but I didn’t play D&D with any of them.”
It was a sublime moment for me to hear him say that. I was blowing the snow off my drive while listening to the podcast and nearly started dancing for joy. It would have been quite a sight for the neighbors, me out there clomping about in my snow boots. They were all playing different games and none of them were the game TSR published!
Original Dungeons and Dragons, in a sense, was not a game. It was a publication that described parts of Gary’s game and Dave’s game and synthesized them into a set of principles and examples of how other people could build their own bespoke games. It was, as many others have said, a “how to make a fantasy adventure game” kit.
If the time ever comes when all aspects of fantasy are covered and the vast majority of its players agree on how the game should be played, D&D will have become staid and boring indeed.
Each campaign should be a “variant”, and there is no “official interpretation” from me or anyone else.
Corporate Gary came to express a different opinion just a few years after this letter. I think that was partly because he found many of the variants distasteful. Obviously, it was financially beneficial for TSR when dungeon masters bought Official Dungeons & Dragons products. That’s a different post for a different day.
The Big Idea of this post: I believe every dungeon master and group should embrace this concept.
Each campaign should be a variant.
I believe that every game of Dungeons & Dragons is an expression of the personality of each game group and game master. I could say that my group is playing Swords and Wizardry but in reality, we are playing Kaladonia.
Do not seek to play The game. Play Your game.
NOTE: 2/10/22 I came across a blog post that is the source for the original quote from the movie.