Let’s start this week’s post with Gary Gygax’s response to some criticism he received in the very first issue of the most influential zine in the history of the tabletop RPG hobby.
Dave and I disagree on how to handle any number of things, and both of our campaigns differ from the “rules” found in DandD. 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, DandD 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.Gary Gygax- Alarums & Excursions #2
Gary decided to take Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in a different direction.
Dictums are given for the sake of the game, only, for if Advanced Dungeons & Dragons is to survive and grow, it must have some degree of uniformity, a familiarity of method and procedure from campaign to campaign within the whole.Introduction to the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide
There were several reasons that Gary intended AD&D to be a more game aimed at uniformity of play.
Those reasons are mostly about money. Gary didn’t want to pay Dave Arneson anymore royalties. Uniform rules were needed for the lucrative tournaments at GenCon. “Official” rules means “official” products that you must own to be playing “official” AD&D and not a shabby knockoff.
Most DMs then and now ignored all the text in the intro to the Dungeon Master’s Guide about “undesirable games” that had fared into areas that weren’t AD&D. We’ve done our own thing and Gygax could go pound sand.
“Appeal to Gygax” is a logical fallacy.
Gary Gygax’s contribution to tabletop gaming is undeniable.
That doesn’t make Gary’s opinions about fantasy gaming holy and inviolable.
AD&D is one of the best variants of the Dungeons & Dragons concept ever devised.
That doesn’t make AD&D perfect. There is no such thing as a flawless game that will fit every group.
I have played AD&D rules as written on a few occasions. I didn’t like it. It was tedious. Some groups enjoy that. That’s fine. Not for me.
AD&D is a complete system with little need for alteration, if you want to play it as Gary intended.
Gary intended for you to play the game as he wrote it so you would buy TSR’s products, pay the entry fee to TSR’s tournament at Gencon, and bring more revenue into TSR’s bank account. He did that by creating a narrative that if you didn’t play with it like Gary told you to play it then you weren’t really playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons!
That narrative has fuck-all to do with what YOU want or how YOU will get the best gaming experience YOU can get with YOUR game group.
I don’t want to play AD&D as Gary intended.
I am not Gary.
I have a different set of experiences than Gary did.
I have a different worldview than Gary did.
I have different priorities than Gary did.
It’s not 1979. It’s 2022.
Maybe, Gary believed his own bullshit. Maybe “you are playing something else” wasn’t merely a cynical argument to raise the top line revenue for TSR.
I’m willing to concede that Gary may have had an honest concern for the fantasy RPG hobby and the long term survival of the Dungeons & Dragons game. I lean more toward the cynical view of his intent.
TSR tried to straddle a line between, We know every DM’s campaign is different… and… if you go too far, your not playing AD&D. There was a response to readers from the editors of Dragon that was very apologetic and conciliatory towards those who had taken offense to Gary’s statements about the inferiority of games that diverged too much.
Not that it mattered. I don’t think Gary was very successful with this narrative.
Most people who played it weren’t concerned with Gary’s opinion about when a game stopped being AD&D. They just played what they wanted to play, how they wanted to play and didn’t care what Gary thought.
If you alter the game and can’t run a TSR published module without major alterations to make it fit your house rules, then yea, you’ve made a variant or different game entirely. Fair enough.
You will certainly get a different experience if you deviate from Gary’s ideal.
Is it possible that your campaign might implode?
You’ll learn lessons that can’t be taught unless you wreck stuff. Start over and do better. Most of us blow up a campaign or two before we figure it out.
Maybe you’ll discover something you like better and stick with it, or create something totally new that other people will like too. That’s how D&D was created! Experiments! Failures! More experiments!
I can’t see experimentation as a bad thing when it’s what created the hobby.
The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide is something I think every Dungeon Master should read cover to cover at least once. I own two copies and a PDF of it. I get something new from it every time I pick it up.
However, I reject the absurd notion that nobody has improved on Gary’s ideas since 1979.
I reject the absurd notion that common campaign structures and adventure scenarios that worked in 1979 will work the same way in 2022. We have a different culture. Different technology.
We’ve learned a few things since those days too.
This week’s heresy in a nutshell.
I’m going to do my own thing when my interests, priorities, and values diverge from Gary’s interests, priorities and values.
I acknowledge that there were a lot of good reasons for what is found in AD&D. Those rules came from Gary’s experiences of trial and error. He learned the hard way and from correspondence with other designers and DMs. That doesn’t nullify the fact that we are not working from the same set of experiences or assumptions.
Sometimes my alterations will work. Sometimes not. I will enjoy the experience of tinkering and learn something when I try things that Gary did not intend.
Gary created something amazing and shared it with the rest of us. That doesn’t make his work without fault or the game without opportunities for improvement or creative variation.
I reject the admonition that I “should” just follow Gary and disregard my own experiences, knowledge, and intuition.
What you “should” be doing is taking the accumulated lessons and wisdom from 50 years of adventure gaming, pick what works for you and your group and do that.