Monday, September 28, 2009

Gygax in Europa

This is old news to some, but I thought I ought to make mention of it here nonetheless. An old article by Gary Gygax, entitled "How to Set Up Your Dungeons & Dragons Campaign -- And Be Stuck Refereeing It Seven Days Per Week Until the Wee Hours of the Morning!", was recently unearthed. It appeared in a European wargaming fanzine called Europa in the April 1975 issue. Gary's article appears on pages 18-20 and is quite fascinating from a historical perspective, both in terms of his discussion of how he designed his own campaign and because it's from a very early period, before D&D's popularity reached its eventual heights. Gygax also describes, albeit sketchily, the 13 levels of the original Castle Greyhawk and their inhabitants.

The other thing of interest here is that the article is clearly written by "Gamer Gary," as opposed to "TSR Gary." That is, it's written from the perspective of one gamer to another rather than being full of pontifical pronouncements by someone looking to sell you new products. Gamers who entered the hobby after 1979 or so probably have little to no experience of "Gamer Gary" and even I sometimes forget about his existence. It's nice to be reminded of him from time to time and this short article does that very well, in addition to its other more obvious uses.

29 comments:

  1. Wow. Thanks for pointing to this.

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  2. He refers to an upcoming "Part III of this series" at one point in the article. Do you know if other installments ever appeared in this 'zine? Was this one Part I or Part II? Interesting stuff.

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  3. Ummm, the 13th level of Castle Greyhawk was essentially "China?" I would not have expected that.

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  4. I love bits of "lost lore" like this, thanks!

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  5. Howarth - that was Part II.

    I, for one, would be very interested to see if the other parts survived.

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  6. Btw, are you familiar with Gary Gygax's essay "Jack Vance and the D&D game" in The Excellent Prismatic Spray magazine #2?

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  7. Very interesting. Too bad we'll probably never see Castle Greyhawk in published form.

    I had a thought while reading his bit about the Gold Dragon at the end... I'm sure this idea appears other places. The "balance" of a Gold Dragon PC versus other PCs is judged within the context of the whole campaign... "balance" exist without being always completely realized. Just like in a wargame campaign.

    Word Verification: replays

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  8. I had a thought while reading his bit about the Gold Dragon at the end...

    That bit is quite similar to what he penned in the 1e DMG about monsters as PCs. Interesting to see that a lot of these ideas had been germinating for a good while.

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  9. I thought it was interesting that toward the end he recommends players that roll 'average' stats choose a demi-human character. Puts there existence and specialties in a whole new light.

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  10. "The bottom level [of Greyhawk], number thirteen, contained an inescapable slide which took the players clear through to China, from which they had to return via Outdoor Adventure."

    Wow. So way back then Gygax was already doing Oriental Adventures! Would love to have been one of those players, making their way back home along the Silk Road! :-)

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  11. Gary recounts the story of the descent of Robilar (and later Tenser and Terik) to the depths of Castle Greyhawk, and the slide to China, in a variety of places: his Soapbox articles, and in the Greyhawk Annual #2 as well as in The Horsemen of the Apocalypse essay. Good stuff, for sure. See my site @ http://www.greyhawkonline.com/grodog/gh_castle_sources.html for details.

    I'm hopeful that the other issues of Europa with EGG content can be ID'd and then tracked down: Gary apparently wrote a number of articles for the magazine, since he was a contributing editor for it.

    Allan.

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  12. I guess China there is being used as the antipodes, the same way Brits use Australia to mean "the place on the other side, where people are upside down" (which reminds me of the map of Dante's Divine Comedy, where Dante has to pass through the devil (and turn upside down) in order to get out of hell and into purgatory). If that's the case then (a) yes, D&D is set in America, not some putative Europe (take that, Europa!) and (b) the Silk Road won't get you back home.
    I am very intrigued by the origin or Oriental Adventures, though, and charmed by the variety of things being referred to in the schema: it seems like a memory palace, a deliberate trawl through Appendix N with genre shifts between levels, or (of course) Bluebeard's Castle.

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  13. That zine is a thing of beauty. I love that it's freely available after all these years. It's a great historical document.

    I wish there were more fanzines that were free or at the very least available in the traditional currency of zine, such as a few stamps, a nice letter, trade or a couple of bucks tucked into an envelope.

    I can't wait to print our Europa and give it a thorough read. Thanks again, James, for sharing that with us.

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  14. Thanks for posting the link to this article, James. I also enjoyed the subsequent exchange between GG and one Sandy Eisen. It seems concern over players "working the system" have been and always will be with us. :)

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  15. That's a great find, and pretty intense (typewritten, hand margin notes on subscriptions, etc.) It's the most direct description of Castle Greyhawk I ever saw (and from an early era, too). Interesting thoughts on PC generation.

    One thing that jumped out at me was "the alignment of the character (the latter can be secretly told [to] the referee, with an announced alignment being false)". That's precisely something I just added explicitly to my house rules last week, to avoid Law-vs-Chaos conflicts in my initial parties. Kind of creepy.

    The other thing is the enormous energy and time that Gary had to do this. He's talking about playing every night of the week. And while he refers to making the dungeon as "very difficult and time consuming", at the same time he asserts that making world, wilderness, town, dungeon, and sketching alternate worlds/dimensions will be "probably taking a week or so". Good grief, who has time or energy like that? Amazing!

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  16. Wow, this is off-topic, but there's a really cool map for a Middle-Earth version of Diplomacy in that zine.

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  17. Very cool article - a good find.

    If you read a bit further, there are a series of letters back and forth between Gary and some D&D players. I find it interesting that some of the same complaints these players make are exactly the same things we see game designers still grappling with today! For example, Sandy and Gary go back and forth a bit about campaigns that turn into 'give-aways, with dungeon levels resembling a magical department store' where '20th level becomes a run-of-the-mill thing'

    There's also some nice stuff in there about Games Workshop. I was especially amused by a footnote in which it was suggested that GW might host a 'Games Day' at one of the local stores.

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  18. GW hosting Games Day at "one of the local stores"?

    Read it again, they only have a market stall at that point!

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  19. I dug the review of Kingmaker, one of my all-time favorite "book shelf" games.

    Anyone else notice some pretty familiar (not just Gary) names? Don Turnball and Lew Pulsipher both stood out to me.

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  20. Thanks for the great arcana James!

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  21. Damn, Castle Gygax really IS like a Diablo, long before the computer games came of age.

    But the The World Of Greyhawk is a more significant departure from OD&D than AD&D is from the OD&D. The thing is, if Greyhawk was an implicit setting in Gygax' game, then his house game differed from a published version of D&D since it was more setting specific like the Dragonlance and Dark Sun settings and less like OD&D and Basic D&D.

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  22. An amazing find. Thanks for publishing this.

    Now to see if other zines will yield ups something interesting...

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  23. A further thought - why has no roleplayer done the same legacy preservation work yet? Is it because early game zines are bought for hundreds and treasured in exclusive collections, or is it because there have been no takers yet?

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  24. I love his imagination. He was clearly a visionary. I bet playing in GreyHawk was a real blast!

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  25. Melan asked: A further thought - why has no roleplayer done the same legacy preservation work yet? Is it because early game zines are bought for hundreds and treasured in exclusive collections, or is it because there have been no takers yet?

    I think there are a number of gamers and collectors who are interested in preserving RPG magazines and fanzines. A few folks at the Acaeum have been trying to compile UK fanzines, with the aim of republishing them (specifically Beholder and Tortured Souls), and I know that Tadashi Ehara is actively working toward publishing a Different Worlds archive. A White Dwarf archive of the 1st 90 issues was made available very briefly, but then the project was killed/recalled. It would be great if other magazines would be able to be reprinted in a digital format (Alarums & Excursions, News from Bree, Space Gamer, Sorcerer's Apprentice, Little Wars, the rest of the UK zines, Polyhedron, White Wolf [which was an excellent successor to DW for many years], etc., etc.).

    Allan.

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  26. Of course, but what I was thinking about first and foremost is the stuff with litle commercial but immense historical value - the mimeographed, photocopied and typewritten stuff; the issues of Alarums & Excursions, The Dungeoneer, The Domesday Book and who knows what else. I am sure there must be a treasure trove of amateur 70s/80s RPG stuff out there somewhere. And those are in the greatest danger of disappearance - losing a copy of The Dragon #23 is not the same as losing a copy of Jim's Fantasy Zine, 30 mimeographed copies printed.

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  27. I hate to say it, but wouldn't this be a great basis for a wiki and/or webring? Multiple bloggers could make their own collections of fanzines available and agree to host mirrors of a complete archive of the material. Or, more simply, hand all that over to archive.org but maintain some sort of front end for it.
    ...assuming one doesn't have to worry about copyright on all this stuff, which seems to be the quiet assumption we're making so far.

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  28. Copyright is an interesting issue. These strung-together treasures are just as subject to copyright protection as other forms of expression, and the authors' rights should not be infringed if it is against their wishes.

    However, they are essentially the blog posts and messageboard comments of the pre-internet period - a means to reach fellow fans separated from you by a long distance via a propagation network.

    To cite a personal example, I was once a contributor to Chaos Ultra, a Hungarian fanzine originally released as a diskmag (this is a pretty European thing, I don't think they ever had a large US presence). Basically, a diskmag was an executable disseminated via floppies and containing a number of fan-created articles - you'd send a formatted FD or two to the editor with your articles, and you'd get them back with neat stuff (if there was enough space, you'd get extra diskmags as a bonus). You can now read issues of Chaos Ultra at http://member.rpg.hu/cu/index.php?page=3 (if you speak Hungarian), and there are my first pieces of publically available game writing for the world to see.

    Much like mimeo-fanzine authors, the reason we used FDs and diskmags was because that was the only good way we could reach people. And we WANTED to reach people! I am happy that before we went dark (replaced by websites and message boards), the last editor got the text, the art, the loading screens and a lot of that into a net-friendly format for others to enjoy - better than if it was only available to a few people who still had them stored somewhere. And I don't think I would like these pieces to be auction items going for the equivalent of $200.

    I would think most of those paper-zine authors would think that way. I think of a collection of scanned early zines as a service to the community and a way to preserve its valuable legacy, much like www.archive.org preserves bits of Internet culture.

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  29. I noticed in the latest issue of Fight On! that Lee Gold says that she's willing to provide pdfs of her magazine for "20 cents per page" (and that the early issues sometimes went to more than 100+ pages), but that the recipient has to promise not to distribute them freely. This makes me sad, as I bet that there's a great deal of fantastic information in some of the early issues that many of us will never get to see.

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