The AD&D game system does not allow the injection of extraneous material. That is clearly stated in the rule books. It is thus a simple matter: Either one plays the AD&D game, or one plays something else, just as one either plays poker according to Hoyle, or one plays (Western) chess by tournament rules, or one does not. Since the game is the sole property of TSR and its designer, what is official and what is not has meaning if one plays the game. Serious players will only accept official material, for they play the game rather than playing at it, as do those who enjoy “house rules” poker, or who push pawns around the chess board. No power on earth can dictate that gamers not add spurious rules and material to either the D&D or AD&D game systems, but likewise no claim to playing either game can then be made. Such games are not D&D or AD&D games — they are something else, classifiable only under the generic “FRPG” catch-all. To be succinct, whether you play either game or not is your business, but in order to state that you play either, it is obviously necessary to play them with the official rules, as written. Thus, when you get information in these pages which bears the “official” stamp, that means it can immediately be used in game play.A lot of interesting discussion could be had from mining just this one paragraph, but that's not my purpose here. I wanted only to present a single illustrative example of the kind of rhetoric that was quite commonplace at the tail end of the Golden Age, although, if one looks carefully, one can find similar statements going all the way back to the inception of the entire AD&D project.
Now, as regular readers will know, I don't think much of the attitude embodied in the above quote, but, having spent a long time reflecting on it, I think passages like this need to be viewed within a larger context. Gygax gave an especially clear expression of that context in the preface to his Dungeon Masters Guide, which also, not coincidentally, is looked upon with similar disdain by gamers of a certain philosophical bent. He says:
Returning again to the framework aspect of ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, what is aimed at is a "universe" into which similar campaigns and parallel worlds can be placed. With certain uniformity of systems and "laws," players will be able to move from one campaign to another and know at least the elemental principles which govern the new milieu, for all milieux will have certain (but not necessarily the same) laws in common. Character races and classes will be nearly the same. Character ability scores will have the identical meaning -- or nearly so. Magic spells will function in a certain manner regardless of which world the player is functioning in. Magic devices will certainly vary, but their principles will be similar. This uniformity will help not only players, it will enable DMs to carry on a meaningful dialogue and exchange of useful information. It might also eventually lead to grand tournaments wherein persons from any part of the U.S., or the world for that matter, can compete for accolades.Again, there's a lot in this paragraph that one could use as a touchstone for discussion, but, for my present purposes, the important point is this: Gary is here talking about the advantages of uniformity for the player. What he's imagining is a situation in which a player can go from campaign to campaign all across the world and know, when he sits down at the table, that the DM will be using the exact same rules as the ones he used back home, just like you can go anywhere in the world and start playing Western chess with a total stranger and be reasonably assured that you're both playing by the same rules.
I think, understood in this context, Gygax's frequent intemperate eruptions about "uniformity" and "official" rules make a bit more sense, even if I still think they're ultimately absurd. The reality is that, both before and after the arrival of AD&D, not only players but characters moved easily from campaign to campaign. "Drop-ins" were very much a part of the early hobby. Heck, such things were still pretty common when I first entered the hobby, five years after the appearance of OD&D. What I remember was that, since each campaign was different, operating under different rules interpretations and assumptions, "visiting" with your character often meant having to make some adjustments to his stats and equipment. That was the way of things and no one really seemed to expect otherwise.
But, of course, then, as now, I rarely played D&D -- or any roleplaying game -- with total strangers. Now, maybe I'm weird in this regard, but I don't think I am. I suspect most gamers play with people they consider friends, with whom they'd spend time even if they weren't roleplaying together. Except for the occasionally "game day" every few months, I never "dropped in" on a campaign with whom I didn't already have some friendly connection. So, if the referee of that campaign ran D&D differently than I did, I trusted he'd make plain all those differences and not try to take advantage of my ignorance of the "local laws." And I returned the favor when friends from other campaigns dropped in on mine.
Truth be told, that's how I deal with my own players too. I mean, we're friends and, while I do derive a lot of fun by tricking and confusing them in the campaign, it's no different than the fun I derive from friendly, animated "debate" or some other social activity predicated on fundamental trust. When I look at the corporate development of D&D, what I see is an ever-larger series of hedges against the fact that gamers won't be playing in an atmosphere of trust, that they won't be playing the game with friends. That's why I am baffled by the elevation of "don't be a dick" to the level of wisdom in gaming circles these days. That, for example, Raggi felt the need to include this advice as "Rule One" in his Referee Book speaks volumes about the assumptions of the contemporary gaming scene.
Maybe I've just been spoiled all these years, gaming with friends and people I trust implicitly, I don't know. That's why, even though I think I have a better sense of what Gary was probably getting at in his various editorials, I still don't really "get" it on a gut level. Advocating an "according to Hoyle" approach to Dungeons & Dragons seems to me a solution in search of a problem or, more cynically, a way to fix a "problem" that also conveniently keeps gamers dependent on TSR -- and its products. I think player mobility in a vacuum is an imaginary issue. In my experience, outside of conventions, players just don't wander about and randomly alight on an existing gaming group to whom they have no prior friendly connection.
And that's what this is all about, in the end: friendship. Gaming is for me an outgrowth of friendship, a social activity in which I engage with people for whom I have an affection and whom I trust enough to "open up" in the way that roleplaying can sometimes require. In such an environment, there's no need for officially-mandated uniformity. I just don't believe that's any different now than it was nearly 30 years ago when Gary Gygax penned that editorial.