Saturday, September 4, 2010

More from the Gygax Interview

Here are some other interesting bits from that Gygax interview by Rudy Kraft from Summer 1980. The first concerns the Greyawk campaign:
Gryphon: How often does the Greyhawk campaign meet and play nowadays?

Gygax: Not too often. A few of the original players are still left around here -- Rob Kuntz, of course, who had to move up to co-judge for a long time but by running side campaigns and so forth. I've got him back as a player. Ernie Gygax, my son, is still here. Terry Kuntz is no longer in this area regularly. Don Kaye died a few years back so he's out -- and many of the other original players have moved out of the area too. We still have some meetings -- Ward will play whenever I set it up and so forth -- so we play 3 or 4 times a year maybe.
I suppose 3 or 4 times a years is better than not playing at all, but I do feel a bit sad for Gary that he wasn't able to game more regularly once D&D became such a success.

Here's an interesting exchange about the origins of AD&D and why Gary felt it was necessary:
Gryphon: When did you realize that Dungeons and Dragons would need the massive rewrite/redesign which would become Advanced Dungeons and Dragons?

Gygax: We knew you could play Dungeons and Dragons if you were very bright or very imaginative or had some game experience. But we knew initially, probably in early 1975, that we had to do a more clearly done introductory piece. We began looking at it. Dr. Holmes was kind enough to volunteer. I got talking with him and Eric and I arrived at a very happy agreement and he took that over. I was not satisfied with Dungeons and Dragons in that it did not allow continuity of play from group to group and from region to region. The game had too many open ends and not enough structure and at that point I decided that we better have a new game with the same role playing principles and so forth, but one a little more tightly controlled.

Gryphon: Why do you want this continuity form place to place?

Gygax: So that people are playing the same game and have some uniformity of interest? It's very frustrating for someone to go from one place to another and sit in on a game that he or she doesn't recognize and it's called Dungeons and Dragons. There were some very good games that didn't resemble Dungeons and Dragons and there were some incredibly wretched ones. I did get a letter and I don't know if I still have it or not from a "43rd level Balrog" complaining that he didn't enjoy the game anymore -- it was too boring. Too many things were being done going from the sublime to the ridiculous that were virtually killing the game. Now, of course, there is a choice. You can play Dungeons and Dragons which is an open ended, freeform, lightly structured type of a game or you can play Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, which is a different game.
The notion that AD&D is "a different game" is an interesting one, of course, not least of all because, from what I've gathered, it was at the crux of TSR's defense in some of the lawsuits Dave Arneson launched against the company.

I'll probably have more excerpts from the interview in the coming days. It's a fascinating interview and its relatively early date makes it particularly useful to anyone studying the history of the hobby.

22 comments:

  1. What a coincidence... I am currently playing a 43rd level balrog myself!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I wish you wouldn't post this stuff Mr Mal! It just makes me grumpy! The reality of how the two games are used today is pretty much the exact opposite of the founder's position here and the attested reason for the system divergence. Does anyone use all the rules and create this mythical uniform game experience of AD&D? (Although it's a guilty pleasure to pop over to K&K Alehouse or Dragonsfoot and see if the text deconstructionists have reconciled the surprise and initiative systems...)

    So why does it make me grumpy? I guess its the dissonance between the fondness for the books themselves and the useability of what's in them. There's the nostalgia of the art, the tactile sensation of the hardcovers, the awesome imagination that went into Greyhawk and the Gygaxian adventure modules of early TSR. But the older I get, the more I admire the straightforward rules of the stepchild line. When we play our houseruled and streamlined version of AD&D, according to the Gary fellow in the interview, we're doing it wrong...

    Does anyone know if he ever recanted this kind of one-true-way blather once he was no longer trying to sell hardbacks? It's kinda irritating.

    ReplyDelete
  3. John has a good take on it above, actually.

    The short version is that Gygax's arguments in this regard are just frankly absurd on the face of it. 'Nuff said.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Personally, I think he had a very good point. I do find OD&D too unstructured and AD&D is my game of choice for just that reason.

    I don't use all the rules, that's true, but the ones I do use are straight from the books. I personally find that the overall tendency is to add entirely new rules to OD&D and to edit out selected already existing ones from AD&D.

    Since the rules that are actually used are drawn from the books themselves and therefore something of a known quantity among players, this latter approach does an overall better job of fostering that "continuity of play from group to group and from region to region."

    "Things...from the sublime to the ridiculous" have their place to me and certainly boast a storied history (spanning time all the way from Arduin to Carcosa). But honestly, I'm a lot more likely to read such things for entertainment than actually use them.

    ReplyDelete
  5. @delta and john

    On the other hand, there's a big difference between building yourself an alternate skill system or a hit-location chart and ending up as a 43rd level balrog and then complaining to the game's creator about it.

    Judging by the level misinterpretation that you can get when posting something that like 100 people read, we probably have no idea the scale of misprision Gary had in his inbox when he was selling 5-figures worth of rulebooks a month.

    Whether that justifies anything he said or did about it is another matter, but the point is, if you've got several hundred thousand people in your audience, that's inevitably going to include a LOT of stupid.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Does anyone know if he ever recanted this kind of one-true-way blather once he was no longer trying to sell hardbacks? It's kinda irritating.

    I think it's telling that, by his own admission, Gary never played AD&D "by the book." By most accounts, he seems to have played some form of house-ruled OD&D.

    I have come around to thinking that a lot (though by no means all) of Gygax's comments about AD&D need to be viewed in the context of his role as the public face -- and chief promoter -- of TSR and the lawsuits launched by Arneson regarding the payment of royalties owed.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I personally find that the overall tendency is to add entirely new rules to OD&D and to edit out selected already existing ones from AD&D.

    I think you're correct about this. That's my experience as well, both nowadays and in the old days.

    ReplyDelete
  8. "I have come around to thinking that a lot (though by no means all) of Gygax's comments about AD&D need to be viewed in the context of his role as the public face -- and chief promoter -- of TSR and the lawsuits launched by Arneson regarding the payment of royalties owed."

    I'm all for context, just not context as pretext to dismiss them all out-of-hand, which I too often see when Gygax's late 70s/early 80s AD&D advocacy comes up. :)

    ReplyDelete
  9. if you've got several hundred thousand people in your audience, that's inevitably going to include a LOT of stupid.

    You don't even need that many people in your audience, as I'm sure you know very well, Zak ;)

    ReplyDelete
  10. I'm all for context, just not context as pretext to dismiss them all out-of-hand, which I too often see when Gygax's late 70s/early 80s AD&D advocacy comes up. :)

    Would you mind elaborating a bit? I'm curious what you mean here.

    ReplyDelete
  11. "Would you mind elaborating a bit? I'm curious what you mean here."

    Basically what I said above. That "continuity of play from group to group and from region to region" can be a perfectly valid goal.

    I'm quite sympathetic to the argument, myself. Heck, I see the decade-or-so long period when Dragon Magazine's content focused on the "standardized" 1st Edition AD&D rule set as something of a Golden Age for that publication simply because everyone was on the same page system-wise, more or less.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I'm quite sympathetic to the argument, myself. Heck, I see the decade-or-so long period when Dragon Magazine's content focused on the "standardized" 1st Edition AD&D rule set as something of a Golden Age for that publication simply because everyone was on the same page system-wise, more or less.

    Gotcha. That makes sense to me and I even agree with it to a limited extent.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I like to think of the 1974 rules as a mere starting point from which each D&D referee spins his own unique campaign.

    Arduin is one "take" on D&D. Carcosa is another. Empire of the Petal Throne can be seen as yet another. Etc.

    In fact, I think that the high point of Gygaxian D&D is the 1974 rules + the GREYHAWK supplement. I consider that Gary's "take" on D&D.

    ReplyDelete
  14. To be honest, we should remember the following.

    As an executive at TSR, Gygax was high-level management and probably had to spend a lot of overtime working at the company. When you grow to employ dozens of people and are in the whirlwind of a fast-growing market, that's pretty distracting. I'm sure a 60-65 hour week was not unusual for him.

    Keep in mind too that he was still involved with family--Luke is my age, and back in 1980 that would have made him 10 years old. So that aspect of his live was important as well.

    So yeah, I certainly can understand not having time to spend with a weekly 3-6 hour campaign.

    Someone once said, when your hobby becomes your profession, find another hobby. And without that sacrifice of Gary's time, many of us wouldn't be here.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I'm sure a 60-65 hour week was not unusual for him.

    Earlier in the interview, he says that he typically spends 70 hours a week working for TSR.

    ReplyDelete
  16. > I suppose 3 or 4 times a years is better than not playing at all, but I do feel a bit sad for Gary that he wasn't able to game more regularly once D&D became such a success.

    The same went for quite a few other people who had businesses to run. Kinda important to have a pool of reliable playtesters if trying to run a "business" at the same time.

    ReplyDelete
  17. In fact, I think that the high point of Gygaxian D&D is the 1974 rules + the GREYHAWK supplement. I consider that Gary's "take" on D&D.

    I'm not convinced there is a single "Gary's take" on the game, although I do think that LBB + Supplement I is probably closest to "Gary's game," as it was played at his table in Lake Geneva. I can't shake the feeling that AD&D wasn't at all reflective of anything the man ever played himself (and almost certainly wasn't based on various comments he made over the years).

    ReplyDelete
  18. I have to laugh at TSR's defense against Arneson. If by TSR's own admission 1e was a completely different game from LBB+suppliments then the bar is set pretty low for anyone who wants to make a retro-clone that doesn't infringe on their copyright.

    There's already precedent!

    ReplyDelete
  19. There's already precedent!

    It's amusing to consider this.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Actually it does show one thing they recognised with 4th Ed, and that is, without an established official campaign world, it doesn't really matter how uniform and concise the rules are, the games will diverge into different things as soon as the gamemaster starts using their imagination to create the world.

    [What I do find interesting about early D&D is that some gamemasters allowed people to bring their favourite D&D characters into them from different campaigns. Arduin is probably the most famous example of this. Something that I've never seen happen with AD&D, despite the supposed uniformity of the rules.]

    ReplyDelete
  21. [What I do find interesting about early D&D is that some gamemasters allowed people to bring their favourite D&D characters into them from different campaigns. Arduin is probably the most famous example of this. Something that I've never seen happen with AD&D, despite the supposed uniformity of the rules.]

    That's an interesting observation. I recall more "campaign hopping" in the early days of my own gaming, but, eventually, we stopped and, if we played in someone else's campaign, we just created a new character rather than attempted to import one from our home campaign.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Thanks for the quotes, particularly regarding Holmes. Over the years, Gygax was always good to mention Holmes' role in the creation of that first Basic Set.

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.