The article contains Godwin's reflections on being "soft-hearted enough to want to see the PCs survive and do well" to the point that he "was no longer playing the AD&D game. [He] was shooting fish in a barrel." I must confess that I was very surprised to see an article like this appear in an issue of Dragon published in 1985, since my recollection of that time was of an era when being "soft-hearted enough to want to see the PCs survive and do well" was not just increasingly commonplace but de rigeur.
Intriguingly, the first "tip" Godwin passes along as a result of his past failure is "Feel free to fudge." Though he introduces this tip with a story of how he pretended to roll low on an attack that would have killed a PC, he is quick to point out that fudging rolls "doesn't have to be in favor of the players." He adds that it is the referee who is the final arbiter of what is and is not true in his own campaign. Never let an errant dice roll or players quoting chapter and verse from a rulebook lead you to think otherwise.
Tip two is "Just because it's in a module doesn't mean it's so." In particular, he's talking about the strength of opponents and the amount of treasure and magic items. I must admit I find this tip odd, because, even in my worst letter-of-the-law days of gaming, I never felt that the contents of a module was sacrosanct. However, Godwin claims that he did think they were and it took him some time to realize that it was acceptable to alter what was written in adventure to suit his own campaign.
Tip three is "Be exceedingly stingy in handing out magic items." This tip is apparently near and dear to Godwin's heart, because he discusses it at length, providing lots of examples of magic items he feels are exceedingly powerful, or at least problematic if the referee is not careful. To be fair, he's not opposed to placing powerful magic items in the hands of PCs; he simply thinks the referee needs to conscious of the potential for mischief such items bring with them. This is a fair point and many an inexperienced referee commits this mistake.
Tip four is "Don't let your players have a continuous commune spell." By this he means that the players should be kept in the dark as often as possible, since knowledge is what gives the referee his edge -- including the properties of magic items. Godwin stresses the limits even of spells like identify and encourages the referee to take full advantage of it.
Tip five is "Do not allow a character to become more powerful than a chugging locomotive." Here he's talking specifically about ability score inflation, both through magic items and spells.
Tip six is "If they wish for the moon, don't let them have it." I'm actually surprised that, in 1985, there was still a need to talk about all the delightful ways wishes can be used to turn the tables on the players, but apparently there was.
Tip seven is "No, you can polymorph your henchman into Odin." You know, I had no idea until very recently that polymorph was apparently such a troublesome spell for a lot of D&D gamers. I honestly don't recall a single time it's ever given me grief as a referee, since the spell description I remember is pretty clear about its limitations.
Tip eight is "Be careful playing with fireballs." Sure.
Tip nine is "Be reasonable in awarding experience points." Godwin here encourages referees to use the "equivalent hit dice" system from the Dungeon Masters Guide, which is an oft-forgotten element of AD&D. It basically compares the value of the characters' levels against the hit dice of the monsters they defeat and then adjusts the value of the XP gained up or down accordingly. The system is intended, like its rough equivalent in OD&D, to put the breaks on gaining easy experience points through killing much weaker foes in large numbers. Again, this has never been a problem for me personally, but I fully support slowing the rate of character advancement.
Tip ten is "Go easy on the poor deities." That this needed to be said at all is sad.
Tip eleven is "Beware the many-headed hydra." Here Godwin is discouraging allowing one player to play more than one character in an adventure at the same time. That's just common sense.
Tip twelve is "Avoid an adversary relationship with your players." Godwin notes that it's inevitable that referees and players will be at odds, since players are always trying to pull fast ones on their referees:
It would be a wonderful world if players were so conscientious and so willing to risk their characters for the sake of a good time that they never looked at the Dungeon Masters Guide, the modules, or even "Dungeon Master advice" articles (such as this one) in magazines. It would even be nicer if they did not look up monsters in the Monster Manual, FIEND FOLIO Tome, and Monster Manual II whenever they confronted them. Maybe you can forbid this sort of activity during the playing of an adventure, but you can't control what players do on their own time. And never underestimate the ingenuity of players. I once had a player justify looking in the Monster Manual during play by saying that his character carried around a bestiary in his backpack!Despite this, try and make it clear to your players that your iron-fisted rule is all in the name of fun, to ensure that the game remains challenging for all.
That's a lot to digest, but I think it provides a fascinating snapshot into at least one slice of the hobby back in 1985. Some of it comports well with my own recollections, while other parts of it feel like the author is describing a game in an alternate reality. I suspect this reaction will be true for a lot of my readers as well.