Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ich bin ein Gygaxian

One of the great things about this blog is that it's given me the opportunity to "think out loud" in the presence of hundreds of people, many of whom have then asked me questions, pointed out flaws in my thinking, and -- occasionally -- told me that I was on to something of value. One area of my thought that's been greatly clarified as a result of discussions engendered by my posts is the overwhelming influence Gary Gygax has had over both my conception of Dungeons & Dragons specifically and fantasy roleplaying games generally. I suppose that shouldn't be a surprise; this blog was birthed in the immediate aftermath of Gary's death and it is, in many ways, a fan letter to the man I'm not ashamed to say I idolized as a younger man.

And, like any idol worth its salt, people enjoy casting it down -- I know I have on more than one occasion. I went through a phase in the late 80s and early 90s when I rather strongly rejected the Gygaxian conception of both D&D and fantasy RPGs and even mocked his purple prose and bombast. It all feels so adolescent now -- because it was -- but I suspect it was a necessary part of my eventual coming to terms with just how much this one man and his writings have influenced me. So much of who I am today, from the books I've read to the things I eventually took up to study in college and graduate school, are the direct result of my having played D&D -- and not just D&D but AD&D, the most Gygaxian version of the game.

Which brings me to my intended point. While I retain an intense love for OD&D in its pristine little brown books form, the fact is that, for me, AD&D will always be what I think of when I think of "Dungeons & Dragons." Certainly, I'm none too fond of thieves. Neither am I keen on AD&D's initiative rules. I'm sure I could probably nitpick my way through the game and point out dozens of instances where I dislike the way AD&D does this or that and that I don't use in play. Yet, for all of that, I can't deny that AD&D remains my One True Love. It's the version of the game I've played the most and about which I have the fondest memories.

Another thing this blog has clarified for me is that, while AD&D and its general approach may be my preferred version of the game, I've learned immeasurably from studying OD&D and its way of doing things. I remain as skeptical as ever of the deep meaning many see in OD&D's lacunae, but I nevertheless appreciate the do-it-yourself sensibility the game necessarily engenders in any who wrestles with its text. AD&D can be played in such a fashion too -- I largely did, even as a kid -- but I won't deny that it's a large cobblestone on the road to perdition, at least as TSR (and Gygax) often promoted it and as many players understood it.

This realization has little to no effect on the future development of this blog, as I intend it to remain as catholic as ever in its old school tastes. Still, self-knowledge is always a good thing, even in someone of my age. Knowing now some of the subconscious influences and inspirations for my thoughts is valuable to me and I expect that future posts here will benefit greatly from this knowledge.


  1. Wow. I am honestly shocked. I've never played OD&D myself. Getting into the game around 1982, the D&D I knew was the AD&D DMG, MM and PHB. I didn't even know there was an OD&D at the time. As an aside, I distinctly recall buying my own set of books at Toys R Us and being upset my DMG and PHB didn't bear the same cool red demons that my friend's did.

    Anwyay, I've only been keeping up with Grognardia for several weeks now. But I have to admit, I did not see this post coming. This might not affect the evolution of your blog, but it will affect the way I read it. Not in a good or bad way mind you, -just differently. This Grognard I've been reading isn't so easy to pigeonhole. :)

  2. James, sometimes you scare me.

    the man I'm not ashamed to say I idolized as a younger man


    the late 80s and early 90s when I rather strongly rejected the Gygaxian conception of both D&D and fantasy RPGs and even mocked his purple prose and bombast

    Ugh, me too. I even had a farcical region in my campaign known as the Radiant EGG, a revolt of sorts against the (perceived) ‘High Fantasy’ snobbery of TSR.

    AD&D will always be what I think of when I think of "Dungeons & Dragons”

    I’ve said this before as well. I think it has more to do with the images and books than the actual method of play, though.

    AD&D can be played in such a fashion too

    Yep, and I surely sliced and diced it. To the point it was played more like OD&D…but those images, classes, monsters and trappings were mostly 1st edition.

    subconscious influences and inspirations

    I’ve come around as well, and these things aren’t quite as subconscious as they once were.

    I’m a Neo-Grognard being a recent OD&D convert, but as I’ve said before (and I think we differ slightly here) I actually played OD&D in spirit, using the 1st edition volumes as a foundation. I never liked Gary’s assertions that unless you used the rules as printed you weren’t playing AD&D. I’m sure a lot of D&D fanatics from the 80’s share many of the above traits…next you’ll tell me that you started with Holmes Basic and grew up in MD.

  3. I, too, have a great love for the AD&D game, as contained in these volumes:

    Monster Manual
    Players Handbook
    Dungeon Masters Guide
    Fiend Folio
    Deities & Demigods

    Those were the only rulebooks that thoroughly enchanted me. I was first disappointed with an AD&D rulebook when I bought the Monster Manual II.

  4. 'First Edition' as my bro's lovingly call it will always be what I think of when someone says 'D&D', but honestly I prefer to play 2E - splatbooks more than almost anything else...

  5. You have taken your first step into a larger world.


  6. I got a huge kick out of Chris (Green Ronin) Pramas' post on The Seven Stages of Gygax

  7. I've always felt my D&D experience was best expressed through the Rules Cyclopedia, late as I came into D&D (the RC was new). But we used it in a mashup with the 1e AD&D DMG, and in the end, that's my baseline for things.

  8. I'm going to seek out the RC on eBay one of these days. I hear very good things about it, and I've never read it (from what I gather its a re-edit or compilation of the Menzter BECM rules?).

  9. Interesting post.

    I posted about Intermediate D&D, which is AD&D played like Holmes and/or Basic/Expert which is what I think of as D&D. I suspect we're close.

    One thing I must admit I never had was the hardcore EGG fandom and the resultant rebellion. While I knew who he was by the time I was conscious of that some of his "From the Sorcerer's Scroll" prevented me from idolizing him.

    I suspect that's a big component of why my vision of what is essential to old school is different from most people in the movement. I suspect there is a level of orthodoxy that corresponds to how much EGG is an influential figure instead of just a founder.

    Anyway, interesting post. I'd like to point out that the questions and thinking go two ways. My failed old school S&S campaign was instigated primarily by Grognardia and Lair of the Flame Princess. After it failed going back and reading both, especially Grognardia made me realize where I went wrong in terms of separating what I wanted to recapture of the spirit of those days and what I did.

    So keep writing, James...it inspires me.

  10. Commenting many years after your post, having returned to the hobby in my 50s playing 5e with old friends, but collecting 1sr ed on my old collection of hardbacks.
    I've always had that unconditional admiration of EGG, despite many articles or blogs. Can't help it. What he created, both in the PHB, DMG, MM but also the seminal GD series has had such an influence on my life that I almost couldn't give a shit about the business behind the scenes aspect. Guy was pivotal in my life. So I'm with you on this.