Saturday, August 13, 2022


With reference to the eternal questions of what's "official" and the nature of OD&D as a "non-game," we have the following letter to the editor, which appeared in issue #43 of Dragon (November 1980), along with a response by Gary Gygax. Both the original letter and Gygax's reply cover several different topics, but the central point at issue in both are the differences between OD&D and AD&D and how those differences play out with regards to the interpretation of rules and the addition of new material. As I've explained often, I don't have much interest in Gygaxian AD&D these days, but doesn't change the fact that AD&D was avowedly "aimed at uniformity of play," as stated below. One can agree or disagree with this goal; what one can't do is deny it.


  1. Both the letter and response were very interesting.

    In Gygax's reply about the "...uniformity of play world-wide." I was struck by the fact that the 'Big Three' AD&D books out by this time all credit Gygax as the single (and thus unified?) author on the covers. Where as if you look at the credits of OD&D through Book VII out at this point there are 5 authors: Gygax, Arneson, Kuntz, Blume, & Ward.

    I guess "...alteration and free-wheeling adaptation" is a side effect of too many authors?

  2. You can't deny the goal. But you could (and can) ignore it!

  3. Gygax does not come across well here, no denying it.

    1. He seemed to have a unique ability to undermine his own arguments simply through the tone he used to present them.

  4. Any respect I had for Gygax disappeared when this letter and response were published. I was in college and our gaming group was playing a heavily modded AD&D campaign and loving it. It was still at least 70% AD&D, the rest was some Arduin Grimoire and Empire of the Petal Throne, probably a couple of other things.
    So yeah, we were no longer playing St E Gary J***off's Holy "AD&D"... what we were playing was a lot more fun.

    1. There are worse... I was looking for Gary's open letter to APAs and couldn't find it, but found ongoing ripping at the APAs, including this one from Dragon #16:

      Spell point systems are also currently in vogue amongst the fringe
      group which haunt the pages of “Amateur Press Association” publications.
      Now APAs are generally beneath contempt, for they typify the
      lowest form of vanity press. There one finds pages and pages of banal
      chatter and inept writing from persons incapable of creating anything
      which is publishable elsewhere. Therefore, they pay money to tout their
      sophomoric ideas, criticise those who are able to write and design, and
      generally make themselves obnoxious. * While there are notable exceptions,
      they are far too few to give any merit to the vehicles they appear
      in. From this morass rose the notion that a spell point system should be
      inserted into D&D. Strangely enough, “realism” was used as one of the
      principal reasons for use of spell points. These mutterings are not as
      widespread as the few proponents of such a system imagine. The D&D
      magic system is drawn directly from CHAINMAIL. It, in turn, was inspired
      by the superb writing of Jack Vance. This “Vancian” magic system
      works splendidly in the game. If it has any fault, it is towards
      making characters who are magic-users too powerful. This sort of fault
      is better corrected within the existing framework of the game — by requiring
      more time to cast spells, by making magic-users progress more
      slowly in experience levels. Spell points add nothing to D&D except
      more complication, more record keeping, more wasted time, and a
      precept which is totally foreign to the rest of the game.

  5. Regardless of the intents of D&D vs AD&D, the preface quoted with "altered and bent" comes directly from the AD&D Players Handbook. It rather seems like EGG was the one confused here. My main group made very minor changes to AD&D and had a great time. If we were to play again now, I have a larger list of modifications!

    1. Yeah, it's notable that Gary skates right by that quote without responding to it.

    2. I think the quote from the Players Handbook was written by Gary when the point of AD&D was to get Arneson off the books and stop the checks, while the quote from Gary in response came after Arneson took TSR to court and they needed a consistent story. I bet a lawyer looked over every word before that one went out.

    3. "Even the most important material within can be altered and bent to suit the needs of individual campaigns." Is not inconsistent with..."Angels will never be a part of D&D/AD&D as long as I have anything to say."

      One refers to what is in the game, the other to what will not be in the game. He never says question guy can't stat up Angels on his own.

  6. One of my favorite things about this site is James's frequent and expert use of links to old posts. The 2010 article "Gygax on OD&D and AD&D" was very interesting, the reader comments even more so. I tend to forgive Gary for all of his mistakes and shortcomings, because I love him so much for creating the game that changed my life and the lives of countless others. I also take great comfort in knowing how much he changed in the final years of his life. ADD 1e will always be the crown jewel of the RPG kingdom, at least for this old queen.

  7. I don't agree but I understand the tone Gygax had in that letter. He was knee-deep in his lawsuit with Anderson and wanted total control over the company, but in the end it didn't matter if you were playing the way he wanted to, or not. Once those rulebooks are in your hands, you can do anything you want with them.

  8. This is the correct response; Dismissive. In order to maintain cultural coherence a set of boundaries needs to be made and annoying gripers, who always seek to validate their inability to accept an outlined convention in order to assuade their intellectual vanity, should be driven off or at least marginalized.

    You don't like my final say on the matter? Do so elsewhere. Very good.

    1. Ha! I agree with your point about boundaries and coherence, but in this example the original letter writer quotes directly from the PHB to make their point. Gygax ignores that and wrongly says that the letter writer is confused.

      Without a doubt, the need for a more coherent set of rules was there, but my reading of his reply is that Gygax is stamping down on this more to protect the brand rather than establish an agreed basis from which people can develop. In his comment about angels he's foreshadowing the Satanic Panic.

    2. I agree with PrinceofNothing on this. I find Mr. Robinson's letter was made to goad Gygax into a certain reaction and not really caring about what Gygax will say or has said. To use Gygax's words against him to show that Mr. Robinson knows better than the creator AD&D. As for as Gygax's "tone", no problem there either. People don't like hearing "no" especially when they're in the wrong, as in Mr. Robinson's case. Finally, people complain too much about Gygax's "tone" rather than what he's actually saying.

    3. I feel like I am missing a step in the argument here! Why is "cultural coherence" a thing to be desired or maintained? I certainly understand the need for some sort of uniformity in con/tournament play, but beyond that, I am hard pressed to see why it would ne necessary?

  9. I don't think EGG's reply is at all weird or off-putting. I think it may have more to do with the tone the reader assigns to it than the words themselves.

    As for tripping over your own darn hard to be 100% consistent in life. Has anyone reading this pulled that off? Some much is contextual.

    In this case, if you read this a EGG saying "Either you play AD&D, or you play something else!" with his shoulders shrugged and hands up in the air --- then the authoritarianism is not there. He just stating a logical fact without assigning judgement.

    I think the same it true today. One is free to modify the game, even as stated in the PHB preface. Heck, we all know for a fact that there are many uncovered areas that pop up in a game that require DM creativity to navigate. I think that's the true spirit of the PHB quote.

    But to willfully alter the core rules to suit your taste right out of the gate --- and not out of some situational necessity --- who can rightful assert (or would even want to assert) that they are playing AD&D without some sort of disclaimer? Why is this letter-writer upset? How does EGG's non-endorsement of his home-brewery offend or injure him? **That's** what's weird!

    Really. Just be honest about your mods and reap what you have sown. No one can fault you then.

    Alternatively, don't show up to a con, claim it's AD&D and then surprise the players with a cart load of house rules without expecting some sour looks. Truth in advertising.

  10. I forgot to add, if the letter-writer was using the AD&D unarmed combat grapple/overbear rules, then the gang of goblins can still take down a single 67 hp fighter --- without requiring the need to add Critical Hits to the rules.

  11. "AD&D is a structurally complete game"...
    With a confusing, largely broken encumbrance and exploration mechanics buried under enormous amounts of random cruft and subsystems piled atop each other.

    I enjoy Gygax when he's being honest about what he likes, when he's adding creative bits and pieces and when he explains how he plays. I detest him when he's trying to sell product, being a boor or promoting AD&D because he wants two more points on the royalties.

    Likewise I enjoy AD&D's advice on campaign design, spell lists, monsters, pole-arm obsession, and other implied setting building while finding its mechanics and subsystems a hopeless mess. I also recognize that some people have cobbled a functional system they love out of it - and good on them, but I'm positive it's a chimera, just like my OD&D house rules.

    There really are two Gygax's - I call them Gary and Xagyg.

    1. I like the Gary and Xagyg distinction. It's a lot simpler than my old usage of "Gamer Gary" and "Corporate Gary."

  12. I love the attitude on display here, of freely adapting/mutating non-European religions, but staying away from European ones. It's not a good look in 2022.