Thursday, February 19, 2009

Divorcing the Gygaxion Canon

Nicht bin ein Gygaxian

Well, that's a bit strong I suppose. To come out, as a long time D&Der and say that you're not a strong fan of the personality behind published D&D, is probably not the best way to ingratiate oneself in the grognard community, but it's true to a certain extent. I never got to meet the man in person, which I have always regretted, and have only gotten to exchange a sparing few emails with him where he told me I was more than a bit of a lunatic. I certainly admire his body of work, even his novels which I could never read.

But in the end, I'm not terribly fond of things overtly Gygax.

For the most part, it has to do with the fact that AD&D 1e (and less so OD&D and BECMI) was thick with Gary's overwhelming force of personality on the written page. I cannot speak for the man in person, but in words, his presence is palpable, like a tap on the shoulder. I've always believed that one of the greatest strengths of D&D was its insistence that it be made one's own, that it be adapted to the group that was playing it, and the first AD&D books always struck me as Gary's game less than mine.

Why is that? I don't know really. Perhaps I'm even wrong here, but whenever I pick up my early printing PHB with the adventurers prying rubies from the idol and dragging lizard man corpses into a pile, I can almost feel a glass of scotch being pressed into my hand and a friendly voice telling me not to worry about it because my fighter character won't last too long anyway. And I tend to get swept up by it, to go with the Gygax flow to visit the Shield Lands or Furyundy, anticipating the inevitable trap that will be found easier by a ten foot pole than the roll of a thief's skill. Everything in it is Gary's.

Many denigrate TSR's 2nd edition because it excised everything that was uniquely Gygaxian about AD&D, that the books had become bland and flavorless in comparison, and that's entirely true. And that's why, in the end, AD&D 2e will probably always be my choice system. It is far less front loaded with the original Game Master's notes and style and becomes much easier to mold and modify and make into my own.

It's a strange feeling, really, to look at D1-3 and realize that they are fabulous modules, but that I'll never go there as a DM or as a player, and that I probably won't ever miss it except from the perspective of nostalgia.


  1. Interesting point of view, and definitely swimming against the current in this environment since E.G.G.s passing.

    I must admit that 2nd Edition is the one I'm least familiar with. I drifted away from AD&D into GURPS and Champions and TORG for most of the 90's and only played a little of 2nd edition, then got back into it just before 3rd edition (which I have very few complaints about as a player.)

    There are a lot of 2nd edition splatbooks on the shelves of the local 1.2 price books... mmmm...

  2. Don't get me wrong: I'm not really saying that I don't like Gygax. Rather I think he was very intelligent and eager to see people enjoy the game.

    My point is with this post that I'm trying, in some way, to distance myself from the standard D&D perspective, to get away from the Orcus and Bigby legends and strip out the assumed setting and assumptions that got built into AD&D.

    Curiosly, OD&D is somewhat less heavy with these trends, as is BECMI. That's why, I guess, that I say AD&D really seems to be Gary's game rather than mine. Just as Arduin was Hargrave's version of D&D.

    I don't suppose I'm making a whole lot of sense, though.

  3. The funny thing is that AD&D isn't actually Gary's D&D. He never really played it as written, preferring a house ruled version of OD&D. AD&D is a creation of the needs of tournament play and (to some extent) to push Dave Arneson out of the picture. That said, I understand completely what you mean about Gary's palpable presence in the game. I happen to like that presence, as it accords strongly with my own preferences (and probably informed them as well), but one doesn't need to be a Gygaxian to enjoy D&D.

  4. but one doesn't need to be a Gygaxian to enjoy D&D.Oh I agree entirely, and when I get the urge to play 1e, it's very much a matter of wanting to enjoy Gygax at some of his best. The problem with me, though, is that I don't always, or even often, want to play with Gygax on my shoulder.

  5. This is a really interesting perspective. I think you've hit the nail on the head in a lot of places, here. When you take the POV that, in a D&D campaign, the terrain often IS the map - i.e., that the rules in play both define, and spring forth from, the world being described - AD&D really is just Gary's campaign, shined up and tournament-ready. The assumptions there are pure Greyhawk. I find this to be one of its strengths ("a feature, not a bug"), but I can see the utility of a less "tightly focused" AD&D.