Dragon Reflections #16 – Gygax Fights Back!

The Dragon Issue 16 was published in July 1978. It is 40 pages long, with a cover price of $1.50. In this issue we Eric Holmes talks Cthulhu, we learn why clerics and wizards can't use swords, and Gary Gygax hits back at his critics and talks about realism in D&D!


I must start by mentioning the wonderfully dramatic cover by Dean Morrissey, depicting an ancient warrior reaching for his sword as he stares defiantly into an oncoming storm. Morrissey painted many other covers for The Dragon, including the celebrated "Wingship" of Dragon #91.

Editor Tim Kask is once more on the defensive for publishing fiction, and writes:

"Due to the length of the conclusion of THE GREEN MAGICIAN, we found it necessary to add an additional four pages this issue. Contrary to what some Philistines might think, this is not a fiction magazine. The Philistines I refer to are the ones that don’t want to see any fiction at all in these pages. To forestall the howls, the extra four pages were added to compensate, not that the story NEEDS compensating for."​

Kask always wore his heart on his sleeve, which is what makes his editorials so readable, even after all these years. He goes on to complain that so many gamers lack a sense of humor, which meant the amateur 'zines were now full of "vitriol and bickering" and "satire goes unnoticed and/or unappreciated; humor is unwelcome."

Mark Ratner, the creator of the Space Marines miniatures game, shares new rules for Metamorphosis Alpha, giving some much-needed buffs to mutant animal PCs. With TSR soon to release Gamma World, this would be one of the last MA articles published in The Dragon.

Jerome Arkenberg gives some more mythic stats, this time for "Near Eastern" gods such as An, Marduk, and Baal. I am curious as to whether Deities and Demi-gods used Arkenberg's work at all. I'll have to do some research when I get a moment.

Speaking of mythic stats, you may recall that Eric Holmes and Rob Kuntz published statistics for the Cthulhu mythos in The Dragon #12. This generated a critical response from Gerald Guinn in The Dragon #14, taking apart the statistics monster by monster. Eric Holmes responds in kind in this issue, first noting that "when one gets into religious controversy the first thing one discovers is that the scriptures are themselves self-contradictory or are subject to varying interpretations." He gives his point-by-point rebuttal, before suggesting that Lovecraft himself would find such a debate hilarious.

This issue includes a new NPC class, the Ninja. These NPC classes always puzzled me a bit, as they supplied all the information you would need to play the class, and then insisted they were strictly NPC only. Players would have to wait a few years before getting an official Ninja class, but this article looks well researched.

Jim Ward shares another one of Monty Haul's adventures, and this one really plays into the eponymous stereotype. Ward says, "I had decided to take my little thirteenth level wizard. He was kind of weak, having only sixty-nine hit points and eighteen’s in all his categories save strength... Tom complained that all he had left were demi-gods and so we made him start out with a new character at the twelfth level. It served him right, having to start out all over like that." The article is also notable as containing (I believe) the first mention of the word "Drow" in the magazine's history.

There is a short piece titled "Why Magic Users and Clerics Cannot Use Swords", which gives a somewhat labored answer to this question. It essentially comes down to a curse laid on the land long ago. How dull. I'm grateful for the rather more elegant solution 5e came up with to address this issue.

By far the most interesting article is "Role-Playing: Realism vs. Game Logic; Spell Points, Vanity Press and Rip-offs" by Gary Gygax, published in the "From the Sorcerer's Scroll" column. It is classic Gygax, too, covering a swathe of topics in a tone that permits no argument. It's an important article and I will spend some time working through it.

Gygax starts by reminding everyone of his company's preeminent place in the hobby, noting that TSR originated "the concept of a paper & pencil fantasy role-playing game." He then shares an ongoing frustration:

"I do admit to becoming a trifle irritated at times to read an article in some obscure D&D fan magazine or a letter to the editor of some small publication which attacks the game — or claims to be sure to improve D&D if only their new and “improved” rules are followed — with ill-conceived or asinine logic."​

He then describes the most common complaint:

"Interestingly, most of the variant systems which purport to “improve” the game are presented under the banner of realism... “Realism” has become a bugaboo in the hobby, and all too many of the publishers... make offerings to this god too frequently. The very definition of a game gives the lie to this false diety... A game is real, but its subject matter can, at most, give only a “sense” of what actually took place or exists."​

Gygax goes on to describe what he thinks makes D&D fun, and why he rejected a more sophisticated combat system:

"In general, the enjoyment of D&D is the fantasy: identification with a supernormal character, the challenges presented to this character as he or she seeks to gain gold and glory... the images conjured up in participants’ minds as they explore weird labyrinths underground and forsaken wildernesses above, and of course the satisfaction of defeating opponents and gaining some fabulous treasure. This is the stuff of which D&D is made. Protracted combat situations which stress “realism” will destroy the popularity of the game... The players desire action, but all but the odd few will readily tell you that endless die rolling to determine where a hit lands, having to specify what sort of attack is being made, how their character will defend against an attack, and so on are the opposite of action; they are tedious."​

Gygax aimed to create a fun game, not some sort of medieval combat simulator. The subsequent years would see some remarkably complicated RPG systems published, with the complexity justified in the name of "realism". Such systems had their fans, but not that many. And it's not too much of a stretch to say the "game first" mentality is one of the reasons for 5E's phenomenal success. Having dealt with the realism bugbear, Gygax moves on to address the other major criticism coming out of the amateur press:

"Certain small publishers of amateur magazines or second-rate work have accused TSR of maintaining a proprietary interest in DUNGEONS & DRAGONS from a purely mercenary motivation. This is usually because they have fervent desire to trade on D&D’s repute and make a reputation or quick buck on its merits rather than their own. Oddly enough, some individuals also fault TSR for being careful to protect its trade marks and copyrights and reputation, blandly faulting a desire to profit from our labors."​

The accusation is familiar to anyone who does creative work and seeks some form of compensation for it. Many will quickly tell you that you should be giving your work away for free, and some are almost morally offended at the thought of paying a few dollars for your hard work. Gygax then explains why TSR has been so hard-nosed about preventing people from claiming their products are "compatible" with D&D:

"...we also take every possible step to prevent exploitation of D&D enthusiasts by publishers who hide shoddy products under a fantasy role playing guise. We cannot stop them from putting worthless material into print, but we can certainly make it clear that it is neither recommended nor approved for use with DUNGEONS & DRAGONS."​

Those who know their RPG history will appreciate the irony in some of these comments. It was only a few years later that Gygax would find himself the target of TSR litigation, all done in the name of protecting their IP and the integrity of D&D.

All that aside, this is a very important essay, giving valuable insight into the design philosophy behind D&D, and also the rationale for TSR to be so heavily litigious. And it is also great fun to read!

Next issue, we get Vampires, Angels, and Tesseracts!

This article was contributed by M.T. Black as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. M.T. Black is a game designer and DMs Guild Adept. Please follow him on Twitter @mtblack2567 and sign up to his mailing list. If you enjoy the daily news and articles from EN World, please consider contributing to our Patreon!
 
M.T. Black

Comments

Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
the amateur 'zines were now full of "vitriol and bickering" and "satire goes unnoticed and/or unappreciated; humor is unwelcome."
Well he should be thankful that hasn't changed!

Those who know their RPG history will appreciate the irony in some of these comments. It was only a few years later that Gygax would find himself the target of TSR litigation, all done in the name of protecting their IP and the integrity of D&D.
They Sued Regularly....
 
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Henry

Autoexreginated
“Gary Gygax” said:
"In general, the enjoyment of D&D is the fantasy: identification with a supernormal character, the challenges presented to this character as he or she seeks to gain gold and glory... the images conjured up in participants’ minds as they explore weird labyrinths underground and forsaken wildernesses above, and of course the satisfaction of defeating opponents and gaining some fabulous treasure...
So Gary described 5th Editions’ three pillars (combat, social interaction/role play, and exploration) as early as 1978.
 

Koloth

Villager
I have lived through the journey from OD&D where minis were "maybe useful in some cases" to 3.5's "minis are mandatory" with the resulting increase in rules complexity. Many an OD&D combat was resolved in 10 or 15 minutes with a few die rolls and some verbal interchange between players and DM. The same sized combat in 3.5 often took over an hour due to the myriad detailed rules. "That provokes an attack of opportunity. Your AoO provokes its own AoO, etc" The groups I play with skipped 4th and went with Pathfinder but we often run combats much like the OD&D version. (most of us hark from that era). We seem to have come full circle. Be interesting to see how the rules treat minis in V6, when ever it comes out.
 

dave2008

Adventurer
"Jerome Arkenberg gives some more mythic stats, this time for "Near Eastern" gods such as An, Marduk, and Baal. I am curious as to whether Deities and Demi-gods used Arkenberg's work at all. I'll have to do some research when I get a moment. "

Well, I didn't do a didn't so exhaustive search, but he has Tiamat as greater good with stats on par with Anu the greatest of the gods. That definitely was not the case in Dieties and Demigods.
 

M.T. Black

Explorer
What is 5e's answer to the question of why clerics and wizards can't use swords?
They deal with it using the weapon proficiency system, which I think is a very elegant subsystem in the game. Vanilla wizards and clerics *can* use a sword, but they don't get to add their proficiency bonus to attack rolls, and the flat math means you are really not going to pick up a sword unless you can get proficiency through multi-classing or a feat or something.

Modern offensive cantrips also mean the "sword issue" is much less of a big deal for wizards nowadays.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
What is 5e's answer to the question of why clerics and wizards can't use swords?
They can, they're just not very good at it without some training of some sort, e.g., from racial proficiencies with weapons such as the elf has. This answer has been around for a while, it's not new to 5E.
 

rknop

Explorer
Oh, OK. That much I knew. I was expecting some sort of lore reason why they didn't have proficiency in a sword. But, yes, I get it; the proficiency rule means that you don't need a lore reason to completely forbid trying it.

Of course, this is hardly new with 5e. 3e had a similar system. Lots of other RPGs have something similar. (Probably the earliest one I'm aware of is skill defaulting in GURPS, but I'm sure there were things before that.)
 

R_Chance

Explorer
We looked at Runequest when it came out. We tried the combat system and it took considerably longer than D&D. Given that it was developed by people in the SCA I wasn't surprised by that. Combined with the extra work in developing NPCs (as a DM) I decided to stick with D&D (although I love the ancient mythological feel of Glorantha). So, I'd say Gygax was right about that. Imho :)

I never had a problem with spell point systems and don't consider them too complex though and have used them at times. They make more "sense" than spell slots for me. And yes, I know "sense" and magic...

As for Wizards, Clerics, and swords, I figured lack of training for Wizards and religious prohibitions for Clerics. When "non-proficiency penalties" became a thing later I had no problem with a Wizard swinging a sword... at -5 (non-proficiency penalty for Wizards) to hit on their slower combat progression with no bonuses (but penalties) for Strength it was funny :)

As for money, the "stuff for free" crowd has only multiplied over time with the internet. I have no problem paying for what I like and I thought then (and now) that people deserve to be compensated for what they do. On the other hand the Dangerous Journeys lawsuit was absurd. Other than his name and it's status as an RPG it had nothing to do with D&D. It was as if they owned his every thought and idea going forward...

*edit* because there is a difference between spell "sots" (maybe an insult for Wizards?) and spell "slots" :)
 
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M.T. Black

Explorer
Oh, OK. That much I knew. I was expecting some sort of lore reason why they didn't have proficiency in a sword. But, yes, I get it; the proficiency rule means that you don't need a lore reason to completely forbid trying it.

Of course, this is hardly new with 5e. 3e had a similar system. Lots of other RPGs have something similar. (Probably the earliest one I'm aware of is skill defaulting in GURPS, but I'm sure there were things before that.)
That's true, but I found the weapon proficiency systems in earlier versions to be a bit clunkier (I don't know about 4e as I never played it). The way 5e handles weapon proficiency feels really seamless to me, very elegant. Perhaps I'm over-thinking it!
 

TerraDave

5ever
The magazine is hitting its stride. I think multiple articles from this issue would be on Best of Dragon.

Realism, in some form or another, exerted a huge influence on RPGs up through the 90s. Even after that, there was a perception that a certain amount of crunch and complexity was desired by more serious fans.

Now realism seems sort of quaint. I guess there is still "verisimilitude".
 

TrippyHippy

Adventurer
I remember, when I first started gaming, the familiar and prevailant debate in the roleplaying hobby was all about 'realism'.

RuneQuest was THE alternative game that challenged D&D, and it first came out in 1978, so maybe Gygax's words are a response to that challenge. RuneQuest was generally percieved as amuch more 'realistic' game system, and was rooted in the interpretations of live action historical re-enactment enthusiasts.

The debate through the 1980s tended to be coined as "Role-playing vs Roll-Playing", which was a nascent form of debate to what eventually seems to have been coined as "Narrativism vs Simulationism" in the 1990s.

However, I think the real issue that people had with D&D was actually less to do with realistic simulation as it was to do with illogical rules and restrictions in the D&D/AD&D game. Wizards and Clerics can't use swords? Only Thieves can use skills? Fire and Forget spells? Female characters can't have a Strength more than 16?

The issue in all of these is not so much an issue with 'realism' as it is with not being able to play with the options you want to make the character you want.
 
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M.T. Black

Explorer
Realism, in some form or another, exerted a huge influence on RPGs up through the 90s. Even after that, there was a perception that a certain amount of crunch and complexity was desired by more serious fans.
Yeah, my son and I had a look through Cyberpunk 2020 on the weekend, figuring out the combat system. Gosh, so many tables to look up, and so many little sub-systems to manage! It looked like a pretty good simulation, but it's not really what I go for in terms of gameplay.
 

Connorsrpg

Adventurer
Thanks again MT. These are very good history lessons as well as enjoyable strolls back through the past issues.
 

R_Chance

Explorer
I remember, when I first started gaming, the familiar and prevailant debate in the roleplaying hobby was all about 'realism'.

RuneQuest was THE alternative game that challenged D&D, and it first came out in 1978, so maybe Gygax's words are a response to that challenge. RuneQuest was generally percieved as amuch more 'realistic' game system, and was rooted in the interpretations of live action historical re-enactment enthusiasts.

The debate through the 1980s tended to be coined as "Role-playing vs Roll-Playing", which was a nascent form of debate to what eventually seems to have been coined as "Narrativism vs Simulationism" in the 1990s.

However, I think the real issue that people had with D&D was actually less to do with realistic simulation as it was to do with illogical rules and restrictions in the D&D/AD&D game. Wizards and Clerics can't use swords? Only Thieves can use skills? Fire and Forget spells? Female characters can't have a Strength more than 16?

The issue in all of these is not so much an issue with 'realism' as it is with not being able to play with the options you want to make the character you want.
Don't forget Chivalry and Sorcery. It came out at about the same time (? 1977-78) and took the medieval setting to extremes of "realism". So much so that combat was complex and magic close to unworkable as I recall... although maybe not so much by modern standards. I still remember magic users having to spend months enchanting their focus so they could cast a spell. The detailed medieval feudal world building material was (to me) more useful than the game itself. And the later supplements on Vikings, Celts, and steppes nomads were great background material as well. Expeditious Retreat Press did some great world building material like this later (without the game system attached).

As usual, fun article, has me running back through my thoughts and game practices at the time. It's nice to remember how I got here and useful to think back to the "whys" of it. Thanks again MT!
 
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TrippyHippy

Adventurer
Yeah, my son and I had a look through Cyberpunk 2020 on the weekend, figuring out the combat system. Gosh, so many tables to look up, and so many little sub-systems to manage! It looked like a pretty good simulation, but it's not really what I go for in terms of gameplay.
I think you might find that D&D/AD&D back then had more tables and sub-systems to manage.
 

Dioltach

Adventurer
The issue in all of these is not so much an issue with 'realism' as it is with not being able to play with the options you want to make the character you want.
These arbitrary rules were always one of my big beefs with earlier editions of D&D. No Elven Rangers. Only Human Paladins. Demihumans live longer, so they can't progress beyond certain levels.
 

Jacqual

Villager
TrippyHippy - Today, 12:06 AM




Originally Posted by M.T. Black
Yeah, my son and I had a look through Cyberpunk 2020 on the weekend, figuring out the combat system. Gosh, so many tables to look up, and so many little sub-systems to manage! It looked like a pretty good simulation, but it's not really what I go for in terms of gameplay.



I think you might find that D&D/AD&D back then had more tables and sub-systems to manage.​

Yes CP2020 was a breeze compared to 1st edition/2nd edition with all the attack tables, saving throw table, then you add in treasure tables, and on in on it went. But I love my old editions of D&D and I also like my CP2020
 

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