TSR Gary Gygax Things

Let me start by saying that I believe Gary Gygax was a gaming genius. That genius included a lot of skills in crafting D&D designs. I have experienced literally hundreds of DM styles. Gary's style was head and shoulders better than the best of those. He was able to make the adventuring experience come alive in your minds. I have seen just as many written dungeons. I got a look at Gary's...

Let me start by saying that I believe Gary Gygax was a gaming genius. That genius included a lot of skills in crafting D&D designs. I have experienced literally hundreds of DM styles. Gary's style was head and shoulders better than the best of those. He was able to make the adventuring experience come alive in your minds. I have seen just as many written dungeons. I got a look at Gary's Greyhawk dungeon that he put together in ' 73 and '74 and no ones work comes even close to being as good or interesting. Every dungeon level was filled with magical effects, strangely shaped chambers and corridors and of course way cool encounters from clockwork things to fantastic creatures.


It's no wonder I patterned myself after this man. Horror of horrors, Gary was definitely a Monty Haul type of referee. He had to be as he had hundreds of spells and magic items to play test to see what they would do to a campaign.

As a magic user in Gary's game I lusted after any and all types of magical items. When there was a choice between piles of gold coins, a mass of gems, or a magic item; I took the magic item every single time. As a result I was able to play test many of the first items. I was one of the first to use a luck stone, a power staff, an ioun stone, a horn of bubbles (sigh), and a regeneration ring.

I have a distinct memory of play testing the fire giant adventure. During that game I cast a magic jar spell on the queen of the fire giants. I used her authority to get away with murder. The next day the magic jar spell went from an exact location spell on a noted character to a random attempt at control, (sighing again).

I thought some of you might like to see a few tricks Gary had up his DMing sleeve. Gary had 28 levels in his upper dungeon. They were divided into three parts. The dwarf dungeons specialized in gold treasures. The Elf dungeons catered to many types of magic items. There was a central section that eventually extended down to a nasty high power set of dungeon floors.


All of Gary's group liked the fun of trying to map his dungeon. I was the poorest mapper with the least experience in drafting in the group. However, it was me who spotted an open area between corridors. We started searching for a secret door and as luck would have it we found it. The treasure was guarded by trolls, but after a tough battle we got a look at the treasures. In those days gold and gems were split equally and we rolled dice for a pick of the other treasures. I managed to get a magical +2 sword. It was an amazing talking weapon with lots of fun powers. My fourth level human fighter flunky was very happy to get it. If that wasn't enough the sheath was richly decorated in expensive gems. Then I discovered the catch of the wondrous weapon. Gary, in a low pitched voice, took up the role of the sword. It seemed that the weapon enjoyed the many gems of its sheath. It stated that its powers would only be available if a rare and expensive gem was attached to the sheath after every single adventure. It wasn't until later that I discovered the weapon wouldn't accept any old valuable ruby, emerald, or diamond. They had to be unique in some way. I had to do some research in gems and gem types just to keep the blasted weapon happy and working. I went questing for purple star sapphires, yellow diamonds, blue green tourmaline, cat's eye tourmaline and yellow white moonstones. Soon, the sword became a lot of work.


There was a huge staircase in the middle of Gary's dungeon. It went deep into the earth and ended in two huge stone doors. That portal turned out to be quite difficult to open. Once we discovered that portal we wanted to get past it. We were too low level at first. We didn't have enough strength to force it open. Our thieves couldn't figure out the locks. Often really nasty wandering monsters came over to eat (err, check us out). Finally, I was able to get a knock spell and use it on the door, nothing? “Yes, Gary explained, “The two locks unlocked. But the door didn't open.” We checked the rules on the Knock spell. If it worked the doors should have opened. It wasn't until months and months later that we discovered the locks at the center of the door were fake. I had to toss the Knock spell to the side of the door where the real lock was located. We were in for rough times as we crossed that threshold and were battered, bruised, and turned to stone, time and time again, sigh.


Gary could often be fiendish. We all hated getting cursed items mixed in with the other treasures. However, there was nothing in the entire Greyhawk dungeon as insidious as the Golden Warrior. The upper levels of Gary's dungeon would get explored and emptied of goodies. After a bit there would be new and more deadly dangers to face there. However, if we wanted to get to the lower levels, we had to walk through those upper ones. One day we are turning a corner and a warrior all in gold runs past up and we are surprised. He shot at it and cast some spells, but he didn't stop it from running. It was an unusual sight and we all took it as a challenge. Every other adventure we would walk those pillaged halls and suddenly the gold warrior would run past us. We managed to hit it with our magical weapons; we set traps for it that the being bullied its way through; eventually we wet up elaborate traps with ballista, nets, and spells all to no avail. Eventually, we had to give up. The act of trapping this fast moving pile of gold was taking a lot of time and resources. After that, whenever the golden warrior appears we waved it good day.


I never did learn the name of the wizard in the black tower on the west end of Greyhawk city. All I knew for sure was then a stone to flesh spell was needed that wizard could make it happen. The same went for removing curses or identifying certain high level artifacts. Unfortunately, for others and me he always charged in multiplies of magic items. If we wanted the work done, we had to cough up really good items. Imagine the dilemma we faced. There was our favorite cleric flunky turned to stone. There were a lot of things that turned characters to stone in Gary's dungeon. If we wanted the character restored we had to give up tings like rings of regeneration, wands of lightning bolts, and amulets of healing. Often, we had to give up multiples of those items to pay for several spells at the same time. I didn't figure out until years later, that the wizard was the perfect campaign balancing act. Gary would expose us to deadly dangers that we weren't high enough level to fix ourselves. We paid a dear price in magic items that got those items out of the campaign. We often talked about raiding the black tower. When we did that creatures like an iron golem would answer the front door. Or several ghosts would pass us in the black tower hall. There was even a cloud giant that we would see carrying in a statue of gold for some unknown reason. Surprise, surprise we never raided the tower.

log in or register to remove this ad

Jim Ward

Jim Ward

Drawmij the Wizard



Yup. I never knew Gary personally, just online (and even then, not much). I honestly remember thinking "...and my players think I'M a hard-DM!...". Still, I get why EGG ran the way he did; it's just memorable and fun! You still remember those "little things"...and all those little things that you and the gang had in those halcyon days of yore, are all different from mine...or from my friend who started DM'ing a couple years after I did. Gaming back then was just a different animal than today's beast where you can buy pre-packaged everything.

Man. Never met EGG personally, as I said, but damn'n if'n I don't miss the guy! :( I envy the time you got to spend with him, ya lucky bugger! ;)


No rule is inviolate
I love these types of stories and hope we continue to see more of them.

Now makes me wonder if these adventures had any influence on the material component for Drawmij's Instant Summons (a valuable gemstone?)


They had a blast, which is all that matters. And it was all brand new. Not just the game rules, but the very idea of roleplaying.

As the game has grown, I can't help but notice that his style of DMing would not go over very well today. I don't think modern players have the patience for that. I'm guessing five minutes in and someone would get mad about their player agency being taken away

I can't help but wonder if maybe the talking sword could have originally been intended as a balancing thing like the healer mage, but just didn't work out that way.

While I don't think this is particularly likely the case, it nevertheless seems to me like the sword could easily eat through things like gems of brightness, gems of seeing, chaos diamonds, elemental summoning stones, onyx dogs, etc. and that in the kind of item-heavy monty haul game described these might actually be more readily at hand than star sapphires or yellow diamonds or pink panthers or cat's eye tourmaline or whatever

Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads

Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads