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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 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.
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Jim Ward



yeah when I read about players pouring over their own drawn maps trying to find out where the hidden stuff is or where something strange might be I think that is a big difference from today where all that is skill checks and whatnot. The deal with the doors would just be a search check of some kind in most systems today. Totally different focus and I think a style that requires more of the players, especially for them to pay attention and use their own cleverness.
It's definitely a different approach to the game, and while I can understand that for a mass market game the current approach possibly has more appeal, I also haven't really found published adventures I'm interesting in running because of it.

While they are usually defined as player vs character skill, I think there's a bit more to it.

Designing tests of player skill is hard to do for a mass market game, because you won't know what the skills of the players are. But I think the play style back then was also more based on teamwork than it often is today. So new players got to learn the skills in part through playing with more experienced players.

One of the biggest differences between D&D and any other game is that it wasn't designed to "play by the rules." By that I don't mean that you were to cheat, or there weren't rules to follow. But nearly every other game has a set of rules that literally define the game. The rules tell you exactly what you can and can't do.

D&D, on the other hand, started as a set of rules that loosely defined your capabilities, but otherwise the rules existed primarily as tools to help the DM adjudicate probability of success, with dice used to make the actual determination. Some things, like AC, were defined, but much was left open to the DM to determine the chance of success.

For a game designer for a complex game, though, problems could arise with perceived balance. The more complex the game rules got (with more interactions between them), the more that they had to be better defined. In part because that complexity also opened up the possibility for players to master the rules, and thus improve their chances of success or winning. I think part of this was also in response to the fact that the experience varies widely based on the player and, especially, the DM skill.

It's much easier to design around the math of the game and character skill, because the designers can define all of that very precisely. MtG and 4e are good examples of how precisely it can be done. A side effect, though, is that it can reduce the options the players/PCs have, and also shift the game closer in approach/feel to a board game.

These aren't mutually exclusive, but it is often becoming harder to find players that aren't so focused on the mechanical aspects of "mastering the game." It's super simple to work the math and find "optimal builds" and spend hours planning every aspect of your character before the first session, and discuss the merits of different mechanics online. Learning to DM is also easier, since it's largely about learning the basics for the rules, and then finding tools to design for those mechanical rules.

I much prefer what Jim describes than even the "default" approach for 5e. While we loved the whole trajectory through 3.5e at the time, we (or I?) were never fully on board with 4e because it felt too much like a game, and much less like the adjudicated game of make believe we loved. And even though 5e has streamlined and simplified things, we have found that we do even more to strip it back to much closer to AD&D/OD&D days. Mostly by eliminating most of the PC special abilities and focusing on the characters and the players ingenuity because nearly every encounter is different.

Ultimately, I think for us it's a question of giving the DM full control to build the game around the specific group of players. Not just the adventure, but the game itself. I was super excited about the idea of a modular system as DnD Next was testing, but that didn't come to pass unfortunately. So I champion the game to the masses, but much like Gary's, my home campaign isn't the same as the published game.

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