Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Reading Gygax for the First Time

I entered the roleplaying game hobby in the early 1990s, when story-driven games like Vampire and Shadowrun were all the rage and TSR staggered through financial hardship. Consequently, I never played classic D&D; indeed I’ve only ever played in two short-lived D&D 3.0 campaigns and a single session of 2nd Edition AD&D — amounting to, at most, 20 hours of play.

It shouldn’t come as a revelation, then, when I say that I’ve never read anything by Gary Gygax. I’ve never thumbed an issue of Dungeon or Dragon magazine, never sent in my own campaign notes to TSR’s Lake Geneva mailing address, never enjoyed Gygax’s elegiac prose on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

That’s going to change. Over the weekend I bought both the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide and Keep on the Borderlands, a module that’s informed many of the current products and writers I follow closely today. In coming weeks, I hope to chronicle my reaction to these and other works by Gygax, as I acquire and read them. Frankly, I’m interested to see how these volumes have weathered the decades since their publication. I also wonder much my own age might affect the outcome — after all, I’m 26 and have become accustomed to well-organized RPG books replete with tables of contents, indices and helpful reference guides.

Time will tell, so check back for more!


Bonemaster said...

AD&D DM still is one of the more useful books that I still have. I haven't looked at Keep on the Borderlands since 80's.

I hope you find them entertaining and/or educational.

Xeveninti said...

I hope you enjoy your readings of Gary's works.

The main thing that you should understand about the way Gary wrote those old modules and books is that they were made for a different style of game play than what you are used to. In fact, you might be disappointed with "Keep on the Borderlands." There is no plot. Not even a plot hook or MacGuffin. The NPCs in the keep don't even have names! None of the monsters have names either. The module is merely a description of locations, stat blocks, and treasure. This leaves any "story" to be naturally developed by the DM and the players.

I highly encourage you to read the blog Grognardia. It is filled with helpful insights about "old school" D&D. (And I also encourage you to read my own blog for my own perspective about D&D.)

Also, if you can find it, get a copy of the Castle Zagyg publications put out by Troll Lord Games. Gary's final publication, "Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works," is written for the same old school style of play. It is a masterpiece.

RPG Ike said...

Cool. I'm a little more old-rpg literate than you, for now :), but I'm also hoping to expand my horizons. I've just gotten the OD&D core books and the Rules Cyclopedia, which have been strongly recommended to me a few times now, and I'll be sure to check back here for your insights as I form my own.

I think I'll add Castle Zagyg to my list, as well, thanks to m.gunnerquist's highest praise. Thanks!

Frankly, I'm doubting that I'll love the old rules very much--I'm quite happy with 3X, Pathfinder, and parts of 4E, and I look back at my early gaming days playing AD&D with a mix of reverence for the fun I had, and amusement at the silly, seemingly arbitrary limitations and inconsistent rules. But, as others have mentioned, it was a different style of game.

Natalie said...

I snagged a copy of the AD&D DMG a while ago, and highly recommend it. It's sort of a mess, organization-wise, but it's this brilliant collection of house rules and reference material. Random harlot tables, the magical properties of gems, that kind of thing. And you can't beat that Gygaxian prose.

ChattyDM said...

I hope you share your thoughts on it. I still grab my old DMG once in a while and Read some random part...

Awesomely complicated lovely prose.

B.G. said...

I am looking forward to hearing what you think about the DMG. I am still of the opinion that the AD&D DMG is one of the best books ever, even if I still cant figure out some of the tables. I have read and still own all the rule books for 1e and occasionally still play it, so I am a little biased. If you really want to get a feel for Mr. Gygax's theories on gaming go get a copy of his book "Role-Playing Mastery". It is just a exellent book on gaming right up there with "Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering"

Felipe Budinich said...

Check this posts later if you want to delve deeper into the past: