The Magic Tree


The best of the web – magical, mythical and majestical! Fantasy and Mythic websites and materials/downloads. Roleplaying, Tabletop and Esoteric Games.

Gygaxian? It’s all about aspiration

Purple Pawn asks ‘What is Gygaxian?’ - and discusses Gary’s writing style, referencing the deliciously baroque descriptions used in Vault of the Drow (Note to some of my newer players who may be reading this, and who haven’t yet experienced the pleasures of that adventure - patience - your time will come - now step away from the link….!). This set me thinking about my own view of what constitutes a ‘Gygaxian’ style of play.
In this post-Gygax era, various schools of thought begin to emerge, each striving to write its own gospel regarding the true meaning of The Way Of Gygax - much as occurs after the death of all great prophets, I suppose.
Of course, the real Gary Gygax was, like any other human being, a complex individual, his style of refereeing irreducible to a convenient soundbite without selectively ignoring all kinds of things that made up the greater whole.
Amongst the interweb chatter I have read, from the keyboards of a variety of sources, that ‘Gygaxian’ means any of the following:
  • Killer Dungeons - after all, he wrote ‘Tomb Of Horrors’, right?
  • Comedy Dungeons - after all, he wrote ‘Dungeonland’, right?
  • Gaming focussed on Dungeon Crawling in general - kill monsters, take their stuff
  • Adversarial gaming, where the referee is the enemy of the players, or at best indifferent to the suffering of their characters
  • Rules-light gaming - he wrote (or co-wrote, at least) OD&D, right?
  • Rules-heavy gaming - look at all those tables in the AD&D DMG, right?
  • Naturalism - adventures set in a realistic world where monsters behave realistically and have lives and motivations beyond that of merely being adversaries for the player characters
  • Surrealism - monsters, traps and other encounters appear in random locations with no logical explanation
  • Prosaic writing - frequent use of words such as ‘antithesis’ and ‘thereof’ and all manner of obscure pieces of vocabulary
I’m sure evidence could be presented to refute the universality of all of these statements, some of which constitute cherry-picking in the extreme, and for me, none of them fully captures the essence of Gygax’s greatest contribution to the D&D gaming world.
For me, Gygaxian is all about having aspirations. It’s about building a world instead of just skulking in the dungeons. More than that, it’s also equipping yourself with the knowledge and ability to go about that enterprise. It’s all about the ‘grand milieu’, an immersive campaign built to last that develops its own life and history, a campaign rich in variety, with room for horror, and room for humour, and for realism, and the odd patch of surrealism as well. If you can do that with what you consider to be a lightweight set of rules, that’s fine, but if you need to resort to something more complex to achieve your ambitions, that’s also fine - rules are a means to an end, tools to do the job and some tools can be easier to master than others. NB - I’m not claiming here that Gygax’s AD&D rules were all ideal, or that game system development was his strong point. The point I’m making is that you try to make your campaign world the best it can be, and that sometimes takes effort, and intellect.
AD&D was ‘Advanced’ Dungeons and Dragons for a reason. I am still in awe of his ambitions laid out in the 1st Edition DMG. Reading that book made a generation of referees aspire to the challenge of becoming the ‘Renaissance Man’ Gary talked about as being the ideal DM - an ideal, he said that few of us could hope to achieve. *Slap!* A thrown gauntlet if ever I read one. (You can’t write things like that now, of course - you might injure some poor soul’s self-esteem).
As to criticisms of his very prosaic style of writing, this puts me in mind of a quote attributed to Stan Lee of Marvel who also received similar comments regarding his use of sophisticated vocabulary in his comics:
“If a kid has to go to a dictionary, that’s not the worst thing that could happen.”


Post a Comment