Thursday, July 19, 2012

The DMG, Section by Section, Part 2: The Game

Approaches to Playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

Gygax declares that there are basically two schools when it comes to roleplaying games: realism-simulation and gaming. I had never realized that GNS theory had roots at least as far back as 1979, although by the "gaming" school Gygax seems to be meaning something closer to, but not synonymous with, GNS theory's Narrativist rather than GNS' Gamist. Gygax states that AD&D is firmly in the gaming school and that those looking for simulationism or realism won't find what they are looking for in AD&D. He describes AD&D as best for, "fun, excitement, and captivating fantasy," and for those, "who desire to create and populate imaginary worlds with larger-than-life heroes and villains, who seek relaxation with a fascinating game, and who generally believe games should be fun, not work, will hopefully find this system to their taste."


Gygax gives the fullest discussion of dice I think I've ever seen in a "core" book, jumping into probability curves within the first paragraph! He goes on to discuss conventional abbreviations for dice (xdy+z), how different dice can be combined in a roll (for example, you can simulate a d40 by rolling a d4 and a d10, which, in 1979, would itself have probably been a d20 with each number repeated), and other, non-platonic dice. He mentions the d10, d6s with no 1s or 6s but two 3s and 4s, and a die he uses for reaction rolls that has card suites on each face. Rolling dice, then, seems to be one of the areas where experimentation and homebrewing are encouraged for AD&D; at the end of the section, Gygax admonishes the reader that, "the dice are your tools. Learn to use them properly, and they will serve you well."

Use of Miniature Figures with the Game

Gygax encourages the use of minis with AD&D, stating that they are helpful in establishing marching order (so not every step of exploration was apparently played out with miniatures) and especially helpful in explaining tactical situations to players (so many, if not all, fights seem to be played out with minis). Gygax suggests that players furnish minis for their own characters, henchmen and hirelings while contributing to a fund for buying monster minis. Gygax cautions that all minis should be bought at the same scale and points out that mini bases are twice as big as the scale of the minis themselves, an important point in playing out tactical situations.

Aids to Playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

Here, Gygax spends about half a column explaining what possible aids can be bought for use with AD&D; he mentions character sheets, DM screens, modules, miniatures and magazines. He also strongly, strongly stresses that only officially approved aids should be used or purchased. Besides TSR, the only companies he mentions as approved are Judges Guild for paper products, Grenadier for minis and Games Workshop's White Dwarf for magazines. This amounts to both informing the reader what kind of things are available and advertising for TSR and official licensees. As someone whose game has benefitted immensely from Arduin and DragonTree books, as well as more recent stuff that certainly isn't official D&D (that is, just about everything published by the OSR), suffice it to say that I strongly disagree with Gygax as far as what I'll allow in my games.


  1. Just remember that you are in a different time. Gygax was trying to keep his fanbase at a time when he risked losing out to other non-compatible games such as "Chivalry & Sorcery," "Warlock," and "Tunnels & Trolls." Many people were looking at other games at that time, and the market for the game was not what it is today. Losing out might mean TSR losing D&D players to another system, and thus it's sales.

  2. It's certainly understandable for Gygax to write this way for the reasons you offered; the thing is, that advice served TSR more than it served the games of those who might have improved their games by incorporating "unofficial" materials, many of which (first three Arduin Grimoires, Dragon Tree Press) were completely compatible with AD&D. When I read gaming material, I want the author to have the best interests of my game in mind; it actually encourages me to buy more of his stuff.