Monday, April 23, 2012

Gygax's Letter in Alarums and Excursions #15

Gygax's Letter in Alarums & Excursions #15

Dear Lee,

Hereafter you will find comments regarding A&E 14 done in the order in which the material they pertain to appears in the zine. This is bound to cause a rather disjointed missive for which I beg your kind indulgence in advance.

Your stand regarding future publication of variant material is most appreciated, for we do not particularly feel happy to see some rehash of our copyrighted material. With regard to commercial sale of material pertaining to D&D, I can state that TSR is absolutely opposed to the practice in those cases where there is infringement upon our copyright. In the case of your supplemental material, I cannot say but will certainly tend to look more favorably on an enterprise of yours you have been most careful and conscientious regarding the rights of TSR. Please let us take a loot at the material if you wish to go ahead.

Rick Schwall played in "Greyhawk Castle" once or twice, but he either was with a very small group -- I do not recall -- or his memory is not good. Rob and I do not bother to place adventurers on any sort of graph if the group is three or less. All placement is easily kept track of with so few players involved in combat. When more than three persons are in a party, we always require that they align themselves in a march order, the leader be in the front rank, and changes in marching order be noted. The party keeps one copy of this, and they must furnish us with a duplicate. When combat takes place we sometimes use miniatures, otherwise paper and pencil, to record positions, actions, hits given and hits scored. My favorite grid for character positions in combat is a large sheet of staggered squares covered with acetate. Colored china markers are used to show positions, moved, etc. When running large groups through a tournament scenario, such nice touches must be done away with in the interest of time.

Lee, no matter how carefully something is written, and I am not thereby claiming D&D was written with a view towards deletion of ambiguities, there will always be some person at work to twist the content to their own ends. A classic case is the Avalon Hill game STALINGRAD, which stated the German player could place up to 8 factors of German units in Finland. As the rules did not mention Rumanian units, some of these clever fellows put them into Finland too! I take exception to the statement that I am not able to write very clearly. Correctly put forth in a form asserting that D&D was not written without loopholes or carefully would be quite acceptable. When I treat historical subjects, rules are written in a far different manner. Specifically to the point, magic-users are not allowed to wear any form of armor or use any form of weapon other than daggers. We have amended our treatment to allow them to use staves as weapons as well. Characters able to operate in two or more classes at once do not fall under the injunction against armor and weapons. Thieves can use nothing better than leather armor, and they may never use a shield. They may use only daggers and/or swords, magical or not. I would allow them to use a garrot or sling in some cases. Likewise, I would allow the use of a fine chainmail short of magical nature. The point is that the DM should make such decisions. (Ooops, I just blamed you for something evidently written by Glenn Blacow... Sorry!)

Glenn has quite a few novel concepts. Evidently he believes a dungeon should be rather like a fun house, with a monster behind every door and so much magic available you can't keep track of the enchanted swords without a scorecard. Anyway, I personally dislike refereeing for expeditions above six persons, but demand usually force me to take more. The largest party we ever took into "Greyhawk Castle" was 16 --- and four actually survived to tell of it. And that without 75% occupancy and no more than a half-dozen traps on a typical level. In any event, from your statements, Glenn, I do believe you could handle play in my dungeon -- or even Arneson's -- and do well, but how can the clean-up crew be considered "helpless"? An encounter with an ochre jelly dropping from the ceiling can be rather devastating.

Rumors concerning the way we play D&D seem to be flying about all sorts of places, and unfortunately most of these bits of information are only partially correct at best. Dan Plerson says that we are rumored to play competitive D&D with group against group. It so happens that when we get the campaign into high gear, there is considerable competition between three or four factions, and they find it enjoyable to attack each other when the opportunity arise -- and they do play to make such opportunities. As a DM I find this quite suitable. It does not occur frequently. It almost never happens during dungeon expeditions. Here is how we have things set up:

The game world is a parallel earth, but the continents are somewhat different. Most of our campaign activity takes place on what corresponds to North America, on the eastern half of the continent. The "Blackmoor" lands lie far up on the northeast coast. "Greyhawk" is in the central portion. There are a few other independently run campaigns located on this map. There are also some other dungeons related to the "Greyhawk" campaign located at some distance from the free city of Greyhawk. Players in our campaign may freely play in "Blackmoor", but to get there they must adventure cross country. With one or two other campaigns, we do not allow any cross-campaign play other than this, for these is too great a disparity of DMing. The territory within 500 or so miles of our main dungeon is mapped out at 5 miles to the hex. Territory within 50 miles of Greyhawk city is mapped more closely, and monster locations are indicated. The entire world is mapped out in rough form, with notes regarding typical encounters in given areas as well as particular special places, for hardy souls who wish to go forth to seek their fortunes.

Charlie Luco is quite correct. Kuntz and Ward should have known better than to fly in the face of an already published monster, and the Rakshasa business is now too late to correct. The whole of GODS' needs correcting due to the mis-stripping done at the printer. When we do this, we will probably enlarge the format to 8 1/2 x 11, add a lot more material and make necessary corrections at the same time. Rakshasas will stay as they are in SR, and the indian demons will be properly indicated to be something else altogether.

Mr. Konkin's ethos is rather strange in equating good with law and chaos with evil, but becoming embroiled in a philosophical discussion is the last thing in the world I need, so let's skip it.

I do not believe that Wayne Shaw has ever played in an actual "Greyhawk" expedition, although he may have been involved in a tournament game sponsored by TSR which I had a hand in devising. From his comments, I am forced to suppose that the good man does not care to think, and his answer to problem solving is to kill. At least he got the wrong impression. I invite him to set up an appointment to have a go at the real thing, and let us see if he "naturally" slays the creatures he encounters. I lose all patience with sophomoric players of this sort; they belong in a Monty Hall dungeon.

It seems that Dungeons & Beavers players are getting paranoid. We did not design GODS' simply to shame them or whatever. The supplement was written to conform to the major type of play going on in the country. If the beings therein do not fit into their particular manner of play, it is easy enough to ignore the whole work -- or add a zero to the hit points each can take. Yes, fellows, I find 20th level to be absolutely incredible, for you won't get it in the games hereabouts -- or in most other places which I hear in talking with DMs. It makes good players angry to hear about umpteenth level characters when they have had to play two actual years, carefully and intelligently, to rise to tenth level or so.

A good example is the Origins I dungeon -- incidentally drawn from a similar tomb designed by Alac Lucion. Very few of the players who engaged in the tournament were able to think out the problems. In a test run, Rob Kuntz, in his game persona as a 13th level (evil) lord went through the entire tomb in four hours actual time. He took 14 orcs and a couple of low-level flunkies with him. He lost all the party, but his character personally looted the lich's tomb and escaped with the goodies. Rosenberg is wrong, for there were a number of ways to get out the place, although only two to get out with anything except your skin. I hope that in the future I will be able to have more individuals try "Greyhawk Castle." It's not as tough as "Blackmoor," but I think it might give some few an enjoyable time.

Thanks for sending A&E along! I hear you missed GenCon West I, but I hope that you'll make II and I'll see you there. Arneson went to this year's event, and it is my turn to go in '77

Best regards,

E. Gary Gygax

NOTE: I will be adding the comments from A&E #14 that Gygax is responding to, probably within the next few days.


  1. Thank you transcribing this.

    J. Eric Holmes had fiction in issue #14, The Adventure of the Giant Chameleon. Let me know if you see any comments in issue #15 (or 16) on his story. I imagine he was already corresponding with Gygax at this point.

  2. Will do. It is also likely that something might appear in future issues (#16+) since it sometimes took contributors awhiile to respond. There are also illustrations in the Holmes contributions.

  3. Thanks for posting this Jason! What year was this printed?
    One more thing: Gary says Castle Greyhawk is not as touch (tough?) as Blackmoor. Its pretty interesting to hear this comparison of the two Castles from Gary himself.

  4. Ah, late night typing. That is my typo. I will see about amending it. I believe it was Oct '76 but there isn't a date I kind find inside the zine.

    I actually have an account of someone who adventured through Castle Blackmoor at a tournament to transcribe. I have only glanced at it so it will be interesting to see what he says about it.

    1. The date is on the cover: 15 October

    2. Now I see the date. don't know why I kept missing it.

    3. Jason, if the Blackmoor account is the one from Bill Paley, you might save a little work. That one is transcribed here:

      I'm curious, are there any letters or articles from Dave Arneson in your copies of A&E?

    4. That's the one. I will probably do a transcription anyway. I find that transcribing or indexing material really makes it seep into my memory.

      I will have to look for anything by Arneson but I don't remember coming across it. There is work by J.Eric Holmes, Steve Perrin and Scott Rosenberg so far (and Perrin is advertising All The World's Monsters [I think that is the right title] in one issue).

      I'm also tracking down replies to Holmes' work.

  5. liked the reference to tomb of horrors


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