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The Gygax

Started by Grinning Moon, February 22, 2008, 04:27:51 AM

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Grinning Moon

I had asked Ron via PM if he had a personal hatred of Gary Gygax, perhaps as a result of meeting / talking with him in person, because that was sort-of the impression I got from reading Ron's articles and a few of his posts. My inquiry was more out of curiousity than anything else (basically I just wanted to know if Gygax was a real dick in person), and my impression was apparently flat-out wrong (which is certainly alright by me) - Ron said he wanted to address the question publicly, so here's his reply:

QuoteYou can? That's very strange. I don't think I've ever attacked Gary as a person in my writings. I've written very critically of some of the ideas he's put out.

Please give me some examples.

Best, Ron

P.S. This would be a perfectly OK topic for the Adept Press forum. If you want to re-post your message there as the start of a new thread, I'd like to address it publicly.

Best, Ron

...And I wish I could find a way to grab my original question, but I'm clueless here. I hope I got the jist of what I asked across already (or, Ron, if you ould edit it into this post?).

I don't have an example of a personal attack made by Ron on Gygax (as that would more or less eliminate the need for curiousity - :P); it's simply that Gygax's work and theories are so heaily criticized (not unfairly, mind you, IMHO). And, well, I kind of developed a 'gut feeling' about it. Which is why, of course, gut feelings aren't to be trusted - they aren't worth a flying fuck.

(edited to fix a quote format - RE)
"This game is a real SHIT>.<"

- What amounts to intelligent discourse on the internet these days.

Ron Edwards


To bring 'round all the documentation, here's your original PM to me:

QuoteI'm just really curious - and I beg your pardon if you find the question offensive:

Did you, like, meet Gary Gygax in person? And was he just a total dick?

Perhaps it's just me, but from what you write regarding the guy, it seems like you have pulsing and frothing hatred for the guy. I mean, I personally have little regard or respect for the fact he's such a revered figure as a result of a number of what are essentially myths and lies surrounding him... but man, every time I read his name in your writing, I can almost taste the venom.

Again, I'm just curious.

Answer coming soon!

Ron Edwards


I think it's a fair question to ask anyone who's active in role-playing culture to talk about their views on this and related topics. For the record, my heroes of the hobby include Greg Stafford, Greg Porter, and Erick Wujcik, and that's before meeting them, even more so afterwards.

That raises an important point: the whole business about meeting someone and developing a personal impression isn't interesting to me, as a conversational topic. As I see it, this is about institutional memory, critical reflection on what the hobby is, who has been involved, and where it is today. I'm also one of those people who thinks that critical reflection entails judgments.

But judgments of what? Of actions and ideas. In those terms, Gary Gygax's actions and ideas have led me to pretty harsh critique.

1. Based on as many and as specific reports as I can find, there was a terrible struggle over ownership of D&D, in mid-1970s, with two components and an important context. The first component was ousting Dave Arneson from TSR, and the second component was getting TSR owned and subsidized by someone besides its creator(s). The context was the drive to get the games into mainstream bookstores, with the associated concept that role-playing was a new big-money fad. I think that whole set of events set a precedent about role-playing games, their ownership, and economics which hasn't been a good basis for the hobby to blossom over the decades. Granted, the thirty-plus years history can't all be laid at the door of these few events for this one game, but I do think it wasn't a good start.

2. In the struggle to create the most advantageous commodity (as perceived) of the property, the development of the game turned out a hodgepodge of multiple influences and conflicting goals, with no actual identifiable "this is the game" object, as I describe in my essay "A Hard Look at Dungeons & Dragons." Whether things could have happened differently, I don't know. What I do think is that there was no dedicated attempt to make an actually-playable experience out of any single such object, based on actual play and based on any coherent principles of design. I think certain preferences or attitudes on Gygax's part were imposed rather brutally upon these texts, in many ways in direct opposition to playability, and possibly not out of actual play experience of his own. Examples include in-game time and the role of the DM as uber-participant.

It's not surprising that my two big things in role-playing are (1) design for play and (2) own your work. So that's where my critique of Gary Gygax lies.

I don't make a big deal over my reactions to his use of fantasy literature, especially Jack Vance, nor to his writing style. Those aren't positive reactions, but I acknowledge that they are responses on my part and not critique. That's why you won't see them in my posts - well, all right, I may have teased the prose once in a while, I can't swear I haven't even if I can't point at a particular example. But I haven't made an issue out of it, nor claimed to have intellectually demonstrated any point about it.

As for the guy as a person, we've been at some events together, most directly at a Games Day at the store Games Plus in Mt. Prospect, Illinois (I posted about this; you can find the Forge thread with a search pretty easily). But even then we were merely in the same room, and we've never been introduced nor exchanged dialogue.

Any positive things about Gary Gygax (again, actions and ideas)? Sure, actually.

In addition to all criticism mentioned above, I give credit to the person who had the guts actually to publish a role-playing game. "Role-playing," the activity, existed before that, mainly as a subset of wargaming (Glorantha) and fiction-writing (Tekumel). But to publish procedures specifically to do it - well, for that, credit is well-deserved, even with any secondary criticisms of how it was done.

I think his game Dangerous Journeys (brief original title = Dangerous Dimensions), published by GW, had a lot going for it and deserves to be dusted off and played. Its most weighty version is a bit beyond me; I prefer the "beginner" version called Mythus Prime. However, armed with that and the Mythus Magick book for that game, I've always wanted to give it a real go. Here's a good summary page for the products: Dangerous Journeys. The game includes a neat, simple system and what looks like a strong conceptual framework for the magic. It was screwed over badly by TSR lawsuit threats and publisher cowardice, and that's a shame.

Best, Ron


I have vague memories of a very frustrating night when I was a young teenager of trying to make Dangerous Journeys characters and being really put out by the complicated nature of it. 

Eero Tuovinen

I imagine that it's pretty easy to get an impression that Ron would be against "The Gygax" from all the identity-fuzz the roleplaying tribes of the internet tend to cherish. That kind of superficial thinking is a bit prone to leaping to conclusions based on preconceptions. I know that I've apparently garnered some reputation in Finland as an explicit D&D-hater without ever talking about the game at all, for example, on the sole strength of promoting Forge-originating ideas. It seems to me that some of the writing and discussion we (being me and some other forgites) have initiated during the last year has been explicitly about dissolving this impression; I've seen a lot more writing about progressives playing traditional games and thinking about their relationship to them, perhaps in an effort to balance the impression.

Anyway, what I wanted to say... if anybody has an interesting analytical take or specific impressions about Dangerous Journeys, I'm all ears in this thread or another one. I've just about seen and touched a rulebook once, I think, but apart from that I only know that it's apparently a pretty normal fantasy heartbreaker. I'm rather interested in original takes on adventure roleplaying, though, so if there's anything unusual in Dangerous Journeys, please do elucidate!
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

M. J. Young

On the direct subject of E. Gary Gygax, I have not met him but on distinctly separate occasions have corresponded with him, some years back in relation to alignment (I am in the minority that believes AD&D alignment was a very good, workable, and innovative system which was badly misunderstood and applied by the majority of players) and more recently in connection with his religious faith (not exactly orthodox, but a strong believer in a Biblical faith who lists himself as Christian).  I have also know people who have met him; he sat on a Christian Gamers Guild-sponsored panel on religion and gaming last year (along with Mike Stackpole and a few others), but I was not there.

All reports are that he is a generally likeable guy, easy to get along with (but don't call him by his first name) at least in social situations.

He is wearing out a bit in his old age, with some difficult medical problems; I hope I meet him before he retires from public interaction entirely.

--M. J. Young

Andrew Cooper

It seems relevant to this thread that Mr. Gygax died this morning.

Wikipedia Article

Ron Edwards

Yes, that is a grim example of timing.

At least in emotional/legacy terms, we enter a new phase in our hobby.

I'm extremely glad that I was able to say my piece beforehand.

Best, Ron