Friday, September 25, 2009

Gygax on Campaign Prep

An old (ancient?) article written by Gary was just brought to my attention over at The Grognard's Lawn. It's a 1975 piece from a wargaming 'zine that offers advice on preparing to play this crazy new thing the kids are into: Dungeons & Dragons.

Three items grabbed my attention:

1. The idea that you should start your planning small and focus on immediate areas: the Dungeon, the Village, and some surrounding wilderness. Gary recommends making your wilderness map no larger in scale that 1 mile to 1 hex. He clearly addresses something that was long forgotten by too many players: the world exists to facilitate play and therefore shouldn't be detailed until play has begun.

A few years ago, you couldn't have a respectable fantasy setting that didn't begin with the Creation, the subsequent squabbles of the Gods, and then lay-out an whole friggin' planet. Criminy! Who explores an entire planet?

2. He discusses the contents of Old Castle Greyhawk before there was a D&D. That's pretty intriguing. I think we all know the kind of things to expect: it was not a realistic ecology or architectural design. Each level was it's own kind of crazy. At one time, I would have thought that was a mess. But it now seems like a Mythic Underworld.

3. Unrelated to the ostensible subject of the article, Gary discusses character creation. Here we are at the roots of the game, since he actually has to explain rolling 3d6. But what is really interesting is his discussion of how to choose a PC's Class and Race because it offers some insight into the rationale behind Demihuman Level Limits. Essentially, Gary suggests that demihumans exist to provide a character choice for those with lousy to average abilities. Those with good abilities should be human: a strong guy should be a fighter and a dexterous guy should be a thief (to be seen in yet-unpublished Supplement I: Greyhawk!). But if you have no good abilities, then the natural abilities of the demihuman can off-set that. Even so, Gary figures your character won't live too long anyway, so the level limit probably won't even come up.

I can't say I agree with this whole idea, but it is (too say it again) fascinating. And just think about the demihuman as the preserve of the hopelessly average, as opposed to the "Elves are better than everybody" thing that would happen not too long after this article was written.

In nay case, well worth taking a look.


  1. This was really interesting. I know I have had my own struggles to keep my focus on the immediate game environment during my prep time.

    I also found the information regarding character generation and demihumans very interesting. I started playing with Holmes (which of course only went through third level) so we ended up with all fighter/magic-user elves as characters. It didn't take long for humans to lose their place.

  2. I agree 100% with idea #1. Although I would like to point out that having a brief summary of the big picture helps--a continent map with some names, maybe a short description of ruling empires and a couple major historical events. If anything, it helps give context.

    "You are a big barbarian? You must come from the Norther Tribes!"

    "Those are orcs. They normally dwell on the Gray Mountain. Maybe the Dwarves have finally routed them?"