Dungeons & Dragons Interview

Gary Gygax is considered by many to be the father of fantasy role-playing, having created the highly successful Dungeons & Dragons rules system back in 1974. With Dungeons & Dragons celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, we felt it was a perfect time to hear from the man himself about the game's origin and history, his new Lejendary Adventure project, and more. What follows is a transcript from a recent phone interview I had with Gary:

GB: Tell me a bit about your history and how you originally came up with the concept of the miniature ruleset called Chainmail, and, later, Dungeons & Dragons. Were these games originally just a hobby of your own, or did you intend to make it into a commercial game from the beginning?

Gary: This goes all the way back to Gen Con 1 with a fellow by the name of Jerry White from Portland, Oregon, as I recall. He brought a bunch of 40 millimeter Elastolin figurines done by Hauser. I started playing and got hooked. Jeff Perren happened to collect quite a few of those same scale miniatures and he had gone and set up rules for them. Henry Bodenstadt ran a gaming shop business out in New York, he had got his (Siege of Bodenstadt) game into Strategy & Tactics magazine at that time published by Chris Wagner. This was what really hyped the 40 mm figurines.

Playing games with those miniatures and a castle, hooked me completely on such gaming, so Jeff Perren came to Lake Geneva and I had a sand table in my basement. He brought in his 40 millimeter Elastolins and his set of rules where one figure equaled 20 men, and we both had a heck of a time, but he lost interest later. And he left the rules with me and I said, (I will expand these, they need to cover more historical settings.) I turned two pages of rules into about four. And then I figured it would be a lot more fun to play man-to-man and make those weapons count. So I wrote up a set of man-to-man rules, then rules for jousting, and finally a fantasy supplement with dragons, heroes, magic swords and spells; and eventually those were published as Chainmail.

So it was really Jeff Perren who was the inspiration (laughs). Well, the real inspiration was the Elastolin figures.

GB: So how did Chainmail evolve into Dungeons & Dragons?

Gary: Well when you were one-for-one in most areas, you had an Elastolin figure.so the player would control any figure on the table that was his. And each one would take two hits to kill or whatever. Dave Arneson up in the Twin Cities started a Chainmail campaign where all the players each had one figure and he brought that style of game down to Lake Geneva to show me. I said, (Wow, that's really cool). So out of his inspiration, I created the D&D rules.

GB: And that's how TSR came to be?

Gary: Well, yeah, I founded Tactical Studies Rules with Don Kaye he and I were equal partners. We founded that in October of 1973 and published D&D in January of 1974.

GB: You wrote many of the original manuals and adventures for Dungeons & Dragons, both for the original boxed sets and Advanced D&D. Did you do a lot of research into mythology and other history in order to base your text on existing information?

Gary: Yeah, I've been a history buff since long before D&D. I started reading history in the late 1940's as a little boy. I would read about the conquerors and went on from there to Bullfinch's Mythology and the LaRousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, and so forth. So yeah, I read whatever I could get my hands on in regards to the subject. Of course authored fantasy played a big part in inspiring the D&D game.

GB: Dungeons & Dragons has received some bad publicity in the past, including some reports linking the game to violence and even suicide. Looking back, how did such events make you feel and what do you have to say to those who might still think a game like Dungeons & Dragons is "evil" in some way?

Gary: All absolutely unfounded. So to answer (What do I want to say to those who think the game is evil), I would say that they are quite unable to distinguish the difference between fantasy and reality. It is a game, it is make-believe, nothing in it is real. There are no swords, there is no death, there are no demons. No gold, no treasure, no magic. It is all imagination and make-believe. It is very much like the Walt Disney picture Fantasia, the scenes from the sequences of (Night on Bald Mountain) or (The Sorcerer's Apprentice) illustrating the game.

Such charges are just of pack of lies, there is not a shred of evidence for any one of those claims. So those people who are saying these things are wrong for whatever reason it's all just lies.

GB: For those RPG fans that are unfamiliar with your Lejendary Adventure FRPG project, can you provide some details about the basic game mechanics, such as character development and the magic system?

Gary: Well it is a rules-light, skill-bundled based system that is constructed so once you learn the rules basics all play is very easily and quickly managed, and you hardly ever have to crack the books, except maybe to see what the spells are doing to do or to get monster stats. But you don't need to look up the rules. It is basically a D% system for ability checks when you are using skills. And the game master simply decides if there are any penalties or bonuses.

The rules are guidelines. The player can create just about any sort of a character he wants to have with this system. There are archetypes in there that are called Ordered Avatars, so there is an Elementalist Order, Enchanters or mages Order, a Noble or knightly Order, and so forth. Or you can choose whatever skill bundles you want and make a character that is perhaps a sorcerer and a knight, and any one of the old-time sense of the meaning sorcerer like one who uses magic demons for his magic. There is no level progression, you start quite strong with a good deal of hit points and a good deal of power. Then it just takes you a long time to go up from there, because every adventure you probably get one percent addition to one of five or six abilities and you probably want twelve abilities for an advanced Avatar, you know, for your character, so you have got to get built up and buy new abilities too. It's a good long-term game; it's very exciting, very accessible, and very easy to play.

GB: You're working with Dreams Interactive to make an online computer-based version (MMORPG), correct?

Gary: Right, it won't be quite as free-wheeling, of course, as a paper game. Unfortunately, online doesn't allow the same sorts of things as when you have a game master right there and a cooperative group meeting. I can't talk too much about it, but the graphics are beautiful. What the Dreams Interactive people have in the works and are developing is really fun and will offer a great deal of enjoyment to play. With all of the politics in each region decided by the players based therein, the world is going to be varied from state to state and surprisingly large.

GB: Have you had a chance to playtest the game, and when do you think it will be available?

Gary: Parts of it. They haven't got the creatures modeled yet, so I had a little character jumping around fighting various boxes (chuckles). The boxes had the name of the various LA game creatures on them..

I think that the beta will begin next year. We were hoping to get it ready for later this year, but I don't think it'll make it. They are working very hard on it, which is why there has been so little done on the website lately.

GB: Are there any other projects you're currently working on, aside from Lejendary Adventure?

Gary: Lejendary Adventure is the main project and Troll Lord Games will be coming out with all kinds of stuff later this year or next. They're getting ready to release a Lejendary Adventure Essentials boxed primer set. They're introducing it so that we will get the game out to more people.

I am also working on a little number called Castle Zagyg which is the campaign-based material for my original (Greyhawk Campaign) begun back in 1972. It will nominally be for the Castles & Crusades FRPG system from Troll Lord Games. Rob Kuntz, who became co-DM of that campaign back in 1974 will assist me and we'll start later this year on the castle and dungeon levels portion of the project. We would have started already, but my health isn't good enough yet. Anyway, we are going to take the best of those 40 or 50 dungeon levels we devised and do about twenty-five or so for the printed version of the setting. That is the meat of the Castle Zagyg project.

GB: Have you had a chance to play any of the Dungeons & Dragons videogames that have been developed in recent years, such as Troika's Temple of Elemental Evil - which is based on one of your original Greyhawk adventures?

Gary: I read through parts of it and talked with the lead programmer there (Tim Cain). And he was right on! He knows his stuff very well. But if I start playing games like that, I won't get any work done. I am not kidding, if I start playing one of those games I waste two or three months of my life. I won't quit until I've exhausted all of its potential.

GB: Do you feel that videogames based on rulesets like Dungeons & Dragons, Vampire: The Masquerade, or your own Lejendary Adventure help or hinder the sale of the pen n' paper versions of such RPGs?

Gary: I think if anything they marginally help. If those were the only games available on the computer than I would tell you they are hindering sales. But I don't think people are playing computer games all the time and not paper games. So they are certainly not hindering.

Paper games are fighting against computers in general for time, reading is not too popular these days, and attention spans are short. You gotta pretty much figure its not going to be a rapidly growing hobby.

GB: If you had to choose your favorite three adventures to either play or dungeon/game master from any role-playing system, what would they be and why?

Gary: They are probably going to be in D&D since that is the only place I have really run adventures other than my own Legendary Adventure material. Probably the one I had the most fun doing would be Against the Giants, G1-G3 and the Drow series, D1-D3.

And then I think my second favorite would be one that I just finished writing which will be released at the end of this year called the Hall of Many Panes. It is going to be in both D20 and Legendary Adventure rule systems. In that one, the playtesters were active in it for over a year. It's quite a large and interesting adventure module.

And then there is a little short one that I always got a kick out of that was called The Abduction of Good King Despot. I used to carry it around with me because it took about two hours to play through and it was really a lot of fun and quite challenging.

Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Gary. It's much appreciated!