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Monday, August 26, 2013

On E. Gary Gygax and why I prefer AD&D

I left AD&D and then went back to AD&D rules when I decided to resume playing D&D as an adult. Why did I do it? Because I liked Gary Gygax's writing. It was sophisticated. He had a vision. He had gathered a lot, lots of detail to create random dungeons and dungeon dressing. The game mechanics were abstract enough to allow building upon them, and  there was enough spells, monsters and equipment to make the game vivid.

I didn't care about Gygax. It was unfathomable and sad, how quickly he lost control over his artistic creation. I didn't know all the bad things Gygax did to make D&D HIS game, and how incompetent's TSR's other BUSINESS members of the board of directors were. The profligacy of Gygax himself was amazing also. Especially, if you consider that he had a multi-million dollar company. As you read the articles, you will notice that he gave $500,000.00 USD to some author to develop the D&D movie screen-play. In a second article, dealing with Lorraine Williams, Bruce Heard expresses skepticism that TSR could have bought their own printer. The issue was that TSR paid premium prices for outside printers to print their hard-cover books. Well, I know someone in NYC, who spent 15 years working as a printer in an offset printing/binding shop, before raising $135,000.00 USD and starting his own offset lithographic print shop. This was I post 9/11 and in 1980's they couldn't have done it with half a million. Another glaring error I noticed was that TSR had a single distribution agreement with Random House and borrowed from, them against future sales. The Blume brothers packed the TSR's board of directors with three more people, two businessmen and a lawyer. I do not think that anybody took the TSR seriously and only used it as a cash cow to enrich themselves. Another interesting detail is that that Gygax hired Lorraine Williams (how can anybody with any brains trust that pit bull?) on the strength of her experience sitting on the board of directors of some hospitals and other non-profit. Wasn't he aware that rich people typically spend their time on the boards of directors of museums and hospitals? That was her qualification? Nobody thought to hire business strategy consultants? I read a 1980 or so interview with one of the Blume brothers, who were opening a company store for employees inside the TSR, and were talking about a "visionary" model, where TSR would have its own daycare and health care etc. I am not sure what he was doing - building socialism for TSR employees or building a company town, where the relatives of the board of directors members can recover some of the money paid to its employees.

What follows is the description of Gygax's time un Hollywood, and the two links to the probably thue best articles about the TSR and Gygax:

Gygax’s own position at TSR had become weak by 1982. In order to finance the publication of D&D in 1974, he and his partner Don Kaye had brought in a friend named Brian Blume, whose father, Melvin, was willing to invest money in the company. Kaye died in 1976, and Brian got his brother Kevin named to TSR’s board. Gygax was the president of TSR, but the Blumes effectively controlled the company; to keep Gygax further in check they brought in three outside directors, a lawyer and two businessmen who knew nothing about gaming but always voted with the Blumes. So Gygax moved to Los Angeles, and became president of Dungeons & Dragons Entertainment, which produced a successful D&D cartoon, and set out to produce a D&D movie. This was, to put it mildly, a strategic retreat. Gygax rented King Vidor’s mansion, high up in Beverly Hills, with a bar, a pool table, and a hot tub with a view of everything from Hollywood to Catalina. He had a Cadillac and a driver; he had lunch with Orson Welles, though he mentions with Gygaxian modesty that “I find no greatness through association.”[36] Here a whiff of scandal enters the story. Gygax had separated from his first wife, the mother of five of his six children; he had not yet married his second wife, Gail.[37] In the interim, well, it was Hollywood, and Gygax was in possession of a desirable hot tub. Gygax refers to the girlfriends who used to drive him around—he doesn’t drive; never has—and to a certain party attended by the contestants of the Miss Beverly Hills International Beauty Pageant. But he also mentions that he had a sand table set up in the barn, where he and the screenwriters for the D&D cartoon used to play Chainmail miniatures. This is perhaps why Gygax, unlike other men who leave their wives and run off to L.A., is not odious: his love of winning is tempered by an even greater love of playing, and of getting others to play along. He ends the story about the beauty pageant girls with the observation that Luke, who was living with him at the time, was in heaven, seated between Miss Germany and Miss Finland.

Gygax spent a lot of money in Hollywood. According to Brian Blume, he paid the screenwriter James Goldman, best known for A Lion in Winter, $500,000 for the script of the would-be D&D movie, but a movie deal remained elusive. Meanwhile, TSR had other problems: believing that it would continue to grow indefinitely, the Blumes had overstaffed the company; they invested in expensive computer equipment, office furniture, a fleet of company cars. But TSR’s growth spurt was over. By 1984, the company was $1.5 million in debt, and the bank was ready to perfect its liens on TSR’s trademarks: in effect, to repossess Dungeons & Dragons. Gygax got word that the Blumes were trying to sell TSR, and he returned to Lake Geneva, where he persuaded the board of directors to fire Kevin Blume and published a new D&D rulebook to raise cash.[38] At the same time, Gygax looked for people to invest in the company. While he was living in Los Angeles, he’d become friends with a writer named Flint Dille, with whom he collaborated on a series of choose-your-own-adventure-type novels. Flint arranged for Gygax to meet his sister, Lorraine Dille Williams, who, in addition to the Buck Rogers fortune, had experience in hospital and not-for-profit administration. Gygax asked Williams to invest in TSR; Williams demurred, but agreed to advise Gygax on how to get the company back on its feet.


  1. @ Brooser,

    Good stuff! I'd never heard about the $500,000 for a screenplay. That is insanely over-paid, even for nowadays, unless you are a massive-blockbuster screen-writer. Back then, even blockbuster writers never got paid that, I'd think. The man should have gotten outside consultants, a lawyer in the know, etc, to make sure the deals were fair. If nothing else, the lawyer's credentials would be on the documents, and they could be sued for incompetence if the deal wasn't up to industry-standards.

    I didn't know they paid the printers top dollar, that they eventually over-paid for a printer, either.

    Nor, that they had only one deal with Random House. Did TSR have no legal option to get other deals, and this limited them to a monopoly by Random House? I did know they got a loan from the publisher, though.

    The Blumes packed the board with their own cronies, that I read. Not sure how much they got paid for the privilege, but I'd be willing to bet it was more than was justified for the actual hours spent on the board doing their tasks. For which none of them had any experience.

    Didn't know that Gary going to Hollywood was because he was in retreat, but it makes sense. He did mention that he'd lost control by something like 1982, or so, I recall reading. Probably in the Kyngdoms interview.

    As far as hiring Lorraine Dille Williams, he also hired her brother, Flint Dille, who was an incompetent, too. They inherited the rights to Buck Rogers from their grandfather, who was probably a rapacious newspaper mogul. He probably got it the usual way, he cheated the previous owner on the price. I wonder if Flint Dille being a writer had anything to do with Gygax eventually opting to be a "writer," "Gord the Rogue" novels. I haven't read any, but they sound awful, and that's the impression I get from people online who mention they used to think they were quality writing.

    The whole daycare thing for the many TSR employees, it was over 200 (maybe as high as 400), the Blumes were into "Human Resources." Basically, they liked running an empire of yes-men. Ego all the way for Brian.

    Well, it sounds like Gygax became a pretty serious philanderer, and his son had no illusions about it, either. He must have been blowing a LOT of money, partying and fornicating. That little sleeze. Who'd have thought such a 'religious' guy, would have gone that route?

    I just read your latest post on the other site, and I thought it was lyrical. The comparisons between river beds, and life being non-discrete, but flowing. And how would our friend put an outdoor hexcrawl into discrete chunks, at the end. HAHAHA.

    That guy has a pretty enormous ego, and doesn't take well to anyone that disagrees with his reasoning. Challenge his position, and he'll get venemous and try to publicly humiliate you. Look online and you'll see how he behaves on other people's sites. Gratuitous nastiness directed at other site authors, I've noticed. It goes back at least 9 years, that I can see. This guy has always been a big fish in small ponds, and resents anyone taking away his 'superior' status to lord it over the rest of us peons. You've gotten just a taste of it, so far.

  2. Thanks, Neal!

    If I ever make it as a published author, my lyrical prose style will have something to do with it.

    Regarding the other site, I been through worse. So far he hasn't been too bad. I wasn't trying to put him down, merely see how his scene setting would work with my style of DMing. BTW his nodular adventure writing model is actually quite ground breaking. I was stumped as to how outline the new type of adventure that I started getting into, where the dungeon and wilderness exploration take a back seat to complex developing situations and mysteries that arise out of the campaign setting. They really ***DO*** arise... on their own... I needed a structure similar to map and key dungeon setup to outline those and Justin's stuff has proven very helpful.

    With regards to posting on sites where everyone is absolutely rude, I spent several years on a patriotic modern Russian site dedicated to some historical events during WW2, where Nazis held the town for six months, local high school kids formed a leaflet writing, red flag hanging resistance, and were promptly caught and martyred before the town was liberated. The incident was much used for post war communist propaganda, the site was run by some pretty fanatical people, BUT, they diligently put up all available archived documents. As I read them, I realized that for most parts documents were accounting for the real events, that there was evidence of a real organization, AND there was evidence of some very good police work by the local Russian speaking collaborators. Aside from that, there were some real questions that remained unanswered and I found myself unexpectedly in the midst of some cutting edge research, working on my very own 12 Monkeys style mystery of how a disaster/tragedy formed over the course of the fist week in January, 1943. In the mean-time, I tried writing about the American civil society and democracy, as they had no clue, not even propaganda, just basic lack of information and the failure to educate by the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have since gone to Russia to educate. We are talking things like Public Sector, basic tax structure, levels of local authority, independent judiciary, civilian control of the military and non-militarized law enforcement. I think that some of it went through. They had trouble grasping professional objectivity and could not grasp, that if you are writing about the effective steps that Nazis took, that doesn't mean that you like them, or that you are defending them or justifying them. So, for about four years I was like a tank being hit by flamethrowers on all sides.

    TSR related post to follow.

  3. With regards to how TSR was mismanaged and run into the ground, It is beyond me, that Gygax could not put HIS cronies onto the board of directors... oh, hold on... he chased them away, didn't he? I don't know the roles that the Blumes' cronies on the board of directors and the Random House's own efforts at distributing the D&D books have played in the tremendous growth that TSR has initially achieved, but it seems that the biggest problem was that everyone saw the TSR as a cash cow on which to latch on their cronies and suck the wealth, without appreciating the nuances of the product and the hobby that they were selling. I don't know what their back ground was, but it was probably in the small town small business, if they ran a small town drug store, that would be about the top of their game. If TSR was peddling fighter jets, or kitchen knives, or even food products, they would have gotten behind it with confidence, but running a weird game was just too embarrassing for them, so they got in it for the return on their investment and acted the way they did. However, what replaced TSR was a savvy company that recognizes and appreciates gamers, one that was founded by a competent game designer and one which makes the full use of modern marketing and has a good relationship with their corporate governance structure, which stands behind them... we have Wizards of the Coast. Speaking objectively, if we think for the moment that I use AD&D Gygax 1st edition rules and I am not using any of their products anyway, maybe my calling them soul-less can be considered personal bias, but when you consider that they have a marketing driven publication strategy (write D&D modules that promotes use of their miniatures (called affectionately "minis", basically overpriced toy soldiers); and that they replace their editions of D&D roughly once every five years, to make a new generation of adolescents buy new sets of core books from scratch; and the fact that they do not recognize the efforts of the indie role playing game designers, and that they DO NOT have an imprint to carry other, smaller and more experimental role playing game titles; all this shows that Wizards of the Coast indeed has issues having to do with lack of soul and is in effect, the Standard Oil of the Fantasy Role Playing.

  4. @ Brooser Bear,

    Yeah, the node based design thing is very good stuff. I have notebooks with all kinds of online gaming articles, and every one of those articles in the series was assiduously written down by me, for better GM training. Online, the node-based design may have antecedents on other sites. http://forum.rpg.net/archive/index.php/t-547077.html There is mention that the module The Masks of Nyarlathotep may use node based design. (I think our friend mentions that in his articles, too...) There is also mention that Dogs in the Vinyard uses node based design for creating towns. I don't know if any of those are true, but I'm pretty sure, there are precedents for the concept prior to these very well gelled articles from the other site.

    As far as TSR being "too embarrassing" for selling geeky games, so these guys just looted the till, I think that sounds right. I never knew why they were so foolish about handling a money maker and running it into the ground. Your other comment: that Gygax CHASED away his own cronies... THAT sounds astute! I think you're right. Rob Kuntz and others, left the company in a wave of quitting, around 1976. Almost in open-protest, that the game they knew was being corrupted into a regimented for profit system, in spite of various quotes by Gygax that he'd NEVER force other people into a playing style or mold. Rob Kuntz talks about a lot of the chicanery in this industry, and pretty clearly points a finger at Gygax for betraying the origins of this hobby. Basically, for being a sell-out.

    By the way, in the other site's comments, where I posted at you:

    *"Hey, you heard if from the Man, you painfully, painfully ironic, less-than-literate, lips-moving-while-boring-your-players-to-tears-GM!

    Just kidding, man."*

    Just to make sure you know, I wasn't making fun of you, at all. I was making fun of our associate for being a complete and overbearing ass-hat. Those were all his intentional over-statements, presented as 'facts.' Let him be seen by other readers, for the crap he's dumping on people. He usually ignores my posts, or only answers me to tell me that I'm wrong. As soon as I mentioned I didn't like Dragon magazine, that was the end of his usual coldly distant responses. Narsissitic actor, in need of an audience for his melodrama, and innate right to feel superior to his 'fans.' People like that annoy me, regardless of whether they have talents. There's no need for the abusive pettiness.

    Re: Wizards of the Coast, yeah, they know they have a money-maker, and they milk it in that endless business cycle for all it's worth. Forget where I read it, but they mentioned that just recently D&D was bringing in per year 1/20th (at best) of what Magic was bringing in, which was $200 Million per year. The article mentioned that this made even 4e, or 5e, just a legacy product! I guess if D&D makes under $20 MM, per year, Gross, then they don't consider it to be a huge property, any longer. Sheesh! I don't know how many employees, WotC has, or what their Plant and Equipment costs to back out are, but I wouldn't sneeze at $20 MM.

  5. Neal,

    Thanks for the thread on node-based adventure design! I have to look at it in some detail. I am wondering, do you have any detail on why there was a Rob Kunz wave of quitting from TSR in 1976? The bigger point of Gygax and Wizards of the Coast is that D&D does not reflect the advances in fantasy role playing game mechanics and techniques. Even the retro-clones, they are not incorporating any of the innovation of the indie role-playing games.

  6. Brooser Bear,

    Rob Kuntz mentions much of this on a blog that still exists, although he's discontinued adding to it, called: "Lord of the Green Dragons." I just did some digging to see if I could find any articles on that site that capture any of these issues, regarding the betrayals of the original D&D ethos, and flight in 1976. Here is a link to Rob Kuntz talking about his adherence to old TSR ethos:


    There are also interviews with Rob Kuntz on these very specific issues on YouTube: "Rob Kuntz: Conversations, Part 1" from "Grognard Games" (one of the Youtube posters who does interviews on gaming).

    In that interview at (32:00), he mentions the Cycle of Disposability.

    On Gygax Hypocrisy that Kuntz and others objected to (I think this is the stuff he was so disgusted with):

    Dragonsfoot.org "Gygax's letter in Alarums & Excursions #2" (July 1975). He made many statements he'd never force standardized rules, and how players were too smart for that to work. Later in Dragon Magazine, in 1978, Gygax wrote an infamous article: "Role-Playing: REalism vs. Game Logic; Spell Points, Vanity Press and Rip-offs," he went rampaged against "Fantasy Variants," as a huge crime against D&D. Here's a quote, from that interview, in Alarums & Excursions, which highlights some of the lies told before and after:

    Gygax: ..."Dave and I disagree on how to handle any number of things, and both of our campagins differ from the "rules" found in DandD. If the time ever comes when all aspects of fantasy are covered and the vast majority of its players agree on how the game should be played, DandD will have become staid and boring indeed. Sorry, but I don't believe there is anything desirable in having various campaigns playing similarly to one another."

    Gygax: "My answer is, and has always been, if you don't like the way I do it, change the bloody rules to suit yourself and your players. DandD enthusiasts are far too individualistic and imaginative a bunch to be in agreement, and I certainly refuse to play god for them - - except as referee in my own campaign where they jolly well better toe the mark."

    Gygax: "I desire variance in interpretation and, as long as I am editor of the TSR line and its magazine, I will do my utmost to see that there is as little trend toward standardization as possible. Each campaign should be a "variant," and ther is no "official interpretation" from me or anyone else."

    Later, Bob Bledsow, recalled running a scenario of his own design using variant rules at Gencon, and Gygax walked up, and made sure that all and sundry knew that this wasn't using "official D&D rules." I just read that online at a site talking about Bledsow and the origins of The City-State of the Invincible Overlord. It ties in nicely to this data.

    Why worry about a dead guy and his outdated game? Cause hero-worship and toleration of unethical, abusive behavior that gets excused away once someone becomes famous enough, means the problem in our society never gets seriously addressed and corrected. If there were meaningful consequences to choosing to rip off your buddies, lying about their contributions, hoarding the status for yourself until your dying days, and abusing your fans by reneging on promises to respect their independence and creativity... if there were meaningful consequences, it would almost cease to happen. The malefactors would be punished and despised, and only fools would want to join them as pariahs. If you have any kind of consideration for a well-run fair society based on ethics and reciprocity of labor, then anyone should be in favor of this.

  7. Brooser Bear,

    Have you heard anything about the semi- old school fantasy game based on Appendix N in the DMG, called: "Dungeon Crawl Classics?" It's worth a look to see if there are any ideas/mechanics worth incorporating into a GM's Home rules. I've read quite a bit about it, and it gets rave reviews for being pretty easy to work with, simple to learn, and good mechanics. On YouTube, there's this Finnish guy who gives reviews of its various components. He's very interesting, and breaks down complex ideas into very lucid bites. Some of his videos are only 9 minutes long, and some are 40 minutes long. His YouTube name is Wintersome. Here's a link for his: "Review: Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG - Part 1". Even if you don't bother using the system or any of it's parts, the guy has some interesting home rules he adds in, in one of his videos (he's got a lot of them!) His accent and Finnish appearance, are also pretty interesting. Definitely has some Finnougrian ancestry kicking in.


    I downloaded the Beta version for free, but haven't looked it over. Online you can check out the art and reviews at Goodman-Games.com.


    Here's a quote from the chapter on: The Core Mechanic...

    The core mechanic in the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game is the d20 roll. You will frequently be asked to roll 1d20 and add or subtract modifiers. The goal is to roll high and beat a DC, or Difficulty Class. Sometimes the DC will have specific terms, such as an Armor Class, or AC, which is a combat variety of a DC. A higher DC is more difficult to beat, and a better-armored creature has a higher AC.
    If you roll equal to or higher than the DC (or AC), you succeed. Otherwise, you fail.
    A roll of 1 is an automatic failure and often results in a fumbling failure of some kind.
    A roll of 20 is an automatic success and often results in a critical success of some kind.

    If you are familiar with the d20 system (3.0 and 3.5):
    • DCC RPG does not have prestige classes, attacks of opportunity, feats, or skill points.
    • Classes and races are one and the same. You are a wizard or an elf.
    If you are familiar with various iterations of 1E:
    • DCC RPG uses an ascending armor class system. A normal, unarmored peasant is AC 10; a warrior in plate mail is AC 18.
    • Attacks, saves, and skill checks all involve rolling 1d20, adding modifiers, and trying to beat a number.
    • There are three saving throws: Fortitude, Reflex, and Willpower.

    No matter what edition you’ve played before:
    • Clerics turn creatures that are unholy to their religion – which may include un-dead and other creatures.
    • All spells are cast with a spell check, where the caster rolls 1d20, adds certain modifiers, and tries to score high. A high roll yields a more effective result. Each spell has a unique chart that adjudicates the spell’s results.
    • Wizards may or may not lose their spells after a casting. A low result means the wizard cannot cast the spell again that day. However, on a high result, he can cast the spell again.
    • Cleric spellcasting works differently from wizard spellcasting. Clerics never lose a spell after it has been cast. However, as a cleric casts any spell, he may take a -1 penalty to his next spell check. By the end of the day, a cleric may have a significant penalty to his spell checks.
    • There is a critical hit matrix. Higher-level characters and martial characters generate critical hits more often and roll on more deadly result tables.
    • You can burn off ability scores to enhance dice rolls. All characters can burn Luck, and wizards and elves can burn other abilities.
    Those are the basics. Now: read the rules that follow, then begin your adventures!

  8. I have that rulebook on loan from one of my players. I will post a review of it once I am done reading it.