Monday, October 7, 2019

The Gygax 75 Challenge

TLDR: Gary Gygax wrote an article in 1975 about how to get a campaign started. It's not bad!

It was a Dragons Never Forget blog post that first drew my attention to an article on beginning a campaign that Gygax penned in the 1975 wargaming newsletter Europa

I was surprised by a number of things in this article. Not the least of which is how well Gygax wrote in his earlier days. He is generally clear and organized, doesn't over indulge in big words and obscure abbreviations, and writes with a helpful tone.

He also provides some interesting and generally sound advice. (Caveat: it's for building a campaign around an old school dungeon crawl. If you aren't into that, you won't be into this.) The article breaks down into two halves. The first half contains the five steps he outlines for generating a minimalistic stage on which players will invent a story. The second half is a grab bag of advice in which he details playing other races, including a gold dragon character.

The Five Steps


  • Establish a setting concept. "Step 1 is something you do in your head." Embrace as many sources of inspiration as you like, but keep your sources hidden to preserve the mystery. Setting  some limits on the scope can be very interesting as long as the players' imaginations still have a relatively free-reign.
  • Develop the surrounding area. Gygax suggests a large sheet of paper with a scale of 1 mile/hex. Include some interesting terrain, locations, and places to explore, camp, adventure, and set up a base or even a stronghold.
  • Create 1-3 levels of a dungeon. Choose a distinctive theme and/or key feature for each level. Map it, noting transition points to lower levels. Plan where key monsters and treasures will be found.
  • Detail a sizable, nearby town. "Here your players will find lodging, buy equipment, hire mercenaries, seek magical and clerical aid, drink, gamble, and wench." (Hmm.) Add strange towers, a thieve's quarter, temples to horrible deities, etc. for flavor. 
  • Build the larger cosmos (concurrent with play). Gygax says this step will likely come after play begins. "Most referees work on their campaigns continuously:" adding, changing, and expanding. 

I made a PocketMod for you to carry around in your journal if you want to follow the advice to see how it works out. (You'll need the folding instructions.) Once folded it will fit in the smallest Moleskine notebook (3.5" x 5.5").

The PocketMod is designed around one week per step – no more, no less! My friend JJ [Beyond the Gates of Cygnus] and I are currently trying it out, so I'll be posting the results here as we go. Stay tuned.


It's Gary's world. We are all just livin' in it.


Launching the Expedition


This part of the article is two longish paragraphs. The first is about generating characters and basing and outfitting an expedition. The second paragraph is the interesting one. Here he talks about the selection of character types. He gives the advice that characters with average stats might do well to consider one of the non-human types: dwarf, elf, or halfling. (Presumably their extra abilities offset the level cap, which wouldn't matter much to a character with low/average stats anyway. Hmmm.) 

Then he says something really interesting: "What do you do if a player opts to become a Golden Dragon? Agree, of course." He goes on to suggest some of the problems with a GD character: only able to adventure with lawful types and scares off hirelings. And he suggests a very slow level progression (every four years or several 100k gold pieces add to its hoard).  We've probably all seen the advice in original D&D (1974) about allowing players to play other species, but it's a one-off line and I've never been sure how seriously to take it, until now.

Pretty fascinating stuff. 

The article is only three pages long. It is not paragraphed well and is in tight, slightly fuzzy scanned typewriter. But it's well worth your time if you want to see some very early advice on "how to" do D&D. 


Do yourself a favor and continue reading into the reader responses to the D&D craze. They are interesting as well!

WEEK 1

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