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Gary Gygax Day - What I've Learned from Gary Gygax

Today is Gary Gygax Day! Gary Gygax was one of the creators of the first, most played and best-known RPGs of all time, Dungeons & Dragons. But he was not only the creator of one of the most influential games of all time. He was a great referee, storyteller and active member of a community of RPG players. He may have had his flaws too, and no one is immune to that. And although we have to keep these in mind too, that should not stop us from learning from what he could teach us.

Even though he is one of the biggest names in the RPG game industry, Gygax was always available to chat, answer questions and even play with fans and admirers. It was not uncommon for him to invite people to come and play with him at his home, and he did not fail to help, give tips and talk about RPG with anyone who approached him. He was the archetypal DM, a teacher, a creator, a real master. It is not surprising that his birthday is honored until this day, and hundreds of websites, publishers and stores related to our hobby celebrate this date.

But what about us? How important is Gary Gygax Day for us? Well, I don't know about you but I learned a lot from the books and adventures written by the father of RPGs, and from the reports of people who played with him. I wasn’t alive when RPGs were created, but I had the chance to revisit several games from that time and, for me, they are some of the best that exist until today. So, this post will be dedicated to talking about some things I learned from the master of masters, the first Dungeon Master.

Rules are Tools and not Manacles: Gary Gygax said several times (and wrote this in his books as well) that the rules are just tools to be used by the referees. That players should shape their RPGs in the way that was most appropriate and best suited for the types of adventures they wanted to design and play. The rules must conform to your style of play, your vision of adventure, and not the other way around.

The GM is a Fair Referee: The game master is a judge, a referee. He's there to decide how the universe and things work in that game. He is above the rules, because the rules were made to serve and help him. But he does not play against the players, and he must never be unfair to them. Likewise, he must not do everything he wants, and must remain impartial, whether for good or for bad. If it is for the characters to win, so be it, but if the dice and their actions won’t help them reach their goals, so be it too. They will learn something at least.

Players Need to be Challenged: RPGs is not just a storytelling activity. It's a game too, and games need challenges. There is nothing more boring than an adventure where players don't have to overcome themselves, have creative ideas and think as if they are really there. A game is not challenging just because the characters had to spend their spells and magic items, it is challenging because the players had to look beyond their character’s stats and think of solutions that are not ready in front of them. They may even pretend to like easy adventures, but nothing beats the joy of getting something you've had to work for.

Don't Underestimate the Intelligence of Players: Don't underestimate the intelligence of your players. Do not think that they will not be able to solve a problem or situation or that the plot will become too complex and it is better to make everything very easy and direct. Likewise, you don't have to use easy words, simple and even childish rules for your game. A lot of people learned a lot from Dungeons & Dragons books. Words, vocabulary, foreign language, mathematics, logical reasoning, companionship and many other things. Not to mention the adventures, in which some challenges were practically classes in a subject or another.

Out of Game Inspiration: Gygax always sought inspiration for his games and adventures, cited references and showed many people other universes that they would never know. Unfortunately, I only recently came to know this side, but I am already marveling at a whole library of fantasy, science fiction and horror tales. Don't be afraid to look for references and go to the source to get inspired by our games. Let's not be stuck only with other games and video games, let's go straight to the source, the source material is much richer.

Not Everything Needs to Make Sense: Something that many people criticize today (perhaps because they are a little unaware of the literature that inspired the game), is the lack of sense that some adventures and scenarios used to have. But who said that everything needs to make sense. Who said that monsters and other non-human creatures, aliens, from other planes and worlds think in a human way? Who said that the same laws of nature that we know are those that prevail in the depths of dungeons and caves? The rules are to be applied to player characters, humans, rational things, "common" events. Monsters, mysteries, strange things, aliens, do not need to respect them. In fact, it is even good that they follow their own rules, so they will look even more fantastical.

Anyway, there are certainly many other things that I learned from this incredible individual in our hobby, but it is difficult to put these experiences into words. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to chat or play with him, but the work he left behind has done enough.

But what about you, what did you learn from your favorite GM? Who are the RPG authors you find most inspiring?

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