Tuesday, May 13, 2008

An Interview with Gary Gygax

This interview, conducted by Christopher Smith, was retrieved from Lejendary.com, which is now a parked site, but has been archived by the Internet Wayback Machine (that link is for the archived version; I cannot vouch for the safety of the parked domain, so I don't recommend using it).

[EDITOR: For those unfamiliar with the Lejendary Adventure RPG - Gygax's last complete RPG design - check out this review at RPGNet, a second archived review, and some useful downloads and information (some from Gygax himself) on this resource page on Dragonsfoot.]

An Interview with Gary Gygax

Interview by Christopher Smith

I had the pleasure of conducting an interview with the legend, Gary Gygax. Here are the results of that interview.

About the Lejendary Adventure RPG

When did you start developing Lejendary Adventure?

GG: Parts were begun in 1994, serious work on the fantasy genre material was begun in 1995.

Has it become what you expected when you set out to do it?

GG: Yes and no. The material that's available is what was planned, plus some excellent adventure modules unplanned for. In all, that's a plus. On the minus side, it has been very difficult to get the word out up to now, but that's beginning to improve. We have been plagued with setbacks in getting material to press, so as a matter of fact we are about a year behind where we had planned to be back in 1999.

Are you satisfied with the system? Why or why not?

GG: Oh yes indeed. I am very much satisfied with it. The best way to tell is to check out the volume of new core material, and associated information, and support work I am writing...daily! It will appear in LEJENDS Magazine soon, likely over 10 or 12 issues, plus in later releases. Right now we have the LEJENDARY EARTH book all parceled out into five sections, named, and readying for publication. Several designers are adding adventure springboards into the various parts, and I'll likely add one or two myself just before each goes to press.

As of this time, I'm working on the LEJENDARY ASTEROGUES Fantastical Science genre expansion, and putting together requested stat additions for the creatures in the BEASTS OF LEJEND book. Then I'll finish the information on Abilities crossing the Fantasy universe to the Fantastical Science one.

I mention the above because it confirms my original intention to make the LA system a multi-genered one. So far so good :)

Do you feel you have achieved your goal with the system?

GG: Well, I have achieved what I had hoped to, and it will expand as new genres are added, and the LEJENDARY EARTH world is fleshed out. The system goes beyond the core FRPG rules, of course. So with the LA game I can say almost there--a couple of years or so and the system for it will be fleshed out pretty well. Still working to get the other genres into place.

Avatars can be Ordered or Non-Ordered. Was the whole Order thing an after-thought on your part or was it always intended to be a part of the system?

GG: Ordered Avatars were envisaged from the start of development of the FRPG. They are the archetypes. As a matter of fact, the recognized "professional" is a reality in life, is necessary, I think, to lend verisimilitude to the fantasy environment. Ordered Avatars also make it easier to begin play for those who aren't experienced RPGers.

What reasoning did you use in developing the unique treatment of weapon damage? (I'm speaking about the fact that a dagger and a long sword do nearly the exact amount of damage in the system.)

GG: I thought about it and it seemed logical. The amount of actual physical damage one does to some living thing is pretty much the same with a 6"-long dagger or a 24"-long sword. So, based on average human Health of 20, the spread was easy.... 1-20. Then with adjustments for weapon and wielder, we move upwards overall.

Again, if one is hit with a mace or with a bardiche, the total effect is pretty much the same, right? So having a d20 as the base for weapon Harm works realistically, simply, and well.

There is so much to do in support of the system. Many people feel that your forte has always been writing adventure scenarios, yet only one is available by you for the Lejendary Adventure system and it is only available in the Author's and Premier Editions of the core rule books. Why is that? When can rabid fans expect a solid adventure scenario for LA much like "The Tomb of Horrors" was for the D&D system, or "Necropolis" was for the Dangerous Journeys system?

GG: First, my fans wouldn't be playing RPGs if it wasn't for my game authorship, eh? (^_^). That is the horse, and the rest a cart. clearly, the forte I have is designing rules, notably the D&D and AD&D systems in the past, then the DJ one, and now its the LEJENDARY ADVENTURE system. With a good system come good adventures.

Talk to Chris Clark about the lack of adventure material under my name! He is sitting on a revised version of my adventure THE HERMIT, and he also has a rough of an introductory one, LIVING THE LEJEND. The latter could be put into shape for publishing in a week on my end. Also, I am at this time expanding that module, writing a couple of extensions for it to cover the local barons stronghold and village, with some adventure material to be written in, plus a nice little dungeon crawl piece that's being play-tested now.

When MALEDICTED comes out, there will be an accompanying adventure module co-authored by Jon Creffield and me, THE WELL OF SHADOWS. That should serve to give a few Avatars reason to wish they'd have stayed home (^_^).

TOMB OF HORRORS was just a killer dungeon. NECROPOLIS was a more complete, campaign type module. The WELL OF SHADOWS is in between those alone, but it is actually a culminating special to the sourcebook-campaign work noted, MALEDICTED.

What's in store for the Lejendary Adventure system?

GG: About five years of genre expansion additions. Continuing adventure material and sourcebook support, novels, and a magazine that will hopefully grow in size as the game base does.

Note: Lejends Magzine that Gary speaks of is now available as a quarterly publication.

How do you judge the success or failure of the Lejendary Adventure RPG?

GG: It is a success NOW because we have a solid core of people playing and enjoying it. It will be a full success when we get the size of that core built up so that we can release one product a month to add to the FRPG portion, maybe one a month, or every-other month, for the genre expansions.

It is a case of not seeing the forest for the trees. Right now the project is a marvelous success. Consider the amount of online support it has from gamers, and there's a mighty fine stand of trees. Next, take a look at the number of talented designer-authors creating product for the system. Chris Clark and me aside, we have more than a half-dozen new and innovative writers producing material for product, but only two are in print now, the rest waiting to be read. More forest giants :) The response to LEJENDS Magazine is also signal. We are receiving all kinds of excellent material from yet more new creative fellows. Spring saplings aplenty.

So, the support for the LA game is a forest indeed. This support indicates that the system is very much a success. Otherwise, so many talented persons would not be contributing so much to it. To be blunt, I am satisfied that right now if I were not around to provide material, the many designers and authors who are actively involved in creating material for the system, really fine work too, would keep it going strong, growing too. This is unique to me, as a matter of fact. Prior to the LA game I have always fretted about finding others to create top-quality material. I wrote a lot of things for the LA game system so as to be sure that it was well-developed. From where I sit now, I have to smile. There are plenty of creative guys now eager to add to the game, and their work is excellent.

The LA system will fail only if its audience diminishes.

In short, as of now it's looking pretty good :)

About Gary Gygax

When did you feel like you'd "arrived" in the gaming industry?

GG: When I became Editor in Chief for Guidon Games in late 1970. I felt pretty solidly established when Tactical Studies Rules was able to release the D&D game in 1974, and know that was for sure in 1975.

What accomplishment related to gaming are you most proud of?

GG: Writing and publishing the first RPG, I recon :) Then likely founding GenCon.

What about your most proud moment in life?

GG: Golly, I don't know. I've been pleased and happy a lot, but "proud" seems like chest-puffing and all...

Most recently, the standing ovation I got from the huge crowd at GenCon 2000 was a real moment, humbling rather than prideful, though.

Maybe fatherhood.

Standing up to the people who were wrecking TSR, demanding a change in management, I'm proud of doing that even though it didn't end up so marvelously...

Describe the average day in the life of Gary Gygax.

GG: Get up early. Get to work at 6:30 or 7 AM, close down at around 6:30 PM, have a martini, talk with Gail, watch a little telly, and eat dinner. Then play a boardgame or cards, with son Alex and Gail perhaps, or else read or watch the tube some more. That's about the routine seven per these days. Thursdays I quit work at 5 PM, though, to get ready to LM the campaign here. On Sundays during pro football season I quit work at noon and watch that.

We get out to see a film, go to a party, occasionally. Now and then I travel, or we all take a trip for a day or two. We haven't had a real vacation at all for several years.

When you aren't corresponding with fans, doing pesky interviews, or developing material for the LA system, what do you enjoy doing with your time?

GG: See above. If I can I like to play a bit of military miniatures or board wargame, read, even go fishing--vacation assumed. Dining out in a good restaurant is much beloved, especially if the wine list there is likewise worthy. Travel is great--when I don't have to work a con all the time. Last break that way was when Alex and I visited Francois Froideval back in the fall of 2000--a good five days there!

Should I ever have lots of time I'd likely do some shooting again, go swimming often, maybe break out the stamp collection, that sort of thing.

Have you ever had a really "scary" fan experience? Care to share it with us?

GG: No, I haven't. Maybe I scare off scary fans (^_^). As a matter of fact I'm capable of being fairly intimidating, but in general I suspect because I genuinely like and respect most gamers, I've avoided bad experiences.

I have had death threats from non-gamers back when the media was indulging in an orgy of yellow-journalistic exploitation of the bogus claims made about D&D being all sorts of bad. Those were not frightening to me, but I assure you that I took those threats seriously, and likewise took measures to protect myself from them.

Where do you find the energy to maintain your level of production?

GG: Love of fantasy, history, and games surely! There's also a certain neurotic compulsion I have to be creatively working. My mind is always active unless I lull it off with a libation or two...

How do you manage to put out such a high level of creative material?

GG: Thank you for that esteem! Some of it comes from inspiration, some from playing games, and the rest, likely the majority, from plain hard work to produce something that is especially enjoyable for those who share in gaming and fantasy creations.

Who is your hero?

GG: In all I suppose I have quite a few persons who I greatly admire. Having lived as long as I have, "hero" isn't applicable, I suppose... Of the list that springs to mind, in no particular order, are: Thomas Jefferson, Orson Wells, Ernie Kovacks, Steve Allen, Jack Vance, Groucho Marx, George S. Patton, my father and maternal grandfather (my paternal grandfather died when I was about age two), my mother, both grandmothers, and Bruce Lee. Then there's William Shakespeare, Richard Cour de Leon and a bunch of others from history--enough!

What's the best gift you were ever given by another human being?

GG: Life!

Thereafter come such things as love, tokens of that created by my children, that sort of thing ;-}>

If God came to you and said, "Gary, you've got time enough for one more project, then you're coming with me," what would you choose for your last project?

GG: Something I have considered before. Likely I'd have to drop game work and concentrate on putting all the information I can remember about the family (paternal and maternal), what I learned from them, my own experiences, and that sort of thing down in a journal to pass along to my children, for their's, and the generations beyond. Fact is, I think a lot of what I was taught, gathered, and learned is worth keeping. Heritage and "wisdom" and simply personal family and local history enrich the one able to tap such information. As it is I wish I had garnered more from my grandparents and parents.

The Lejendary Community would like to thank Mr Gygax for being so available to his fans. Gary Gygax is a genuine person, who cares about those around him; we should all count it a great privilege to have him so close and readily available to our inquiries and suggestions. Thank you Gary for all the years of fun and enrichment you've brought to our lives in various ways. Keep up the good work and we'll keep pestering you for even more!

Copyright © Christopher P Smith, all rights reserved.