Sandy’s Reply to Gary (that is, Gygax)

This letter has been going around the Free Kriegsspiel Discords. I’ve written it up here for easier reading, with the emphasis being mine.

This is a letter from Sandy Eisen to Gary Gygax about D&D. It speaks to a feeling that many of us gamers, game masters, and players have experienced when reading the rules, not living the worlds.

Here is reads:

“I was introduced to D&D, and I am currently living in a campaign being refereed by Roger Lightly from Pasadena (now living in Churchill College Cambridge, UK). I found the first few games intensely enjoyable and exciting; I really lived the part and in my ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ found myself there – in the dungeon. My actions (and of course my thoughts about these actions) were dictated by real-life considerations and no thought of wargame mechanics entered my head to distract me from the ‘events’ going on.

However, on my first games, by browsing through the rules booklets and pestering Roger with questions, I picked up a rough idea of the game mechanics and it was this knowledge that, with its attendant realization that D&D was just another miniatures combat system (albeit a highly imaginative and distinctive one) broke the spell of perfect involvement I had been under until then.

Thus when I spoke [in a previous letter] of D&D not being so open-ended, you misunderstood me. I did not mean in terms of the long-term course of the campaign and the lives of the characters, but rather the possibilities inherent each fight, encounter, discovery, etc. These are still wide, but inevitably when you are aware of the rules, you play out each situation with an eye to obtaining the best odds/chances of survival, etc., considering the rules rather than the situation you are in.

To avoid this, I have decided that when I design and run my own dungeon I will not permit the players (people who do not know about D&D yet) to discover the rules. Of course this will put them at a great disadvantage, and I feel I may have to put over quite a bit of information in the form of legend/folklore/tales so that they will have some idea of what they are up against and what to try, but all without disclosing the game mechanics. Although learning-by-your-mistakes will be a harder way, I feel that it will be more enjoyable both for the players and the referee.

I’m sorry if my comments appeared to knock D&D. Don’t worry, it’s a brilliant game that I recommend to anyone with imagination and time to spare.”

If this philosophy interests you, here’s further reading about Free Kriegsspiel games.

Keep on gaming!

6 thoughts on “Sandy’s Reply to Gary (that is, Gygax)

  1. Certainly true from personal experience. I’ve tried flipping people’s D&D character sheets upside down and staring them in the eyes – what do you DO? – but nothing seems to work quite as well as using a different and/or simpler ruleset which the players are less familiar with.

    Keep sharing stuff like this – I bet there are other readers like myself who don’t frequent Discord.

    Great blog btw.

    1. That’s THE most powerful question in the game. Players asking questions is fine but it boils down to “What ACTION do you take?” So important.

      Glad you found it useful.

  2. What an amazing pile of bunk.

    I continue to find it odd that people related to RPGs can dissonantly rationalize game play “without rules” as though we’re talking about something other than Calvinball. All games have rules. Arguing that a game is better without the rules is consummate to arguing that sex is better without human contact.

    1. Not all rules need to be written down or explained to participants. It’s taking that concept to the next level. Never does Sandy say “no rules.”

      Does one need to read a rules compendium before engaging in sex?

      1. Wait. You mean to say that you didn’t have to pass an exam on the Kama Sutra before they let you have sex? Those jerks LIED TO ME!

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