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The Dungeon Master: An Interview with Gary Gygax
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The Dungeon Master: An Interview with Gary Gygax

November 1, 2002 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 2

Harvey: As a game designer, what do you think of the WotC D20 mechanics? I've played 3rd Edition D&D since it came out, and I've picked up the new D20 Call of Cthulhu and the espionage game Spycraft, as well. (I was a fan of the original CoC and the TSR espionage game Top Secret years ago...) Personally, I consider D20 an amazing accomplishment. What's your opinion?

Gary: No question that the D20 system is well written and very tight considering all of the mass of detail contained therein. That makes it a bear to design for, nearly impossible to vary from the massive framework of the system. The D20 OGL is a very clever move too, as it provides support for the core system, brings in more players to it, and expands the fantasy base into other fantasy environments as well as into whole new genres.

After 30 years of role-playing gaming, however, I find that the system is too rules oriented for my personal taste, too centered on combat as well, so I will play it, but I do not enjoy DM'ing it--although I still love to DM for original D&D or AD&D.

What I sincerely hope is that 3E brings in many new players!

Harvey: Something we talk about here a lot at Ion Storm is how to get the best creative and technical work out of a team of 20-30 people. Computer games (especially RPG's) are huge today, with tremendous budgets. I feel that a small group of people-working toward a common creative goal and putting aside as many issues related to ego as possible-can achieve synergistically better work than a single mind is capable of producing. As someone who is seen as a lone wolf writer/designer, do you have any thoughts on the collaborative creative effort?

Gary: Didn't some wag once state that a camel was a horse designed by a committee?

In creating a new game I believe firmly that there must be one controlling force, one mind, as it were, even of that refers to two or three persons with a shared vision. (After all, I have frequently collaborated in this regard:) Now, when the base is built, the unique design completed and that being played, there is much room for new vision so that the design can grow, offer new aspects, and remain compelling. Given that, however, I do believe that there must be a controlling vision overseeing the new material.

Harvey: Why do you think sword-and-sorcery fantasy has maintained popular dominance in the RPG world? It's always more popular than genres like spy fiction, mystery, horror or SF. Fictional trends (like cyberpunk) come and go, yet medieval or renaissance European patterns remain dominant. Can you shed some light on this?

Gary: Other than to point to human history, I can't offer much. Campbell in treating the mythic hero seems to have pretty well nailed down the answer. There is something in the human subconscious that thrives on such fiction. The FRPG is merely an extension of that deep-seated part of our minds that hears and answers the call to adventure by picking up a game...

Harvey: Since the thought crystallized in my head, I've always said that there are two approaches to RPG character creation: One where people try on completely alien personas as a way of experimenting, and one where people play some facet of themselves (perhaps taken to an extreme). I fall into the latter camp-every character I've ever played is some reflection of me. Your opinions?

Gary: Oh-oh. I am a bad person to ask such a question. I envision the character I create only in the game at hand, and pretty well stay within those bounds. Thus, any character is "alien" to me. On the other hand, I can only assume the role according to what I know and think, so at the same time that persona is an Avatar of the actual "me."

Harvey: I don't want to put you on the spot, but, wow, you've had a huge, unsung impact on our culture. Role-playing games have filtered their way into the world in a number of ways. RPG's brought with them authorial ownership over play experiences. RPG's brought persistence to play experiences. The impact on computer gaming has been indescribably huge. Many people have been affected on a personal level, as well. (When I moved from Texas to California, one of my long-term gaming friends and Deus Ex co-designer, Steve Powers, sent distressing word of the new gamers he had started playing with after my departure, sarcastically describing one player nursing her child at the gaming table while her character was firing acid arrows at wererats. This is one of the ways I mark a personally milestone in my own history.) How do you feel about having played such an interesting role in so many lives?

Gary: It is a vastly stimulating thing, that impact you mention, and also quite humbling. I am always greatly heartened when I hear from fellow gamers who pass along how much enjoyment my work has brought to them, usually coupled with the camaraderie and friendships made, how much the game aided them in dealing with life and helped in attaining their potential. Had I initially realized how great the impact was to become, I would certainly have reflected on how I should present the initial work, and that might well have stifled the creativity. Still, as the positive is something well over 90 percent--more like 99.9 percent from direct communications I receive--from my current perspective I don't think I'd change a thing in regards the concept.

Harvey: I know you're a fan of the Elric books and of The Hobbit. Ever read the Chronicles of Amber? Were you a Roger Zelazny fan? Do you have any personal experiences to relate?

Gary: Well, a little on Zelazny. I really liked the first couple of "Amber" yarns. Zelazny's Jack of Shadows is in the recommended reading list in the AD&D DMG appendices, as are his Lord of Light, and Creatures of Light and Darkness, if I recall correctly. In fact, one of the latter two books was licensed for a major theatrical film, and when I was out on the West Coast the man who held those rights took me to see Roger to discuss the project. We had a most interesting meeting, he being great company. Sadly, as with the film project for the D&D game I was working on at the time, both came to naught.

Harvey: I was playing Warcraft 3 recently, which features a race called the Night Elves. For your games, you created the Drow, didn't you? What a great concept...dark faeries. From literature we have similar Norse myths about dark elves and the Unseelie Court from Ireland. Certain concepts come up over and over, with some deeper power over us. The Drow concept rocked some of us, when we were kids. It was as if you gave a voice to those of us who did not identify with golden knight-heroes. The Underdark was powerful stuff somehow. Tell us about how this came about and about how people reacted. Also, do you have any thoughts on writers playing with age-old archetypes? Is that something you do deliberately when design games or writing?

Gary: Two parts here, eh?

In regards to the drow, I found the name in an unexpurgated dictionary. At that time I was writing the "giants" series of modules for AD&D, and planning the sequel. That became the D series, for Drow, of course.

Conceiving of the vast lightless underground labyrinth--much inspired by Jack Vance's "Planet of Adventure books, specifically The Pnume and Margaret St. Claire's Sign of the Labyris--was fairly easy. As it developed it became clear to me that I needed a ruling race for this "Underdark," a fey people if you will. The Norse dockalfar with crow's feet wouldn't do at all, so I devised the drow as appearing in the D series modules. The kuo-toans were clearly a minor factor, and even the illithid (mind flayers) could not be placed into this lightless realm as the great masters of it. To emphasize the difference of this race of dark elves I made the females more powerful than the males. (Incidentally, I had meant to do the same in a new race of potent, good elfin sort, but never got to it before I left TSR.) Anyway, the drow were devised to be the antithesis of the usual elves, and the concept worked very well, I must say. There is a good deal of satisfaction in seeing others take my unique creation and develop it into a very major part of the universe of D&D as has been done.

Now, as to the archetypes, yes. I did that unconsciously when I first wrote the D&D game, later on with forethought in other design. As I noted above, I have not neglected the archetypical figures in the design of the LA RPG. As a matter of fact, I believe it is a very important component of creating a game that has longevity.

Harvey: The sky is slate gray and purple. The clouds overhead seem to form impossibly-large faces wearing ominous expressions. Backed by this gloomy sky, a pale young sorcerer regards you warily from atop the ivy-covered remains of a shattered tower. What do you do?

Gary: I waste him with my crossbow, quickly loot his body, then complete the destruction of the tower, of course!


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