Gary Gygax

World Building with Gary Gygax in his Later Years

Yesterday I was directed to this video from Gary Con XI. The video featured a fascinating discussion from three of Gary Gygax’s creative partners: Stephen Chenault, Jeffrey Talanian, and Chris Clark.

There is a lot of good stuff in the video but the following interaction got my attention:

The part I want to pick up on was this exchange at 3:56 (which should be where it ques up at when you click on the video):

Chris Clark: “Gary sent me the entire Lejendary Earth World as a 96 pg single file. And I looked at it. And Gary was like this from time to time, as you’ll admit as well. He writes a little bit encyclopedialy.”

Jeffrey Talanian: “Oh yeah”

Chris Clark: “When he’s doing world information.”

Jeffrey Talanian: “Sure”

Chris Clark: “And I look at this information”

Jeffrey Talanian: “Lots of lists. Lists of lists”

Stephen Chenault: *Laughing*

Chris Clark: “Lists of lists. The lists of lists. And I said Gary, where’s the romance? Where’s the drama? ‘Oh players don’t want drama, Chris. They’ll make that up on their own.’ No, you’re wrong . . . So I took his 96 pages and split it into 5 books which became the Lejendary Earth series. Now only two of them, three of them? Two of them saw publication.”

That 96 page file that Chris Clark mentions above is an example of one of Gary Gygax’s “bibles,” which the trio discuss in more detail later. These documents worked both as a guide for what he wanted in the setting and also as an outline to help him focus his efforts.

The lists, though, are what highlighted this exchange in my mind because often “bibles” for stories or settings are fairly narrative things with an ordered pattern to them. Gary Gygax, it seems, was using them with this idea towards creating a wholeness for the world. Lists of important things he felt would flesh out the product seemingly abounded throughout his creative process. And looking at his later work, in particular books like the World Builder, it become apparent that Gygax was using these lists as a way to jump-start his reader’s creativity.

Let’s look at the first section of the World Builder book: Book One Stock-in-Trade. In particular, let’s examine the armor section. Gary devotes nine pages to detailing the different types of armor players of Medieval-ish fantasy games could expect to see. There’s little context here to explain to the reader why one might choose Brigandine over Ring Mail other than Table 1.1 d20 Armor (pg. 16 – 17) which assigns an Armor Bonus to each.

We follow up armor with 20 pages on weapons – 4 pages of pole-arms, 3 pages of swords – and a list of their bonuses at the end in Table 1.4 d20 New Weapons (pg 34 – 37). But again there’s no commentary as to why you would choose a Flameberge over a Claymore.

It’s as though at this point in his career Gary Gygax is saying to his readers, “Here’s a heavy portion of possibilities for your games. I’m not going to hold your hand and tell you why one is better than the other. Instead I want you to pick out your favorites and bring them to your players. Use them to distinguish the rich from the poor, the evil empire from the good. Make up what comes next!”

It makes me like him a lot more.

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