Monday, November 2, 2020

"Gary Gygax hated magic." - Did he?

I saw this comment on CRPG Addict's review of Dark Queen of Krynn:

"It seems to stem from how Gygax hated magic so he purposefully made it difficult to survive as a wizard and made magic tough to learn."

This is not the first time I've heard something like this. I responded with a request for a source.

But I'll ask here, too. Does anyone have a quote from Gary to this effect? One from an early player that felt that Gary felt this way?

Magic changed from OD&D to AD&D, but in my opinion it's mostly in adding some complexity (spell components, timing on casting) that provides a mild brake on magic . . . but still keeps it quite powerful and game-shaping and game-changing.

It's also a comment I find hard to square with Gary's most famous characters being magic-users. Not exclusively, but even so, a couple of them have their names all over some potent spells in AD&D.

So, where does this come from? Actual Gary, or something that's been attributed to him in some roundabout fashion?


  1. Does Tim Kask's word count?

    1. It does, although it's not a lot of evidence to go on - a disagreement about OD&D Magic Missile (roll to hit) and AD&D (automatic hit) is a fairly small thing. But Tim Kask does say he had an anti-magic-user bias. Maybe I'm asking for a lot but I feel like I want to hear more before I start to parrot the "Gary hated magic" line, you know?

    2. Oh, I'm sure the full answer starts with "It's complicated." I know from reading early playing accounts that Gygax actually played both Bigby and Mordenkainen. Maybe it's a mere preference?

  2. Mordenkainen, one of Gary's own PC's was a wizard.

  3. Hi! Gygax clearly thought that Magic-Users had the potential to unbalance the game badly, and he felt that it was imperative to limit their powers strictly. This is one of the reasons he gave for hating spell-point systems. He basically said it would turn Magic-Users into machine guns. I don't think he hated magic at all, but he was concerned that excessive magical power unbalanced the game (and overturned the adversarial DM, his personal style) too easily.

    Some stuff along this line occurs in my blog entry here (Gygax fans, don't read it):

    I could see his close restrictions on magic-users and his disdain for very high-level characters and Monty Haul campaigns as being interpreted that he didn't like magic, but he usually wrote that "It's fantasy, so there is no rationale needed," except for his critical concern for a kind of game balance. (I think he was mistaken, but that's a moot point.)

  4. I vaguely remember some of editorial 'screeds' back in the day lamenting "magic not being magical" and they may also be feeding some of this theory.

    But I hate to say it, but "Sorry Garuy, you designed a system where magic is useful, powerful, and always reliable, stop griping that it's effectively technology."

  5. If you compare what is known about Gygax's own games and what he wrote about how other folks should play their games it is clear his standards for others were much more strict. So yes, he played a bunch of high level gonzo wizards who got away with all sorts of shenanigans AND he thought that other folks should be playing a much more restricted game.

    I don't know if it was not liking all the kids on his lawn, wanting weird fantasy bragging rights, or commercial motives (thinking folks would buy more DnD stuff if they were more restricted?) or what, but I don't think it was "hates magic." It was broader than that.

  6. It does feel like the original statement is reaching a bit. Yeah, it's a bit harder to survive as a wizard in the first few levels of old D&D, and their advancement is slower. However I've always heard that this was balanced by them being more powerful later on.

    And as the other commenters have said, Gygax was strict about balance in general, at least when it came to AD&D. I'm sure there was as much griping about overly-powerful fighters as about munchkin wizards, it just faded into the background because people were more accepting of the "guy at the gym" fallacy.

    Didn't Gygax want AD&D to be a "perfect and immutable" ruleset like chess? I guess that could translate into a dislike for house rules and a strictness about "balance".

  7. Everything said above plus I'll add that it seems in his early OD&D he was giving away powerful magic quite often and easily. Tim and Rob said this was how he playtested new ideas for items and spells: just throw them into play and deal with the consequences. What they told me next was that to deal with those consequences he had to take away or cripple a lot of what he gave out, after the fact. You see this in the transition to AD&D a lot: spells can't be learned on demand you need a random determination if they are learnable (introduced in Greyhawk) and only a limited number can be learned from each level, spells need material components or you can't cast them, powerful spells age the caster which forces a system shock roll or die instantly, magic items must save or be destroyed quite often (in OD&D there was an afterthought about item saves that said items are assumed to survive unless their owner is killed and then the most powerful items might still survive with a roll). Gary was very tough on magic after the early years of experimentation. He was also a very "do as I say not as I do" kind of person who would do exactly the things he attacked other groups for enjoying.


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