Page by Page: Gary Gygax’s DMG Part 14

Amazing photo of Gary Gygax
The art in the DMG is pretty sparse…so here’s an amazing photo of Gary Gygax I pulled from the D&D Documentary.

This is the fourteenth installment of my continuing series on the 1979 Dungeon Master’s Guide, written by Gary Gygax. This post begins with the section “Monsters and Organization” on page 104, and continues through “Siege Engines and Devices of War Defensive Values” on page 110. My purpose is not to review the DMG, but to go through it as a modern gamer, learning about the roots of Dungeons and Dragons, and making note when I see something surprising or interesting, or something which could be adapted for a modern game.

You can read all posts in this series under the Gary Gygax’s DMG tag.

Monsters and Organization, Repetition: So, this is just kinda silly, but I thought this passage was odd:

“As has been stressed herein, you will find that it is necessary to assume the various roles and personae of all creatures not represented by players. This can be particularly difficult in combat situations. You must be able to quickly determine what the monsters involved will do in any given situation, and this can be particularly difficult in combat situations.”

Monsters and Organization, Make a Note: Gary writes that before the players announce their course of action, the GM should write down what the monsters will do. That way, when the players argue that the monsters seem overly-intuitive, the GM can show the note he or she made and prove the monsters decided on their actions before the players did.

I’m sure Gary found this useful, but it seems like strange advice to me. In all my years as a GM, I don’t think I’ve ever actually had a player argue with me. At least not very forcefully, and certainly not so frequently that I’ve needed to develop counter-measures for it. My general impression is that Gary liked to…’stress’ his players more than I do, so perhaps that was a factor. But ultimately, if I had a player who questioned my honesty so frequently that I needed to start using counter-measures to prove I wasn’t being unfair, then I would be fine telling them to leave my table.

Monsters and Organization, Six Examples: It’s been a lot of pages since I saw something this awesome. Modern DMGs need to include this information. It doesn’t even need to be updated, they can just copy it from the 1979 DMG, and past it un-edited into the new ones.

Gary goes through six different groups the players might attack, and provides two examples for how each might react; with the first being how they would react to the initial attack, and the second being how they would react to a second attack a week following. It’s one thing to say over-and-over again that the GM should control the monsters and NPCs intelligently, it’s a different thing entirely to have detailed examples for undead, giant ants, orcs, a small town, a bandit camp, and a fortress. I would honestly say I learned something from this section.

Use of Non-Human Troops: When I started reading the DMG, all I knew about it was that a lot of people consider it to be one of the most important RPG books ever written. A work so profoundly insightful and ahead of its time, that even modern works which attempt to build on its success have not made it irrelevant. A book which got it right, while so many modern books somehow get it wrong.

I’ve found this to be half true. Yes, much of the book is amazing and awesome. Often in these fourteen posts so far, I’ve written that some section or another ought to be included in modern RPG texts. In fact I wrote that just a moment ago, just scroll up to the previous section!

Unfortunately, for every great section like “Monsters and Organizations,” there’s a section like “Use of non-human troops,” which is gratuitously useless. The fact that the various fantasy races don’t get along with one another is well documented. There’s even a “Racial Preferences Table” in the Player’s Handbook, which is referenced here. I can see how that would be useful.

Do you know what isn’t useful?

The knowledge that a weak human leader with no officers to directly control troops will only have a 25% chance to control the actions of a group of Kobolds. But I can raise it to a 95% chance if the player is a strong leader, and I have plenty of officers.

Who cares? 

I suspect this subject (which seems to come up often) has a lot to do with Gygax’s roots as a wargamer.

Underground Construction: What did I JUST say?!

Constructions: Here, Gygax lists a number of building types, and their costs. He gets into detail like doors, arrow slits, etc. This level of detail does not interest me, nor can I really figure out how it should work in play. I can’t even imagine how long it would take to price out this kind of stuff.

Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen rules for crafting a stronghold which I actually liked. Does anyone know of an example? Or perhaps I should just craft my own.

Siege Engines and Devices of War: This seems really overly complex to me. This feels like it was written for a war game where siege weapons would be a major game element, rather than for a role playing game where (ostensibly) individual character actions would be the focus. There’s two full pages of rules for hit determination, attack values, defense values…I think it may be more complicated than AD&D’s actual combat system.

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2 thoughts on “Page by Page: Gary Gygax’s DMG Part 14”

  1. One of the largest notes is that, eventually, the individual character is somewhat lost to the crown thereupon: Every game of AD&D, when brought to a high enough level, is a wargame, with both sides bearing dozens, if not hundreds, of units. That’s what great soldiers do: become great generals.

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