That Sadist, Gary Gygax

Gary Gygax was a sadist. He just got paid more for than the rest of us. The main creator of D&D and the RPG penned the notorious Tomb of Horrors, which visited instant death upon even the most intelligent and cautious players.

Safe travel, GUARANTEED!

Recently, out of a mix of nostalgia and curiosity, I have been reading through the rulebooks for the 1st edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. (You might see a few posts from me on this, by the way.)

Well, while perusing the spell list in the Players Handbook, I came upon this spell description on page 52:

Word of Recall
(Sixth Level cleric spell)

The word of recall spell takes the cleric instantly back to his or her sanctuary when the word is uttered… It must be a well known place, but it can be any distance from the cleric, above or below ground. Transportation by the word of recall spell is infallibly safe.

(Emphasis mine.) At the same time, the Dungeon Masters Guide contains notes on the various spells that are not to be seen by the players. The DMG states on page 42:

Word Of Recall: For each plane that the cleric is removed from the plane of his or her designated Sanctuary, there is a 10% cumulative chance that the cleric will be irrevocably lost in the intervening astral or ethereal spaces.

RUFKM!? The player is assured by the rules that this spell is “infallible,” but at the same time the Dungeon Master knows that this spell can utterly destroy the player’s character. Not even the highest-level Resurrection spell can save the PC now.

And casting Word of Recall required that the player’s cleric reach the 11th level — which in those days likely resulted from at least year’s worth of gaming.

If any DM followed Gygax’s rule back then, I would heartily support a player who wanted to throttle their GM, place their AD&D books in a pyre, burn them down and salt the earth.

Sure, all of these rules could be hand-waved away, but why include them in the default rules to begin with? Why punish a player who studied the rules?

All the praise for First Edition is not without its nostalgia — flaws like this can lovingly be called “quirks” and even part of the game’s “flavor.” But no modern system could get away with such a bait-and-switch. And for good reason.


About ronaldsf

Grandmaster of the Pathfinders' Guild at Martin Luther King Middle School.
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