6. For many years, you acted as “the Sage,” providing official answers to questions about the rules of D&D in the pages of Dragon, a role you continue to assume for Kobold Quarterly. I remember Gary once complaining that, in the early days, fans of D&D would call him at his home to ask him rules questions and he was baffled as to why anyone needed him to come up with answers, a feeling many early TSR staffers apparently shared. Do you see any contradiction between the desire of many fans for official answers to their questions and the belief of many early designers that players should come up with their own answers?
It’s a huge contradiction. The early designers were wrong. It comes down to this: If you want to be in control of your character, you have to have some idea how anything you might try is going to come out. and you can’t know that unless you have some idea of how the rules are going to handle the situation. If the GM is making capricious decisions about what happens in the game, you’re always shooting in the dark and you have no real control over your character at all. Think of how hard it would be to, say, learn to ride a bicycle if the laws of physics were constantly in flux. The game just works better if the DM and players have similar expectations about how the rules handle things.
To know how anything you might try is going to come out, you need to talk to the GM. The thing that sets role-playing games apart is that they have a living judge instead of lots of carefully worded rules. That’s why early D&D had such a minimal set of rules. That’s why the most interesting systems being created today have a minimal set of rules. That’s why Gary was so surprised by people calling him for answers.
(Yes, I realize that this is my own point-of-view. TINWWTP. YMMV.)
For every capricious GM, there’s (at least one) player who gets upset because they made too many assumptions and didn’t bother to actually communicate with the GM or the rest of the group. Instead of trying to fix the “problem GM” or “problem player” problems, we should just concentrate on fixing the “problem me” problem.
Having said all of that, though, I loved the “Sage Advice” column. (And in recent years I asked a number of questions of Gary too.) Firstly, If I buy a role-playing game, I want to understand what I read in it. One-way communication is almost guaranteed to have errors. Two-way communication allows for error detection and correction. Secondly, when I have a question about something, I often like to get other people’s opinion. Even better if I can get the opinion of someone more knowledgeable or experienced in the subject than I. Whether I end up deciding against the author’s original intention or the sage’s advice, it’s still valuable.