I Don't Really Care What Gygax Had to Say

Appeals to Authority in RPG Discussions

I Don't Really Care What Gygax Had to Say
By Moroboshi [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons

I'd like to start this article by saying I never personally met Gary Gygax. I've talked with lots of people who knew him, and overall he seemed like a fellow who had both his merits and flaws. As a tabletop gamer, I'm grateful for his contributions to my chosen hobby/career, and I recognize that without his efforts my favorite pastime would look very different than it does today.

Now, with all of that said, I'd like to go on the record by saying that I don't really care what he had to say about how games should be run, played, or written.

That will no doubt make me a heretic to a lot of people. However, I'm not stating this opinion to upset you, or to suggest that the way you choose to play your games is somehow wrong. Rather, I'd like to draw some attention to how a lot of us in the gaming community (you know who you are) will use the opinions of creators like Mr. Gygax to justify their own behavior, shut down criticism of their actions, or defend their own gaming preferences.

The Right Way To Play (Doesn't Really Exist)

Well, different strokes for different folks.

Chances are good that, if you're a gamer, you've seen this quote before. And it seems harmless enough, really. It implies that tabletop RPGs are here so you can tell collective stories as a group, and if you're a Dungeon Master who wants the story to go in a particular direction, then you should feel free to ignore the rules at your leisure as long as it makes for a good story. If that means you let a player strike a decisive blow against a powerful enemy despite their attack being a few points shy of hitting, eh, that's your call. If it means that your bad guy stays on his feet for another round even though he should have had his brains knocked out by that last blow from a warhammer, that's also your call. Whatever makes for a better story, you should do that.

Now, there are a lot of players and Dungeon Masters alike who feel this is a good way to play their games. They're more interested in doing cool things than they are in rolling dice and crunching the numbers. That's fine. However, there are also a lot of players who feel that this scenario is unacceptable. A game has rules, and to ignore those rules means someone is getting special treatment. As such, the only way to be fair to everyone is to make sure the rules are enforced, and to be sure that everyone at the table (the DM included) is telling their story within that agreed-upon framework.

So who is right in this scenario? Well, which is a better pizza topping, pepperoni or sausage? There is no right answer because it's entirely down to your personal preferences, your palate, and what makes you happy as a gamer, a DM, and a group.

However, if you are in the former camp, and you hold up that quote as proof that you are playing the game correctly to someone in the latter camp, you have committed a logical fallacy.

Appeal to Authority (A Critical Fumble on Your Logic Check)

The king said it, so it MUST be true!

We're all familiar with logical fallacies; errors in reasoning that render whatever argument you just made invalid. One of those fallacies is the Appeal to Authority (or argumentum ad verecundiam if you're sassy). If you're not familiar with the term, an Appeal to Authority is when you insist that something is true because someone who is an expert on the subject said it was true without any other supporting evidence being given.

Alternatively, you might be falling victim to the Appeal to Celebrity, which is where you accept that something someone says is true because they are famous. It depends on if you're making the argument more because Mr. Gygax was an expert in the field, or because he's famed as one of the founders of gaming as we know it today.

Either way, a fallacy is happening here. Because we aren't discussing a fact that can be verified (like that Dungeons and Dragons was first released in 1974 by TSR). We are, instead, discussing opinions. So, while engaged in a debate over whether one prefers sausage or pepperoni, you have declared that because Mr. Gygax fell into the sausage camp, that lends more weight to your preferred style being correct.

It doesn't.

Your opinion being your opinion is enough to make it valid.

If you have an opinion about gaming, that opinion should be enough to stand on its own. Whether that opinion is that story trumps rules, or that the rules you all agreed on for this game need to be unilaterally applied, bringing in celebrity endorsements and experts who agree with you doesn't make your opinion more valid, or your opponent's preference less valid. They'll still prefer pepperoni.

So instead of trying to win an argument by pointing at a prominent creator, defend your opinion yourself. Maybe you prefer nudging your players closer toward victory because you feel it's more fun for them, and it keeps your story moving along organically instead of depending on random chance. Alternatively, you might feel that everyone at the table should follow the same rules in order to ensure that everyone is treated fairly throughout the game. And if those are your preferences, then no one can naysay you, and tell you that you're playing the game wrong.

They might not like the way you play, but unless they're sitting at your table, who cares what they like or don't like?

Lastly, remember, you don't owe anyone an argument, a discussion, or a debate. You are under no obligation to step into the ring and go three or four rounds with someone who plays a game differently than you do, or who wants to "call you out" for doing it wrong. You are perfectly within your rights to block, ignore, and keep on scrolling. Or to just walk away if you're having an old-fashioned, meat space discussion.

But if you are going to step into that arena, make sure you've ironed the fallacies out of your arguments before you let them fly.

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If you enjoyed this post, you should definitely read It's Okay To Admit There Are Problems In Your Hobby. You'll love it.

For more of my work here on Vocal, take a look at my archive. And for more gaming advice, insight, guides, and inspiration head over to my blog Improved Initiative!

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Neal Litherland
Neal Litherland
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Neal Litherland

Neal Litherland is an author, freelance blogger, and RPG designer. A regular on the Chicago convention circuit, he works in a variety of genres.

See all posts by Neal Litherland