Lamentations of the Flame Princess is doing a great, in-depth many-part series on the Gygax book “Role-Playing Mastery.” I strongly recommend it.
I still have this book. I can’t say I like it. In fact, reading it was a bit of a watershed moment for me; it’s when I decided to bail on D&D. I came back eventually, with the launch of 3e, but basically reading the book made me think, “If this is what D&D is really about… I am going to try some of these other games I’ve heard about instead.”
It took a bit of playing other games and learning some other things to have the self-possession to say “Well, I’ll come back to D&D and play it how I want, instead.” LotFP links to a rpg.net review that about sums up my take. And in the non-Internet world, I didn’t know about the Gygax break with TSR, to me and other gamers in small town Texas, Gygax was D&D and his word was law. And now reading him hold forth at greater length than ever before about what D&D is/should be – I rejected it.
What Gygax presented as being the acme of roleplay – essentially, gamist group competition – was not what I wanted. I’ve done some RPGA over the years and those are always my least favorite RP experiences by far. There are loads of small details of advice in the book, some good, some bad, but its overall zeitgeist was that- rule mastery, overcoming challenges – this is the acme of role-playing mastery. I had even at that tender age started to value world realism, plot, character immersion… None of which were reflected at all in his screed. I reckon I figured you had to take it all or not, so I chose not.
I started obsessively collecting RPGs. You don’t even want to know how many I have. I wanted to do different things, and decried friends who wouldn’t play anything else as “D&D whores” stuck in the “D&D ghetto.”
Older and wiser, having learned much (I hesitate to call what I learned “role-playing mastery,” but IMO it was more worthwhile than what the book claimed under that rubric), I returned to play D&D. Though to be honest, I’d prefer for it to be about 30% of my gaming diet, and it’s much more than that. “I’m taking it back!”
So it all turned out all right. With perspective, I regained my appreciation of D&D and Gygax. Years later, after the rise of the Net, Gygax himself flamed me as “fatuous and jejeune” on his mailing list for daring to say… his game with lots of j’s in the name, I forget which one, there were a couple… was pretty derivative of D&D. Sure, I thought “Deal with it, you coke-snorting old hack,” but it was with fondness. (After looking up WTF “fatuous” and “jejeune” meant.)