It's been about a year now since I met Gary Gygax for the first and last time, and had the chance to play in a game session at his house. He was in poor health, but he ran the game none-the-less. From all reports that was what he was like, a generous man who loved to game.
If you see statements by the people who gamed with Gary regularly, they all say he was a cunning and brutal Dungeon Master. His tricks and traps could foil the best intentions of any thoughtful player. They say that gaming with Gary was a unique, and treasured, experience. I wish our game session could have been longer so that I could have seen the end effects that almost certainly would have occurred after my character foolishly man-handled an evil demon idol (and Gary mysteriously consulted some notes, made a die roll, and had a disconcerting look on his face...).
Since Gary died, there have been many changes in the gaming world. His death led to a disentanglement with Troll Lord Games of the properties Gary built. This has angered many people, I think partly because there are many people out there who believe that TLG is the "legitimate" heir to the Throne of Old-School, seeing Gary's involvement in their company as an exclusive endorsement of Castles & Crusades as the true successor to AD&D. But that is a topic for another day.
The issue I want to address here is related to the reactions of people who are mad that Gygax Games pulled the properties away from TLG. Forget for a moment that Gail Gygax has every right to do whatever she wants. Forget for just a while that getting through the loss of her husband is far more important a thing than worrying about what fans think.
The issue here is not what will happen to the Gygax properties. The issue here is that Gary is dead. People are worried about who will produce the next Gygaxian product, a product that is infused with the "Gygax Credibility." What people are either unwilling or unable to see is that this is an irrelevant issue. Gary is dead. It doesn't matter which company produces the next dungeon, source book, or what-have-you with the Gygax name on it, the fact is that Gary will never pen another thing. People may claim to be writing "in his spirit," whatever that means, or writing with exclusive access to Gary's secret notes as if they are magic writings lending some special recognition, but it doesn't lend any sort of special credibility to anyone. Anyone can write in his spirit if they are familiar with his many works.
When I was in the Greyhawk dungeon adventure with Gary at the helm, I had the chance to take a glance at the map he was using. You know what? It looked like every other dungeon map I've seen thoughtful DMs scribble down onto a 8.5 x 11 piece of graph paper. When Gary rolled dice he rolled them just like any other DM rolls dice.
The point I'm trying to make is that in the end what truly made an adventure "Gygaxian" was probably having Gary run the game. His unique cunning was best expressed at the gaming table. That's why all these concerns about who is "better informed" in the Gygaxian School, as if it is some torch to be passed along, are silly. They are concerns that are too wrapped up in the idol worship of fandom.
We shouldn't look for some kind of Gygax Official Seal on our dungeons before they are legit and worthy of being old-school. Gary wouldn't have wanted that anyway. No one can ever create like Gary, because no one else is Gary. We should all create the dungeons we think are fun, in whatever style we think is fun, and DM them as we see fit. That's the way Gary would want it, not creating or DMing with some sort of insecure need to have an official stamp. I submit that in the end what is truly Gygaxian is the whole concept of D&D. You can play in a module written by Gary, but I bet that the experience is different, not necessarily "better" mind you, if Gary actually ran it himself.
What we have really lost is Gary Gygax the person and DM. Gary Gygax the game is still alive in all of those copies of OD&D, AD&D, modules, and other writings that are out there. Those are your textbooks to old-school. Nobody should be seen as the "true" inheritor of Gygaxian Gaming, because we all are his heirs in that sense. So game on, secure in this inheritance, and don't worry about whether you are "good enough," because Gary wrote many times that each DM is the final arbitrator. He never asked people to seek him out for the final answer, because the final answer is with each game player. I would also say to be wary if anyone claims any special credibility when publishing "Gygaxian" material. That isn't to say that Gygax Games doesn't deserve support, because if they produce good product, then they certainly do deserve support. But we all need to keep things in perspective and realize that we can't get or expect "true Gygaxian" from anyone. Only Gary himself could do that.