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Gary Gygax, RIP

I’ll never forget the day I met Gary Gygax, the geek-culture icon who created Dungeons & Dragons, and who just passed away this morning. It was at Gen-Con, which at the time was the country’s biggest game convention. My parents--in what they still consider one of their worst parenting decisions--had allowed me to make the trip with a friend, on a Greyhound Bus, from Pittsburgh to Racine, Wisconsin. Monster Manual II had just come out, and he stopped me to ask if he could see my copy. It turned out that something that he wanted to be included wasn’t, or something that he wanted left out was included, or something like that. I wasn’t quite following what he was saying. For me, a pimply-faced kid about to start high school, it was like meeting Elvis. He thanked me, signed my book, and went on his way. That made the whole trip worthwhile.

That was nearly thirty years ago. Last summer, when my nephews came to visit, we played their version of D&D, which was a far cry from the game I remembered. I don’t think Gary’s name was even on the box; he had sold the rights long ago to a company called Wizards of the Coast.

I sold all of my old D&D stuff about fifteen years ago, but I still look back fondly on my years of near-obsession with the game. It was a great creative outlet for me and my friends. It also gave me my first exposure to what would probably be called "social conservatives" around here. They tried to close down our local club, charging that the game promoted devil worship or some such nonsense. They failed; we got to keep our group, and we played every Saturday until somewhere around my junior year of high school, when I moved on to other interests. But Gary Gygax’s passing makes me sentimental for those days. So, in my best uber-geek voice, I proclaim: "I raise a flagon of mead to you, my liege, and hope that the afterlife brings you nothing but natural 20s."

Discussions - 9 Comments

good post- My mom didn't much like the D&D stuff either. actually I have never met an adult evangelical who approved of D&D.
anyhow, I loved it and played on the sly. a good friend created a D &D inspired game w/ amazing sketches of wizards, mages, dragons. He prolly spent more than a 1000 hours of work on it. we used to play all day. I also enjoyed the DragonLance books... ever read those?
good times.
I generally agree with social conservatives and don't mind being identified as one. But they embarass themselves with their opposition/fear mongering re things like D&D or Harry Potter. In my experience, is more of an issue for evangelicals than catholics.

What's scarier than some perceived demon worship is this 37-year-old geek going up to a WV cabin to play version 3.5 with some old friends from grad school (to get away from our wives and kids for a weekend of junk food and good times).

Great post and thanks.

I still have all of my Dungeons and Dragons stuff--and believe me it's a lot of stuff that dates to 1979.

As a bit of biography, D&D (or AD&D) was my initiation into the academic world. Most of the fellows I played with were intellectual (or nerdy) types. When I started playing in my early teens, my GPA went through the roof because I was challenged like no other. My parents, who were at first worried about the game, found it beneficial.

Gary Gygax, RIP.

Thanks for the trip down memory lane...

By the way, my friends and I regularly play by e-mail (known as PBEM these days), and post the turns and discussion at our website. We're at A little different than playing in your mom's basement or in your room with the bunkbeds.

I did play D&D a few times in the early 1990s with some grad school friends. One thing I found was that as an adult (well, inasmuch as grad students are adults) I could better appreciate the stylistic element of the game--that is, the actual role-playing. Too much of the game back in my junior-high and high school days for me involved the purely mechanical aspects--trying to rack up as many experience points, gold pieces, and magic items as I could in the shortest time possible. I have some friends in Mansfield--folks about my age--who still play every once in a while. Maybe I'll join them sometime.

John, good point. The reason why I play now by e-mail and occasionally in person is the creativity of role-playing and developing a character. Characters now are a lot more expendable because there is a great deal of creativity in properly playing one than in simply accumulating stats to take on the gods on their mountain. And, playing by e-mail allows even more creativity because your responses can really be deliberately thought out rather than just rolling dice around a table trying to kill baddies. I've contributed way too much to this geek-thread!

I was a teenage dungeon-master. But only until freshman year of high school, I swear...

And a very good one, except that apparently I had a behaviorial tic (flipping my pen) that would sometimes signal to my friends that their characters were approaching a particularly dangerous trap. I just loved designing those little worlds...the dungeons, but also the larger worlds (a la that map of Gygaxes' Greyhawk world).

Lots to say pro and con about the game, but as an adult, what strikes me most is that the WHOLE THING was a kind of cultural parasite on the literary achievement of Tolkien. And compared to his world, an ugly parasite indeed. Yeah, I know there were plenty of other influences, and Gygax probably might have got there w/o Tolkien, but that's my judgment, by and large.

And before anyone takes a whack at that judgment of mine (which has more to do with how our culture took to and what it did with D&D than with Gygax's responsibility one way or the other) be aware that it has an Armor Class of -5, 18(00) strength, and 57 hit points!

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