Gary Gygax, 1938-2008


Many people of my generation are no doubt mourning the passing of an icon from their teenage years, Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, who died this morning, aged 69.

Gygax didn’t create the famous role-playing game on his own–Dave Arneson helped develop the original miniatures wargaming rules Chainmail into the role-playing game we’d recognise today, back in 1974—but his contributions and dedication to the game qualify him as the most popularly recognised ‘father of D&D’.

This could be a curse as well as a blessing, since he copped a lot of flack back in the 80s when psycho Christian groups decided that D&D was responsible for everything from teen suicide and murder to witchcraft. As a teenager I even wrote a long and passionate letter defending the game to the Sixty Minutes programme after they ran a ridiculously misinformed and sensationalised segment about D&D.

As I said then, and I still believe now, playing D&D was a fantastic and enriching experience for any teenager. I’m convinced that being the ‘Game Master’—creating maps, designing character sheets, planning games–put me on the road to be a graphic designer. I shared a lot of great times with friends with whom I’m still close today, and we can still laugh about classic moments that happened during our old games. We adventured in haunted dungeons, foiled smuggler’s plots, fought hordes of ratmen, wandered across post-apocalyptic wastelands, exchanged laser fire on distant worlds, fled from victorian-era ghosts and followed the trail of Lovecraftian cultists. Sure, it was a little tricky juggling the geekiness of role-playing games with being relatively cool, going to parties and getting girlfriends, but I drummed in a band, so that helped.

Though we used to dream about computer versions of our favourite game, I feel like kids now are missing out on all of the wonders their imaginations can conjure. Swordplay with beasties in lifelike computer-generated worlds is all very well, but it can’t beat the totally immersive experience of a good roleplaying game session, which can go way beyond combat to the most complex and involved plots and personalities.

As a matter of fact, we’re planning a game (using the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying 2nd Edition system) in a few weeks, for the first time in many years. We may have all entered our forties, but we still have healthy imaginations, and it’s not too difficult for the players to take on their old characters–Lucidius Lavarar, the dissolute and outrageously dressed charlatan and raconteur; Robert Lacy d’Aghuilam duCourt, the arrogant Elven noble and professional duellist; Fatuus Fitzue, the tatty journeyman wizard. Hilarious situations will ensue, vicious combat against horrific foes will be joined, mysteries will be unravelled, and no doubt the world will be saved from the clutches of chaos (again).

We’ll be sure to toast Gary Gygax when we start playing.

Boing Boing interview and video.

LA TImes obituary.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Will Belford
    Mar 05, 2008 @ 09:51:19

    Yes indeed, to think that there are tens of thousands of people playing World of Warcraft as we speak who have never sat around a table breathlessly awaiting the outcome of a single d20 die roll to determine whether or not they kill the monster/jump the yawning chasm/survive being resurrected/etc, etc and how much the poorer they are for it.
    I’d say there are very few ways to have as much fun indoors as playing a role-playing game, and those of us who can’t suspend disbelief long enough to get out of our real-life skins are truly missing out.

  2. pil
    Mar 05, 2008 @ 22:30:36

    I’m surprised by how hard this news hits me.
    I never knew him, I rarely think of him, but he is part of who I am, and who my generation is. Rest in peace Gary. And thanks.