Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Remembering Gary Gygax

Upon hearing the news yesterday of Gary Gygax’s passing I was a bit surprised at my reaction. While I always take a second to pause when I hear someone has lost their life it is usually just that, a second. However the news of Mr. Gygax’s passing stopped me dead in my tracks, it was possibly the busiest day of the week for me at my day job and I just sat there for several minutes motionless.

It wasn’t shock that stopped me in my tracks as I didn’t know him personally. It wasn’t grief, while I admit I was saddened by the news, he was not a family member. What it did for me was jar memories, lot of memories, lots of good memories.

Back in 1980 I was a freshman in high school, I played 3 sports and was pretty good at two of them and I had been playing D&D for several years. I started by playing Chain Mail, then went to boxed sets of D&D. From there I moved up to AD&D, then version 2 of the rules. I had a very active imagination and Dungeons & Dragons allowed me to express that part of me. I can credit D&D for starting me down the path of gaming, a path that led me to Top Secret, Star Frontiers, Traveler, Diplomacy, Paranoia, Advance Squad Leader and tons of other games that still liter my closet and basement to my wife’s dismay.

I can remember a lot from high school, big games I had on the baseball field, proms, girlfriends and special moments like graduation. None of these are as vivid in my mind as the ones I have from gaming sessions. We had a core group that gamed together weekly pretty much from the early 80’s until the time I move to Chicago in 1990. That’s almost 10 years of gaming, people came and went in our group but there was a good core of 5 of us who were there from beginning to end. I can’t speak for them but it is something I have been unable to capture again in my life time.

I can recall one time in the early days just playing with my friend Dave, he was controlling one guy and I decided to run him through a little module I just bought. That module was the Tomb of Horrors, imagine that two guys playing that module. He was controlling one PC and I was the DM, anyone with a slight knowledge of that module knows that it is impossible to play that module with one guy. There lies the beauty of D&D, while there are rules and there are certainly rule whores as we liked to call them, the game was about so much more then rolling dice and checking stats. The game when played the way it was meant to be played, at least in my mind, was about letting go, being free and having a good laugh with your friends.

Should Dave of gotten through that module, not a chance in hell. But my choice was guide him through it, adjust encounters and have a good time or kill him in about 5 minutes and then figure out what the hell to do next. So I guided Dave through that module and we had a blast and when he met mean Mr. Lich at the end and there was no way for him to win, he was battered down to 1 hit point and I said “Dave the only way you can win this is if you roll two 20’s in a row, if that happens we’ll say you severed his head”

You can guess what happened next, he rolled two twenties, we laughed, he gave a yell it was a blast. I’m 41 and if I called Dave today and just started talking about D&D the first words out of his mouth would be “Two twenties baby!”

You can’t replace these kind of memories and you can diminish the effect a game like this had on people’s lives, D&D allowed you to be yourself and in high school that is a hard thing to be. If you think I was the most popular kid on the baseball or football team because I didn’t hide the fact that I enjoyed D&D or a good game of Axis & Allies you would be kidding yourself. The truth of the matter is I didn’t care what people thought of me, I only cared what my friends and family thought. That’s another lesson that I chalk up to Mr. Gygax and his wonderful game, be yourself and never hide that fact for anyone.

I think the best tribute I can pay to My Gygax and the game of Dungeons and Dragons is this. Today I received an email, from one of the old group’s members. We seldom get the chance to talk to each other anymore, it’s just a fact of life the older you get the busier you are. His email simply stated that the gaming world had lost a great innovator and it was copied to every core member of the old adventure gaming club. The first reply was from a particular friend I haven’t heard from since my wedding which was 10 years ago. He was in Paris on business and like the rest of us was saddened by the loss, but informed us that Mr. Gygax’s death was news in Paris as well. I think it’s the first time the 5 of us have all been involved in a single discussion since 1997, and we may even meet up at Gen Con this year.

So Mr. Gygax I want to thank you. Thank you for playing a small part in who I am today, thank you for some of the longest lasting memories in my life and thank you for inspiring me. You had no idea you had done it but that’s what great people do, they inspire without knowing.

To my old group I leave you with these names and quotes, let us not ever forget them.

Quill Nightshade, a ranger should never be that nice.

C the incredible thief who is still probably polishing his life sized gold statue

Tamchuck the grump dwarf who will always remember this line, “DON’T CUT THE STRING!”

Rob whose characters names escape me, mostly because they died once a session.

Ken whose guys was always away on a secret mission

Finally John, my friend who I heard from today after 10 long years, I have one word for you my friend:

“BEHOLD!” (with the double finger point of course)


Yeager said...

One of the best tributes I've read. Well done, sir.

KSmith said...

Well stated my friend. I am looking forward to Gen Con 08 , it will be my first time.

Age should not be a factor in getting some friends together at least once or twice a month to suspend disbelief for a few hours. It is always fun and you even have to use your brain once in a while. Who cares if your character gets hit in the back with a rock thrown by a fog giant or your mage gets consumed by fiery red dragon breath whilst trying to cast a web spell !! Right Rob !
Oh and c'mon now Droit was not always on a diplomatic north of the lake of dwarves !

R W Rawles said...

Writing as a dad of four sons who played this weird game-without-any-rules (GWAR) for a decade or more, I am finally, finally impressed with Gary Gygax's creation. Maybe even in awe of it.

Cédric said...

Super tribute...

Mikkel said...

A tear to the eye..

Thank you sir, miss Gygax as well as my old group, always off adventuring in another world.

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