Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Of Dragons and Dungeons and Funky Dice

The internet’s been abuzz today with the news of Gary Gygax’s passing. From heartfelt tributes to postings expressing shock and sadness on message boards where gamers congregate. For many, it’s almost as if a family member or a trusted friend has died.

I never met Gary Gygax, even though he played an enormous role in shaping me into the man—the writer—I am today. As a kid, REH, JRR Tolkien, and Dungeons and Dragons formed my triumvirate of inspiration. I learned about sword-and-sorcery from REH; Tolkien showed me the heart of epic fantasy. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, creators of D&D, taught me to use everything I’d learned, to pull together tropes from myth and fiction in order to create a shared experience, a participatory novel. If books provided the fertilizer for my imagination, Dungeons and Dragons became the trellis on which I grew wondrous things.

As I’ve said here before, I started playing D&D when I was 11. I’ll be 41 this year, and I still remember my first adventure—The Keep on the Borderlands. The game gave me and my friends something to do on the weekends, something besides the usual buffet of delinquency that can arise from rural boredom. I never drank or did drugs, never went to raucous parties or cruised around the Square. Nope. I was too busy rolling the funky dice and keeping my half-elf thief alive.

My school friends drifted away over the years, much to my chagrin, but the game brought new players, new friends. I met Kris Reisz and Wayne Miller (he of Abused, Unused and Recycled fame) while DM-ing a game some 15 years ago; when our normal venue went tits-up that same year, we moved the game to the comic shop run by Josh Olive (who comments here on occasion). Darren Cox, who DM’s my current gaming group, came in back then with a sheaf of artwork (we’d advertised for a comic artist—it’s a long story) and sat in on a few games. ALL of my most enduring friendships happened because Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson decided to tweak a set of tabletop wargaming rules called Chainmail into a game involving dragons, elves, underground lairs, treasure, odd-shaped dice . . . and friends.

So tonight, Gentle Readers, I join gamers everywhere in saying: God bless you, Gary, and thank you for the years of adventure, intrigue, and friendship you’ve given us.

If you’d like to send your regards and well wishes to the Gygax family, their friends have set up an email account at InMemoryOfGaryGygax@gmail.com.


Duke Scoob said...

Damn fine dedication, Scott. The keep on the Borderlands...I too made that journey so long ago.

My son-in-law, an Air Force cop at Macdill AFB, Tampa, Fla, has a group he and my daughter attend regulary. They play the current version of AD&D. I got a set of those books for x-mas 2 years ago and it's like tackling Trigonometry. :P

My original copies could be anywhere...either still in my parents' attic, which would be wonderful, or lost in one of the many moves I've made over the years. The new AD&D just didn't satisfy my nostalgic appetite, so last year I went on Ebay and purchased what original copies I could find, including The Keep on the Borderlands! Also, I obtained the player's handbook that depicts the thief attempting to pry the gem eye out of the socket on that huge Buda-like creature. Flipping through those brought back so many great memories and had me smiling immediately after I opened them.

In one of your early posts you spoke of a time machine. If I had one I'd bounce back and relive 1979 to 1983 without hesitation and, would probably stay there, so strongly do I cherish that period in my life.

Thanks for the links, too. I'll have to visit them later since I have to start getting ready for work in a few minutes. Meantime, I'll email you about the book. Thank you for that generous offer, but I insist on paying for it, including s&h.

Charles Gramlich said...

Strangely enough, I've never played any D & D or clone of it, and have never read any of Gygax's novels. I picked up one years ago, something maybe about "Grey Fox," but couldn't get into it. Yet, I am saddened by his passing because he was such a popularizer of fantasy and gave many many people, including my wife, a lot of fun with his games.

Constance said...

I've played more Battletech than D&D... but I've always loved the game, the overall concept of D & D -- and the artwork. I don't think people outside 'our' world understand. It's as if science lost a famed physicist or microbiologist, those of us that follow after will remember the departed with fondness, and a bit of awe for their place in the grand scheme of things.

Gygax gave us fringe dwellers/geeks/social-outcast-label of-your-choice an outlet for our creativity and imagination that never gets old. Godspeed, Gary.

Scott Oden said...

I don't really play much "pure" D&D anymore. We use a variety of D20/OGL systems -- mostly when I run a game it's based on Mongoose's Conan RPG (it's OGL but the lethality is cranked up a few notches -- I generated some Orcs using the Conan rules and, dear lord!, they were true monsters). Regardless, though, each and every RPG owes its existence to Gygax and Arneson. I've seen quite a few other tributes that say virtually the same thing as mine: those who got bit by the gaming bug were forever changed by the experience. That in itself is an awesome legacy.

Charles, you should try it sometime!

Scoob, you should give Castles and Crusades a try . . . it's billed as "old school" D&D, prior to the changes made for 3rd edition -- which DOES sort of play like it was written by a gaggle of rocket scientists. If you're still a do-it-yourselfer, you can download the basic rules (the SRD or System Resource Document) and make your own game -- keeping or disregarding anything and everything. I've often thought I'd like to do an OGL (Open Gaming License) sourcebook for Men of Bronze/Memnon/Lion of Cairo. That would be cool . . .