Eric: Lower the flags and ring the bells, across the Flanaess from the Sea of Dust to the old Great Kingdom: The Free City of Greyhawk knows mourning tonight
There's freezing rain outside, covering the landscape with little hard pellets. The weekend was spent in Ottawa, where the weather wasn't so hot most of the time but the company was good. Our valentine's day, to make up for a day of gifts exchanged and well wishes and expressions of love made four hundred or so miles away from each other with a national border between us. She is well, thank you for asking, and I'm fine as well, though I'm tired today.
Yesterday, I sat down to write my next State of, which should appear later today and was scheduled to appear yesterday, having been back (though I had scheduled that day off as well -- I'm old now, and an Ottawa trip usually takes me a day or so in recovery before I'm back in the saddle), but before I could do that I followed up on some e-mail, and that's how I learned that Ernest Gary Gygax had passed away at the age of sixty nine. On Gamemaster's Day, no less.
Well, all apologies to Brad Guigar and Evil Inc,, but at that moment I didn't really feel like writing about his webcomic. I didn't feel like writing anything. I was stunned. Honestly stunned. I couldn't get my brain around the idea. Gary Gygax was dead?
Gary Gygax was dead?
For those who came in late, Gary Gygax was one of the seminal figures in adventure gaming and fantasy role playing games. He was arguably the seminal figure. The patriarch. The single most important man to a hobby which has led to literally billions of dollars of revenue in international business over the course of decades. He was one of the core bridge figures carrying old style wargaming rules into new style tabletop roleplaying. He was the founder of Gencon, the man who took The Strategic Review, a magazine devoted to wargaming with some minor RPG roots, and made it Dragon, which for years was the single unifying connector between roleplayers. He created Gencon out of a yearly gathering of wargamers ("Gencon 0," in the history, was a 1966 gathering of about 12 to 20 (reports vary) wargamers that Gygax put together in Lake Geneva in Gygax's own home. (For reference, Gen Con Indy 2007, the fortieth anniversary of the Con, had twenty seven thousand attendees last year. They're now in the midst of a huge scandal and just filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, but I digress.) Gygax was the most visible public figure, the prominent personality, the ambassador and advocate for an entire hobby which became an industry in many forms.
Oh, yeah. He also cocreated Dungeons and Dragons. You might have heard of it.
Dungeons and Dragons grew out of homebrew rules that both Gygax and Dave Arneson put together in the early seventies. Gygax's homebrew system centered on his City of Greyhawk. Arneson's system centered on his legendary Blackmoor setting. The original Dungeons and Dragons three book set was, for all intents and purposes, a synthesis of these two systems refined for ease of play, and Greyhawk and Blackmoor were the first two supplements. They put together a small company (Tactical Studies Rules) to support some cottage industry support for their role playing game and their various wargames, and printed a thousand copies of the original Dungeons and Dragons (named, they later claimed, from an offhanded quip from Gygax's wife).
Those thousand copies sold out in less than nine months. In the early 1970s. With no budget for things like advertising.
Over the next several years, Gygax took center stage. Arneson's role diminished (and later there would be legal wrangling followed by at least an official reconciliation), but if the creation of Dungeons and Dragons had been a joint affair, the explosion of Dungeons and Dragons and role playing games in general was a product of Gygax's industry, vision, and sometimes pigheaded stubbornness. Revisions to the rules came out. New supplements emerged (including one of my most prized possessions -- a copy of Gods, Demigods and Heroes, meant for the original game and found in a hobby shop for cover price during my initial 'buy in' to the game, alongside a book on traps, a 'solo adventure,' and The City State of the Invincible Overlord produced by Judges Guild). And a new plan emerged -- a major revision, known as Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, which would codify and evolve the rules into a true open ended campaign experience.
Leading up to the release of the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons hardbacks, Gygax and company released the original ("blue dragon booklet") Basic Dungeons and Dragons set boxed set in 1977.
Which is where I entered the story.
I had first heard about Dungeons and Dragons through the best advertising medium the hobby had in 1977 -- the evening news. My first exposure to the game was listening to shrill, mostly ignorant parents and psychologists who'd never read the game talking about its dangers. Stories of people crawling into steam tunnels and losing all sense of reality when they went there were in their infancy back then, but they were still present before they could be codified and given a voice in the sad 1979 story of James Dallas Egbert III (a story which later turned out to have no connection to his roleplaying hobby). The danger, they told us, was real.
And I? Was enthralled. The very idea of that game thrilled me. A game where you could be a wizard or warrior, so real and evocative some people went nuts? Sign me up!
To this day, when I hear alarmist talk about gaming of any sort, I consider it advertising and figure the game in question is worth a look. Jack Thompson has probably sold as many or more copies of Grand Theft Auto as anything Rockstar's paid for, but I digress.
I got my blue dragon booklet, inside a lovely full color box. My edition had chits inside that you cut out and put into a bag to represent "1-20" or the like, though I also bought a set of the original dice that sometimes came in the box itself. Those dice were prized possessions until 1985, when my dice bag was lost at school. In part, they were so prized because they were such terrible dice. The plastic was cheap and they were uninked, You actually took a black crayon and rubbed it on the numbers to 'fill them in,' and because the plastic was so bad within a few years they were worn absolutely smooth. My twenty sided was a slightly irregular marble at the end. But by then I had lots of dice from the good people at Gamescience or Zocchi. Gemstone dice. Purple plastic dice. Tons and tons and tons of six siders. Dice of all kinds.
And I also had the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons books.
Those came out over time. First we got the Monster Manual, a compendium of beasts and creatures that included such horrors as the Mind Flayer, the Rust Monster, and the Beholder -- a monster so core to fantasy today that people forget it was created by and is owned by the good people at Dungeons and Dragons.
It also had the pictures of the Succubus, the Dryad, the Erinyes and the Type V Demon. For a huge number of D&D players, the "D" chapter of that book was the most popular by far. But give us a break, lots of us were just entering puberty and we didn't have Suicidegirls.com at the time.
This was followed by the Player's Handbook, a glorious compendium of character classes and reams and reams of spells. Fighters and Magic Users and Clerics Thieves abounded, alongside Paladins and Druids and Illusionists and Assassins. Half-orcs stood angrily alongside half-elves, halflings shrilly demanded that you pretend they weren't in any way repackaged (and legally trademarked) hobbits, and "Armor Class" and "Speed Factor" were determined for things like Ranseurs and the deadly but slow Bec de Corbin (+2 against Plate Mail and Shield, Plate Mail, splint or Banded Mail and Shield, Splint and Banded Mail, or Chainmail and Shield -- Chainmail, at AC 5, was not included in the bonus, 1d8 damage vs. small to man sized, 1d6 against large size, six feet required to wield, speed factor 9, 6 gold pieces in cost, approximately 100 gold pieces in weight. It would be years before anyone involved in the game would bother to include a description of just what a bec de corbin was, other than six feet long and as heavy as a bag of gold, and we didn't have Wikipedia in those days. For the record, it's a hammer and spike mounted on a pole, designed to tear armor off and rip shields out of your hand. It's related to the lucerne hammer and sometimes identified as a 'warhammer,' though that can be anything from a kind of pole arm to a hammer shaped mace. Popularly, we think of a warhammer as the sort of thing Thor carried, which doesn't describe a bec de corbin at all. And if this seems out of place in the Gygax remembrance, you're wrong. He ate this stuff up with a spoon.)
After that we got, in relatively short order, the Dungeon Master's Guide, the end of the trifecta, later joined by Deities and Demigods (the update to my beloved Gods, Demigods and Heroes and still a great supplement years later -- especially if you're cool like me and have a copy from before the folks at Chaosium realized there were unlicensed sections on the Cthulhu and Elric mythos which necessitated a rerelease without those chapters. And by cool, I mean "a dork in his 40's.") This was the foundation. Later, there would be tons more books -- Unearthed Arcana, the Wilderness Survival Guide, the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide, the Manual of the Planes, and so many more, along with adventures adventures adventures. My group ran through B1 and B2. They did the Giants and the Drow. They knew the Village of Hommlet and later learned the pain that was The Temple of Elemental Evil. I had the World of Greyhawk Gazetteer, back in the days where world maps were naturally Hex Maps, even as dungeon maps were out of necessity on graph paper.
God, so many memories.
We're not discussing an idle thing here. Not for me. This is a huge part of my early life. These books -- First Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons were a foundational part of my social network. And if that sounds dorky to you, and I sound like a loser to you, then fuck you. I had better times with these people than you've had with anyone you know, God damn it.
Gods, what people.... it started at once with my friends at school. George Carpenter, Tim Freeman, Richard Grindle, Chad King.... then I started to get involved with a group over at the college. Don Cody, Cody Stober, Rick Littlefield. Anyway, Herbie Oxten and his girlfriend/later wife Lucy. And then it merged with my high school group -- Rich Grindle, still (and I still miss him), Andrew Paradis, J.P. Marin from the high school, Gary 'Chip' Hanson, Kevin Pelletier, Eric Clements, Michelle Kane and others from the college. I was usually the Dungeon Master, running them through Arthe, my home campaign. Arthe came with me to college (as did Andrew), and there added Andy Alexander, Robin Whelton, Ernestine Lillya (later Gardner), Matt DeForrest, the late Charlie Barlow, Abbe Dalton, this guy named Mike I can't remember the last name of right now... all blending into real life, with my big friend Frank Orzechowicz, Karen Godfrey, Kevin back from before, John Bankert, Rebecca Tants, Lee "Auntie Nin" Radigan, Christie Russell (now Bell)....
So many names. I've no doubt forgotten some. Time will do that to you.
And you don't quite understand what this has to do with Gary Gygax.
The short answer is "everything." Because Gary Gygax created the framework that led to all of that. And understand, those are all folks I specifically played first edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons with. Those thirty names, including some of my oldest friends, my dearest friends, a former girlfriend, people I shared apartments with, people I shared experiences with, people I shared my life with found format and purchase specifically from the words that Gary Gygax had written and popularized with his books. And that doesn't even get into all the other Role Playing Games, which derived from and grew out of the seed of Dungeons and Dragons and flourished throughout the world. At the very beginning there was Tunnels and Trolls (George Carpenter's favorite) and Traveller. Later came Villains and Vigilantes which led inexorably to Champions in my life. Trips to the hobby store in Presque Isle for more D&D swag also gave us Car Wars, which in turn gave us GURPS. And then there were all the others -- Aftermath, GhostBusters (surprisingly good), Paranoia, Marvel Super Heroes, D.C. Heroes, Star Frontiers, Timemaster, Star Ace, Gamma World -- motherfucking Gamma World -- Top Secret, Espionage, the James Bond game (I remember a great run of James Bond with Andrew Paradis and his brothers....)
And none of it -- none of it -- would have existed if Gary Gygax hadn't cocreated Dungeons and Dragons and then pushed, republished, spearheaded, cheerleaded, advocated and otherwise turned a niche product into an industry. None of it.
You know what else wouldn't exist now? World of Warcraft. In fact, the entire computer RPG, MMORPG, Action RPG and a Hell of a lot of Platforming games wouldn't have existed without Gary Gygax -- certainly not in the form they do now. Any time you level a character, it's because of Gary Gygax. Hell, Knights of the Old Republic used actual mechanics derived from his writing.
So, take out Gygax, and take out Final Fantasy at the same time. Take out Dragon Warrior. Take out Adventure and Zork and that Atari game with the bats. Take out WarHammer and City of Heroes and absolutely core and seminal elements of essentially all modern video gaming. Without Gary Gygax, that whole industry would look radically different today, if it existed at all.
You want to know what else disappears? All three Lord of the Rings movies from the 90's and the turn of the century.
Oh, you don't believe me? Look, right when Dungeons and Dragons was coming out -- and before it became well known or popular -- there were adaptations of the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit was a
Ruby/Spears Rankin/Bass cartoon for children most known now for the cloying song "The Greatest Adventure" (which is a bad rap -- The Hobbit wasn't bad for what it was -- a 70's childrens cartoon special meant for the family hour). The Lord of the Rings was a Ralph Bakshi trip and a half that was a commercial failure at the box office, leading to the story being finished by Ruby/Spears Rankin/Bass once more. The Lord of the Rings was a failure in the mainstream.
And Fantasy? Fantasy was a subsection of Science Fiction. A small subsection of Science Fiction. Most of the great fantasists were also Science Fiction writers, or were so crossover that it made no never mind (Michael Moorcock was at heart a true Fantasist, but somehow you could buy his work as New Wave SF too, for example.) Even The Dragonriders of Pern was a science fiction novel at heart (seriously. They're colonists on an alien world who lost their culture thanks to DEATH SPORES FROM ANOTHER WORLD).
But going into the late 70's and early 80's, even as Star Wars was redefining Science Fiction and making it truly mainstream, the old guard of Science Fiction fans, none too happy with the new people coming into the lodge, were reconnecting over tables and rolling dice, and playing Dungeons and Dragons. And seeking out source material and exciting fantasy all at the same time, I would add. Sales started going up. Fritz Leiber's books began selling better. By the middle of the decade, fantasy was booming. By the 90's, it was outselling Science Fiction significantly. And a whole generation of fantasy fans were being born.
Flash forward to the turn of the century. Most "Science Fiction" sections in bookstores are primarily Fantasy, along with a whole rack of licensed tie in books that sometimes is as big as the entire section. And alongside the (fantasy/horror) Buffy books, Star Trek and Star Wars books and the like are the books based on Role Playing Games.
The biggest chunk of that section? Dungeons and Dragons.
And those huge fantasy fans remade the marketplace. Fantasy movies started doing better. Ultimately, The Lord of the Rings was done again, this time (mostly) live action and epic, and it made more money than Ecuador.
I submit that without both Dungeons and Dragons and Gary Gygax's push into the mainstream, Tolkien would have diehard adherents, and maybe -- maybe -- the Mind's Eye Theater and BBC radio productions, but that any adaptation for the screen would have been a minor affair, possibly running in the U.S. on PBS, watched by few. And the one or two racks of Science Fiction/Fantasy books in the bookstores would have been mostly Science Fiction, hard to soft depending on the author.
And Gygax did push things into the mainstream. In 1982, just about the biggest movie out there (in fact, one of the biggest movies of all time) was E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. And in the first scene where we meet Elliot, his older brother -- his older cool brother -- was playing Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. (Later, when being taunted by a fellow schoolkid, Elliot's shouted return insult was "zero charisma!" High dudgeon indeed. The year before that, the Golden Globe nominated Taps, starring Timothy Hutton, Tom Cruise, Sean Penn and George C. Scott told the story of the siege of a military academy that the students had seized. In an earlier scene, one kid shouted up the stairwell to another, asking if they were playing Dungeons and Dragons that night. This wasn't product placement -- this was verisimilitude. Dungeons and Dragons and roleplaying were simply a part of life at most high schools at that point.
If you're wondering why Gary Gygax, ahead of so many other people, was known to the populace and so well known by gamers, you have to remember what bound us together. In those days, only a few people had the internet or any means of rapid community building or communication. On the other hand, the burgeoning RPG community had a lifeline -- one that connected them, gave them insight into the hobby, announcements and reviews of new games and products, and in short created an actual community of gamers.
That lifeline was named Dragon Magazine, and its most prominent resident was E. Gary Gygax.
Yes, Dragon was published by TSR, which had been Tactical Studies Rules and which published Dungeons and Dragons. But at the time, while there were other publications out there, none had the scope of Dragon and Dragon worked hard (in the early days at least) to give other role playing games and related hobby games their due. It had grown out of The Strategic Review, which had been a system agnostic wargaming magazine, and that practice continued for some time. Traveller articles appeared in Dragon, as did Runequest articles and many, many other game articles. In a world where gamers were separated by distance and only got glimpses of the world of games in between the Avalon Hill wargame sets and the balsa wood at hobby stores, Dragon Magazine put roleplaying front and center.
And, where most articles about games, regardless of the game, focused on mechanics or setting or characters or what have you? Gary Gygax was a personality. His column -- From the Sorcerer's Scroll -- was somewhere between Stan's Soapbox, a house organ advertising tool, a philosophy of gaming column, a chance to goob about things Gygax was doing or excited about, and a gossip column about the gaming industry. Gygax's personality drove the impressions people got about gaming, about TSR, about Dungeons and Dragons -- in short, about the hobby as a whole. There were tons of dynamic and stubborn voices in RPGs back then, as there are now, but Rick Loomis, Steve Jackson, Kevin Siembieda and all the rest, as opinionated and passionate as they were, lacked the sheer market exposure that Gary Gygax got.
This was Gygax's blessing. This was also Gygax's curse. Gary Gygax, both in print and (according to second and third hand accounts) in person was creative, passionate, generous, friendly, engaging and charismatic. However, he was also egotistical, opinionated, arrogant, clearly had way more regard for his ability as a writer and developer than he should, and oft times he was an asshole.
We're not supposed to talk about these things right now. The man just died, and people are feeling horrible. I know. I'm one of them. But pretending Gary Gygax was a saint doesn't do Gary Gygax's memory any good, and Gary Gygax was sometimes his own worst enemy.
One of the early manifestations of this arrogance was his attitude towards "optional" or "unofficial" rules for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. Gygax loathed them. This was not how the game was supposed to be played. Understand, this is what Dragon Magazine specialized in -- it was its bread and butter. For every installation of Bazaar of the Bizarre including new magic items, there was also an article on variant ways to play the game, and that just wasn't right. In fact, throughout the First Edition years, Dragon was enjoined from publishing character classes. The character classes were expertly balanced and perfectly developed to mesh together, and any new classes would just be a monkey wrench in the works. So for over a decade, whenever a new profession was described in Dragon, it was listed as a new Non-Player Character Class. Anti-Paladins, Dualists, and all the rest? NPCs.
And Gygax meant it. Hell, have a look at this, from the preface to the first edition Player's Handbook:
This latter part of the ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS project I approached with no small amount of trepidation. After all, the game's major appeal is to those persons with unusually active imagination and superior, active intellect - a very demanding audience indeed. Furthermore, a great majority of readers master their own dungeons and are necessarily creative - the most critical audience of all! Authoring these works means that, in a way, I have set myself up as final arbiter of fantasy role playing in the minds of the majority of D&D adventurers. Well, so be it, I rationalized. Who better than the individual responsible for it all as creator of the "Fantasy Supplement" in CHAINMAIL, the progenitor of D&D; and as the first proponent of fantasy gaming and a principal in TSR, the company one thinks of when fantasy games are mentioned, the credit and blame rests ultimately here. Some last authority must be established for a very good reason.
This became a letter column fight back in the early days of Dragon, and led to at least one of Gygax's confidents (I can't list who, as I don't have the issue in front of me, and my at last purchased copy of the Dragon Archive won't arrive until later in the week, so my apologies for lack of attribution and paraphrasing) demanding that players stop bastardizing their games and play them the way Gary set down. And sure, when Gygax himself played, he used house rules, but he's unimaginably creative and no system -- not even his own -- could constrain him. And if you were so arrogant to believe yourself in his league, ask yourself how many RPGs, novels, cartoons and movie treatments you had written? Huh?
It got to the point that actual official rules additions and optional rules were so labeled -- and they meant, at their core, that Gary Gygax had signed off on them. Which actually reminds me of an anecdote.
There was a guy who we knew, over at the local college where I played (and generally ran) Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. His name, as I recall, was Louis. (Not the Louis, for those few from my past reading this, who I went to grade school with. He was never much into Dungeons and Dragons.) Louis was a blowhard and a munchkin of the worst order, and he had his notebook full of his favorite characters, full of the most game breaking statistics and magical items you can imagine.
And, I swear to God, he insisted he could play them in my campaign, and everything in them had to be exactly as they were written, because Gary Gygax had given them to him. He claimed to have played with Gygax in campaigns and at cons, and that Gygax had given him these sweet, unique items, and as a result his character had a stamp of authenticity that no human being could contravene. The Lich King had spoken. He also used to tell stories of how when a character died in Gygax's game, he'd take their character sheet and light it on fire before the traumatized person's eyes, so it was a big deal that he still had this character, because everyone died in Gary's games.
Needless to say, we didn't believe a word of it. But it's interesting. If anyone claimed that Ken St. Andre had given him perks in a Tunnels and Trolls character, or Steve Jackson had given him a really sweet Car Wars car build, illegal in the rules set, people would have stared at him like he was clinically insane.
But Gygax? Yeah, clearly Louis was lying (and a terrible gamer, to boot), but you paused and listened, first.) Because dude -- who knew? Maybe there was something to it. And Gygax certainly seemed to believe he had editorial control and supervisory capacity over our campaigns, even though in those days the people who bought settings were the exceptions. If you got a module, you fit it into your own world.
This culminated, if that's the word, in a series of "open letters" that Gygax published in Dragon, castigating his enemies, attacking others -- very, very unprofessional things and conduct. And absolutely the sort of thing that would be familiar today, in these days of personal and developer blogs. We expect to see some dirt fly on official internet sites, and we have unprecedented access to the movers and shakers in game development (video or tabletop). These are not mysterious figures to us, these are people we can have arguments with on forums and who we sort of expect to answer our e-mail when we send it. Steve Jackson to Joss Whedon to Kevin Smith, there is an egalitarian presumption that borders on the ridiculous in our electronic world.
But back then, only a very few got to have a conversation with Gary Gygax. A rant seemed wildly inappropriate.
In the mid 80's, Sixty Minutes did a story on Dungeons and Dragons. This was at the height of the wildly inaccurate (and later wholly debunked) claims of Satanic influence and rampant suicide associated with role playing games. The RPG fans of the United States had a certain fear when that report came out -- this could be trouble. Sixty Minutes was serious. It all depended on who they got to represent the other side of the story.
And then we saw who they got. They got Gary Gygax. And we collectively groaned, as we watched, because this wasn't the kind, visionary, creative, genius Gary Gygax. They got the arrogant one. On tape.
I remember Andrew Paradis and I having a serious discussing with his father after the report aired, addressing the concerns he had about the game, and making certain he understood that Andrew and I weren't about to kill ourselves, go run around steam tunnels, or swear fealty to Satan. And no, Gary Gygax didn't speak for all gamers.
Ultimately, Gygax and his partners had friction. Gygax had friction with a lot of people. There were behind the scenes issues, and then he very publicly left TSR and started writing his own games. Only the state of the art of RPGs had passed Gygax by, and Danjerous Journeys never caught on.
And when TSR released Second Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, Gygax's name was relegated to a legal notice acknowledging this was a derivative work published by the rightsholders and a note in the "Special Thanks To." And in the second edition Dungeon Masters Guide, Dave "Zeb" Cook wrote in the foreward:
Let's assume that since you're reading this, you are, or plan to be, a DUNGEON MASTER™, By now, you should be familiar with the rules in the Player's Handbook. You've probably already noticed things you like or things you would have done differently. If you have, congratulations. You've got the spirit every Dungeon Master needs. Curiosity and the desire to make changes, to do things differently because your idea is better than the other guy's-these are the most important things a Dungeon Master needs. As you go through this rule book, I encourage you to continue to make these choices.
Quite a bit different than Gygax's claim to be the final authority, isn't it? At the same time, notice that trademark next to Dungeon Master. The advent of the Post-Gygax Dungeons and Dragons heralded many changes, and a far more corporate environment and understanding of the legal marketplace was just one of them.
One thing we noticed, in fact, was that... there was a whole lot less variety, in ways. The game had been reoriented to really push the Lawful Good side of things. Demons and devils were gone (which seemed weird to me -- they weren't held up as objects of worship in the original -- they were sacks of Experience Points you wanted to kill and rob), only to be returned (after outcry) with new, innocuous names. The demonesses got clothes. Heck, the females got clothes. This was a game no one would blink twice about handing to their fourteen year old kid.
And then Vampire: The Masquerade came out and proceeded to eat Second Edition's lunch for a good long while -- at least among the hardcore. They had cool and chic and LARPing and darkness and better music and way more hot goth chicks into it.
And in the background, there was Gary Gygax. He still surfaced now and again. He returned, after a while, as a columnist for Dragon Magazine. He continued to release products. When Wizards of the Coast bought TSR and announced Third Edition, they very carefully got the old guard, including Dave Arneson, out to be a part of the announcement. But the rock star in the room was Gary Gygax, endorsing Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition and once more at the top of the heap, in residence at Gen Con -- the convention he had started in his own house -- and shaking the hands.
And Third Edition was good to Gygax. With the advent of the Open Gaming License and d20, Gygax could start releasing products for the system he had cocreated and shepherded once more. The old Castle Greyhawk became Castle Zagyg, and products were released for it. Gygax was the elder statesman of role playing at this point -- still passionate, but calmer. The friendly, generous Gary Gygax took center stage during this time -- a voice of reason, if of firm opinion. And always, the one that everyone knew was mainstream in a way Mark Rein•Hagen never would be.
This was the Gary Gygax I actually had contact with.
Oh yeah. When I was in the flush and joy of actually being a published game author, I spent a lot of time on different mailing lists. Mailing lists for the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Sciences, Freelancer mailing lists -- all kinds of stuff. And like everyone else who is first let in the door, I was feeling my oats and trying to make my mark. I'd been doing this since the 70's, after all, and these people couldn't intimidate me!
And then I got a response, with "Greetings!" at the very top. And "Gary" at the bottom.
I will admit to blowing my system shock roll.
I had a very informal correspondence with the man, mind. We did trade some private mail, though I suspect I was one of hundreds of informal correspondents that Gygax had over electronic mail. And the substance of those e-mails are not of interest here. What is of interest is this: Gary Gygax was unfailingly polite and supportive. His kindness was clear and apparent. And he had a way of making a punkass kid (regardless of his age) in the middle of nowhere, New Hampshire feel like a peer whose opinions were worthy of respect even if they were ill informed and wrong.
And here we are, years later, and Gary Gygax is dead. The arrogant, egotistical Gary Gygax is dead. The kind, supportive Gary Gygax is dead. The passionate, creative Gary Gygax is dead. Gary Gygax is dead.
And some folks I've seen don't get why so many people seem so torn up over it. A fellow whose opinion I usually respect even said, in effect, that he hadn't done anything of significance for 30 years, so what's the big deal?
I swear, I could have punched him.
For all his contradictions, for all his faults, for all his strengths and for all his weaknesses, this complicated, opinionated, genius man has had an impact on society as a whole that is literally immeasurable. I'm not misusing the word 'literally' there, either -- there is no way to measure how much influence Gary Gygax has had on the world. Certainly, the world of literature, of movies, of video games, of television (children's and adult) have all been profoundly affected by the things Gary Gygax did. Billions of dollars have changed hands based directly or indirectly on Gary Gygax's work. Take Gary Gygax out of the equation, and our entire culture becomes radically different. And Christ only knows what the internet culture would look like.
But beyond that, a man who was a monumental part of my childhood, my past, and a huge number of my friendships is gone. I listed out that long list of friends above -- but understand that's a tiny fraction of my friends from roleplaying. And a large number of my other friends are ones I haven't gamed with but who are themselves gamers. Gary Gygax gave me a social group. He gave me peers.
And he regarded me as a peer, all too briefly.
And I'm going to miss him. Terribly.
But he'll continue to be a part of my life, of course. His influence doesn't vanish. Hell, he's still a huge part of Dungeons and Dragons -- beyond the mechanics and the structure, when you cast Mordenkainen's Faithful Hound, you're casting a spell that one of Gygax's characters came up with. Bigby, Tenser, Otiluke -- the names attached to the spells in the Player's Handbook are names of characters people (in particular, Gygax himself and his two sons, Ernie and Luke) played.
And when I'm watching reruns of Futurama, there's every chance I'll see the episode where Gygax announced to Fry that he was [diceroll] pleased to meet him, on an episode where Fry met the nerds responsible for protecting the Space/Time continuum -- the Vice President of the United States (as voiced by Al Gore himself), Professor Stephen Hawking ('voiced' by Hawking himself), Nichelle "Uhura" Nichols (voiced by herself)... and Gary Gygax. And no one ever questioned Gygax's inclusion in a list with a Star Trek icon, the most prominent theoretical physicist of our age, and the former Vice President of the United States.
I love Champions and GURPS alike, but Steve Perrin or Steve Jackson wouldn't have worked there. But Gary Gygax did.
Rest well, sir.
Posted by Eric Burns-White at March 5, 2008 3:21 PM
Comment from: Eric Burns posted at March 5, 2008 3:46 PM
This was longer and harder to write (in more ways than one) than I expected. State Of tomorrow, not today.
The very first thing I thought when I heard the news was that I was sure you were going to have a good piece on him. Good work.
Comment from: MadTinkerer posted at March 5, 2008 4:23 PM
Ah, I checked in yeasterday several times and was wondering if maybe you were taking your time to write a post that GG deserved. Looks like I was right.
See also: OOTS http://www.giantitp.com/comics/oots0536.html
Penny Arcade http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2008/03/04
My website: http://madtinkerer.blogspot.com/2008/03/why-gary-gygax-mattered.html
(Wherin, among other things, I point out that even effing Team Fortress 2, a game that on the surface seems completely unrelated to D&D, owes a great deal to Mr. Gygax)
I think the best webcomic tribute I've seen so far is the FFN ceremonial roll. I would submit a lot of the whole webcomic genre wouldn't exist (and maybe a lot of computer gaming in general) if it weren't for EGG. (I had no idea his first name was Ernest. No wonder everyone went by Gary.)
[joke]Is it possible to blame his death on D&D 4e?[/joke] I would have loved to know what he would have thought about the 4th iteration. Of his latter-day books, I think the ones I was the most interested in was the ones where he laid out some ground rules for development of worlds and in particular the naming of people, places and things. (And really, what name wouldn't be more interesting than Ernest Gary Gygax?)
Already I can hear the Wizards people delaying 4e to put in an "in memory of Gary Gygax" page in their core books.
thanks for that. your high school experience matches mine to a T - my circle of friends existed because we were all gamers together. this was a fitting tribute. it made me [dieroll] laugh.
Comment from: The Weasel King posted at March 5, 2008 5:30 PM
A fellow whose opinion I usually respect even said, in effect, that he hadn't done anything of significance for 30 years, so what's the big deal?
I swear, I could have punched him.
Assuming you're talking about me, it wasn't so much that he hadn't done anything of significance for 30 years, but rather that I disagree with you that Gygax's influence on the hobby and the things it spawned was a good thing.
But this is your eulogy thread. I'll leave this discussion for another time and another place, if ever. And if you still want to punch me when we're done that, I'm sure I can handle that.
: and, if you aren't, I did say something very similar enough that I want to try to explain *why* I was puzzled at the reaction.
Comment from: Greg Fishbone posted at March 5, 2008 5:30 PM
Dude. I failed my system shock roll when I heard the news even without having ever been in contact with the man, and not having played in a gaming session in the past 15 years or so. You must have been crushed!
Comment from: Eric Burns posted at March 5, 2008 5:45 PM
I'm not sure that 'good' is the point, really. Gygax's influence, for good or ill, was real, profound and deep, running throughout culture. And unquestionably, the influence he had on my life, socially, personally and professionally, was good.
And I'm not looking to punch you. I could have, when I first read it. Though bear in mind that was grief speaking as much as anything.
One thing of interest, though. The popularity of Hackmaster, a game that at onces parodies and yet revives first edition AD&D, would suggest that even today, there's a good number of people who prefer the Gygax way to, say, GURPS, FUDGE, Fantasy Hero, or even 3rd/V3.5 Dungeons and Dragons. Whether or not that is a good thing is a philosophical point, but it does indeed exist.
And if we ever have a chance to have a discussion, I won't waste the time with punching you. I expect I'll be too busy buying you drinks.
Writing in my blog I was tempted to say that he was the Stan Lee of Roleplaying Games, except that comics existed before Stan Lee got involved, so the comparison seemed false. All in all, say what you want about the guy, but it is hard to overstate his impact on today's culture, both geek and mainstream. Let all the banners in Greyhawk be kept at half-mast.
Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at March 5, 2008 8:02 PM
In some ways, I feel bad about this because I can't so neatly disentagle the negative thoughts about Gygax from the positive ones... "Speak nothing but good of the dead" is something I have a hard time with.
But yeah... he was literally a titan, influencing so much of what I've done in my life. I remember meeting the guy who later became the best man at my wedding by flashing him my D&D dice in class, which was immediately followed by him *demanding* that I come over his house to play. I remember sitting down with the very first Final Fantasy game when it first came out, and laughing as I realized that it ripped off Dungeons and Dragons wholesale (spell levels, that the Lich was undead... the original Japanese version even had a marilith in there, though the name was changed in the original release to Kary because of copyright concerns). Heck, my entire college social circle existed because of the Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom video game (we all met, playing that game at various times).
So while I wasn't always fond of the things he said or did at times, you were incredible, Gary, and thanks for everything.
PS - It's called Dragon Quest, not Dragon Warrior, now.
As one of my best friends said, let us cast "moment of silence (15')" in respect for all Gary Gygax has done for all our lives. Nobody is perfect in life but I can't imagine mine with D&D and all that came after.
Comment from: Tangent posted at March 5, 2008 9:35 PM
I guess I'm just a horrible person. Because while I first started playing AD&D when I was 11 and was a huge fan for the longest time... I'm not tremendously torn up over his death. I said it sucked... and moved on.
Perhaps part of it is that I burnt out on D&D several years ago after being forced to GM it for far too long (no one else wanted to GM). Only recently have I been able to eve think of running a game without suffering from an immediate migraine. So it's not as immediate for me.
Still, it is kinda cool to see news reporters geeking out over Gary Gygax and talking about their D&D characters and such. It means that roleplaying games has entered the mainstream. And to that, I will toast Mr. Gygax. May he enjoy many a game in the Seven Heavens.
Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews
Well said, Eric. Very well said. I still remember Arthe and its abundance of magical swords (and absence of Rings of Protection) well. The were great times.
Comment from: Eric Burns posted at March 5, 2008 10:39 PM
They were, Matt.
And you were the one who played a non-sword user in a campaign called "Seven Swords of the Crystal Butte."
Comment from: J. Channing Wells posted at March 5, 2008 10:52 PM
Okay, I totally want to hear about Eric's characters now.
I really enjoyed this eulogy thread. Perhaps more than any other eulogy on the topic, you've gotten me to really think about the significance he had on my life without ever meeting me.
I mean... you make that system shock joke and I laugh and that's a shared thing, that a certain subset of the population will find funny and the rest will just find puzzling. It's a code, an in-joke on which I'm in, when I spend so much time in life dealing with other people's in-jokes (does that make them out-jokes?). And it utterly wouldn't exist but for this person.
That's a pretty staggering revelation, to say nothing of the fantasy explosion and all the other systems and... everything. I mean, looking at my shelf -- from where I sit, right here -- I can see... probably a thousand dollars of roleplaying materials and that doesn't represent the bulk of my collection. On top of that, I've never actually PLAYED any of it, I just buy and read it. And there are the characters, like Tasslehoff and Laurana and they're practically family at this point...
I think of that Warner Brothers drawing they did when Mel Blanc died. "Speechless," where it's all the characters he voiced looking downcast next to an empty microphone. It's like that, except you've got Elminster and Fizban and Vecna and Rudolph van Richten (standing well away from Strahd, naturally) and even Drizzt...
The mind boggles. You've given me something to think about, and I think when I go to bed tonight, I'll curl up with Dragons of Autumn Twilight, just for the nostalgia.
A good eulogy.
I had the same kind of experience. I started with red box D&D in 1988, and while I've played many many RPGs since then, the first edition AD&D books have the most honorary place on my rpg shelves.
Most of my social circles are gamers, now, and they were that ten years ago. Very much of my life and hobbies are because of Gary Gygax.
I think I'll try to schedule a D&D Cyclopedia game at some point.
Sure, but did you tell me the name of the campaign? And did so many of them have to be vorpal? ;)
Seriously, though, this type of thing is what you're talking about so well in your eulogy. There is a small subset of people on the planet who will get a small smile on their face upon hearing the phrase "...and Pith goes into Wraithform!" It makes no sense to anyone who was not brought together by Gygax and your particular campaign. It may not leave us laughing uproariously but it gives us something better -- that echo of companionship and belonging.
Comment from: Elizabeth McCoy posted at March 6, 2008 7:56 AM
Hey. Thanks. And thank you for remembering the arrogance, and the good, too. I twitch so much when there's too much whitewash going around.
Comment from: LurkerWithout posted at March 6, 2008 12:35 PM
Nice eulogy. I think I'll try and get a Hackmaster campaign going again. Even if it has to be play-by-post. Again...
Comment from: Eric Burns posted at March 6, 2008 12:50 PM
Lurk -- I'm actually strongly tempted to run a 1st Edition AD&D game.
Comment from: Sean Duggan posted at March 6, 2008 12:53 PM
I'm afraid that, in the case of Gygax, I'm in the same situation I've been in for many of these deaths. I'm not terribly broken up over their deaths because I didn't personally know them (and, to some degree, due to my strong belief in the hereafter) but I have this selfish feeling that they shouldn't have died before I had a chance to meet them. You know?
Ah, the months (literally) of time we spent playing on Arthe.
I do miss it.
I left the Eulogizing to you, my friend. My comments were short as is my want. You have always been the writer.
*sigh* His passing has left me with a malaise of sorts. I do not get to play with folks much these days. I would really love to be in a regular group again.
But I do have my computer games (including Dungeons and Dragons Tactics for the PSP which TC got me for Christmas).
Being younger, I didn't start playing D&D until the late 80s. Nonetheless, I did start out with second hand 1st ed stuff. The name of Gary Gygax has always been one that seemed somehow raised above us mere mortals, though until now, I never thought about just how far reaching his influence truly was.
On a more personal level, all of my male friends. All of them. Are guys I met through gaming. I can meet girls through many paths it seems, but I only ever seem to get along with guys if they're gamers. I would have pretty much no social circle if it wasn't for Gary Gygax.
As J. Grant said, it's time to pour out a 40 on the floor of your mom's garage.
I've been amazed and delighted by the large number of tributes - do you know of any site that's collecting up links to them all?
Alice, the best I can offer is this thread at RPG.net:
At some point, almost every tribute has been crossposted to it.
Like almost everyone here, I played D&D and AD&D throughout my early life. I've since moved on to other things, but I will always find time to join in on an RP session any chance I get.
I had a critical failure of my system shock check when I heard the news. It's days later and it's finally sinking in that the man behind the games that brought me so much joy and led to my love of writing has passed on.
I raise my flagon of Ale to you, Gary Gygax. Thank you for all the joy your games brought to my life and rest in peace.
Comment from: Morgan Wick posted at March 8, 2008 1:07 PM
Regarding the RPGnet link, I would start at page 10; you'd only miss a news story that way.
Comment from: Allen Varney posted at March 8, 2008 7:18 PM
"I love Champions and GURPS alike, but Steve Perrin or Steve Jackson wouldn't have worked there. But Gary Gygax did."
Pedantic note: Steve Perrin contributed only tangentially to Champions, in obscure spinoffs like Robot Warriors. You may be thinking of Steve Peterson, who co-designed the game with George Mac Donald; or possibly you were thinking of Perrin's own Champions imitation, Superworld.
He ate this stuff up with a spoon
Specifically, a Bohemian earspoon. (Partisan entry, Unearthed Arcana, p.124)
Comment from: Morgan Wick posted at March 10, 2008 4:54 PM
Hey, is Eric still doing the State Of entries? It's been almost a week since this post...
Comment from: Ricochet posted at March 13, 2008 8:45 AM
Um, I know this is a bit late and all. But I'd be interested on people's opinions on the relevant episode of Achewood...
Comment from: Ricochet posted at March 13, 2008 9:02 AM
Um, I know this is a bit late and all. But I'd be interested on people's opinions on the relevant episode of Achewood...
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