Thursday, March 6, 2008

RIP Gary Gygax

A father is gone.

The world that we in the fantasy fan community enjoy, one in which wizards and warriors, elves and dwarves, magic and monsters and yes, dungeons and dragons are common parlance owes a great deal of debt to the man who placed a dragon in a wargame.

When I was 11 year old I had heard of D&D, but had never actually seen the game. Then someone in school brought out the three books and the half-dozen dice and started a campaign. That was it. Everyone in 7th and 8th grade was hooked. Every spare moment of time was taken up by D&D adventuring. Eventually this expanded into Traveler, Boot Hill, Gamma World, Time Tripper, Car Wars, and more games that I can remember. In that school being what we would call today a “geek” or “dork” was cool. It was hip. Social status was based on being the first one to have a new game, or the best game that week.

We designed our own character sheets. We drew up our own characters. We created our own gods and monsters. “The Emperor” was the All-Powerful-Force of Evil (yes, inspired by Empire Strikes Back), “Enigma” was the All-Powerful Force of Good (from the Micronauts comic book, I think). I thought of creating an All-Powerful Force of Neutrality, but kept on going back and forth on it. My character got turned into a Gollum and stretched out to 7 feet tall on a rack. Someone created an assassin with an atomic bomb. Someone else tried to use a saving throw when the bomb went off.

We drew maps. We designed weapons. We collected miniature figures and placed them on graph paper. We designed dungeons. We collected dungeon modules and dice. Our imagination was stoked and our social interactivity was very, very high.

When I left that school and moved to a public high school, I found the social situation there very different. I never was able to get back into gaming, though I still collected everything about Car Wars for some years (as I was a big fan of post-apocalyptic movies like The Road Warrior). Eventually I found the Society for Creative Anachronism and was able to live a historically-based, live action version of D&D, and for a time sneered at those who rolled dice to gain their skills, while I actually worked for it.

I never saw more than a few minutes of the D&D cartoon, but I followed the comic strip advertisements in the backs of comic books in the early 1980's. When the Dungeon and Dragons movie finally came out, I was very excited. For decades there had been films and TV shows that, to one degree or another, I felt were trying to bring the D&D world to life, and I, in turn, had tried to turn those movies into games (you can see a list that includes many of those movies at Now someone was actually going to make that movie for real. The movie was poor, but fun. Though the acting was uneven, the writing corny, and the Wayans brother character the most politically incorrect ethnic stereotype since JarJar Binks, it was great to see all the swordfighting, the flying dragons, and lets admit it, Thora Birch in those fantasy costumes.

There was a sequel to that movie, however, Dungeons and Dragons, the Wrath of the Dragon Gon, that finally did it right. A team of adventurers was assembled to go on a quest to retrieve a magic item and save the kingdom. Each character represented a different race or class of character. There was problem-solving, trap avoiding, magic using, and exciting battle action, sometimes all at the same time. Characters of differing alignments had to learn to work together. Some did not make it, but those who did found they had grown and gained skill, treasure, or power. Gygax was interviewed in the “special features” of the DVD of that film, and admitted that he was happy with the way that film turned out.

Although he lost control of the game and company that he founded, he kept active in the industry, and obviously loved creating games. Role playing games have brought many of us together, given us a common social bond, and in many cases, enabled us to get valuable life experience. Though some make the joke about how D&D geeks are socially atrophied nerds who can't deal with the real world, it has given many lived, and our culture, a richness and vitality, a passionate escape, a source of pleasure and cause for social gathering that the world would be poorer without.

Now the father of those games is gone, and we are poorer without him.

Captain Zorikh

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