Wednesday, March 5, 2008

His Adventure Is Over: R.I.P. Gary Gygax

As some of you have heard by now, Gary Gygax, the D&D guru, has died. I wasn’t part of the first wave of roleplaying gamers and so I largely missed out on playing through most of Gary’s adventure modules, but I did encounter the large part of the game’s initial aftershock when the production values had increased. I love roleplaying games a lot but I kinda’ had a love hate relationship with them when I was a kid. Being able to inhabit another world and use you imagination was an incredibly powerful and fantastic experience, but the D&D rules were very encumbering and, for me, stymied that imagination. I never owned a copy of the main rulebooks until D&D 3.5 (well OK, except the Basic and Expert boxed sets) and I merely relied on others to run the game if we wanted to play Dungeons and Dragons.

It wasn’t until I encountered both the skills focused Basic Roleplaying System (via Call of Cthulhu and Stormbringer) and the rules light Storyteller System (Vampire, Werewolf), that I really found gamming a truly immersive experience. It was also around this time that finally realized why I found D&D to have such a strange, clunky, mechanistic feel. It’s because Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson were strategy game players first and then developed D&D roleplaying out of that. I was never a strategy game sorta’ guy and that’s why their approach to the gaming seemed backwards to me. Levels, experience points, tons of charts, character classes, and mutually excusive rules for every little aspect, was really just too much in my opinion. But for other folks, with a more mathematical or legalistic mind, probably found these rule mechanics pure heaven. For some, roleplaying was a numbers and accounting game but I never saw it like that. For me, gamming should be a character driven, story creation experience. On the other hand, I always greatly appreciated the world building that went into Dungeon and Dragons and the different types of dice as well. I believe those two aspects were some of D&D’s greatest strengths beyond just simply using your mind's eye.

Now it may seem like I’m bashing Mr. Gygax, but I don’t feel that I am, rest his soul, but rather I’m merely providing context and probing the memories his death has brought up. Gary Gygax was an entertainment innovator and brought a new way to experience, and harness imagination. I just needed it in a different form than he originally designed it. Regardless, thanks for starting the roleplaying game industry Mr. Gygax.

I think the New York Times has the best article about Gary Gygax, so I’ll post the whole of it here, as it will eventually disappear behind a registered user function.

Gary Gygax, Game Pioneer, Dies at 69

Published: March 5, 2008

Gary Gygax, a pioneer of the imagination who transported a fantasy realm of wizards, goblins and elves onto millions of kitchen tables around the world through the game he helped create, Dungeons & Dragons, died Tuesday at his home in Lake Geneva, Wis. He was 69.

His death was confirmed by his wife, Gail Gygax, who said he had been ailing and had recently suffered an abdominal aneurysm, The Associated Press reported.
As co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, the seminal role-playing game introduced in 1974, Mr. Gygax wielded a cultural influence far broader than his relatively narrow fame among hard-core game enthusiasts.

Before Dungeons & Dragons, a fantasy world was something to be merely read about in the works of authors like J. R. R. Tolkien and Robert Howard. But with Dungeons & Dragons, Mr. Gygax and his collaborator, Dave Arneson, created the first fantasy universe that could actually be inhabited. In that sense, Dungeons & Dragons formed a bridge between the noninteractive world of books and films and the exploding interactive video game industry. It also became a commercial phenomenon, selling an estimated $1 billion in books and equipment. More than 20 million people are estimated to have played the game.

While Dungeons & Dragons became famous for its voluminous rules, Mr. Gygax was always adamant that the game’s most important rule was to have fun and to enjoy the social experience of creating collaborative entertainment. In Dungeons & Dragons, players create an alternate persona, like a dwarven thief or a noble paladin, and go off on imagined adventures under the adjudication of another player called the Dungeon Master.

“The essence of a role-playing game is that it is a group, cooperative experience,” Mr. Gygax said in a telephone interview in 2006. “There is no winning or losing, but rather the value is in the experience of imagining yourself as a character in whatever genre you’re involved in, whether it’s a fantasy game, the Wild West, secret agents or whatever else. You get to sort of vicariously experience those things.”

When Mr. Gygax (pronounced GUY-gax) first published Dungeons & Dragons under the banner of his company, Tactical Studies Rules, the game appealed mostly to college-age players. But many of those early adopters continued to play into middle age, even as the game also trickled down to a younger audience.

“It initially went to the college-age group, and then it worked its way backward into the high schools and junior high schools as the college-age siblings brought the game home and the younger ones picked it up,” Mr. Gygax said.

Mr. Gygax’s company, renamed TSR, was acquired in 1997 by Wizards of the Coast, which was later acquired by Hasbro, which now publishes the game.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Gygax is survived by six children: three sons, Ernest G. Jr., Lucion Paul and Alexander; and three daughters, Mary Elise, Heidi Jo and Cindy Lee.

These days, pen-and-paper role-playing games have largely been supplanted by online computer games. Dungeons & Dragons itself has been translated into electronic games, including Dungeons & Dragons Online. Mr. Gygax recognized the shift, but he never fully approved. To him, all of the graphics of a computer dulled what he considered one of the major human faculties: the imagination ’ ”

“There is no intimacy; it’s not live,” he said of online games. “It’s being translated through a computer, and your imagination is not there the same way it is when you’re actually together with a group of people. It reminds me of one time where I saw some children talking about whether they liked radio or television, and I asked one little boy why he preferred radio, and he said, ‘Because the pictures are so much better.’ ”

Nice article huh.

On another note, if you are a serious journalist (by serious I mean you get paid) and you use the words “geek,” “geeky” or “geeks” in your news article about Gary Gygax's death, you can FUCK OFF… …Just go fuck yourself. Those geek words are pejorative and not appreciated. Some folks in the gamming community use them, but that’s simply to take the word geek and disarm it while turning it’s original demeaning meaning on it’s head. “Geek” has no place in a eulogy or a serious piece of journalism and certainly shouldn’t be used by folks that don’t consider themselves a part of “geek culture…”



ladybug said...

I was bummed to hear of his death. He seemed to be working on a great new game (Castles & Crusades) which seemed really cool.

Also, I think the Basic D&D is better (i.e. more simple and straightforward) than AD&D....

I do however prefer all the AD&D manuals (Deities and Demigods, and the orginal Monster Manual are my faves!) and Gygax's original modules (a few of which Snabby has!) seemed more imaginative and fun than 95% of the stuff that followed.

Besides, in actual play, many folks often dispense w/cumbersome rules and let the storyline dictate the direction of the game.

Imagination, and where it could take youtat was his real genius.

PS-Double +1 on the F-you to so-called "journalists"...seems more like they want to part of a "cool club" than actually write something meaningful, and well.

Arkonbey said...

Nice post. I can't add more; he will be missed, but what a legacy.

His passing just reminds me that I need to hook up with some non-geeky local tabletoppers so I can game again. One of my best friends was a GM, but he lives 250 Miles away and once every three months is no way to game. He's got nobody to game with either and he's grown so desperate, he's started WoW-ing. Poor slob.

NPR did a tasteful remembrance here

L-Bug: have you played 3.5? The playing is easier, but the art in the manuals isn't so good. Me, I actually still have my softcover Basic rules; useless for all but nostalgia.

Dean Wormer said...

Yeah, "geek" shouldn't be an insult.

I am a little surprised by how little people seem to get Gygax's influence on the world we live in today.

Our popular entertainment - ALL of our popular entertainment - would be completely different if it wasn't for Gygax and his little 8-sided dice.

Snark belies ignorance when it comes to his passing.

I have wonderful memories of playing the basic game as a kid with Overdroid. I'm sure we completely butchered the rules but that doesn't seem to be the point, does it? We had ourselves a good time.

Dean Wormer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Doctor Smoke said...

I never played D&D but I knew about it's creator.
*raises goblet*

Arkonbey said...

Dr S: you poor guy.

Never played D&D, never read Lovecraft? Man!

Arkonbey said...

Tycho's tribute

ladybug said...

Thanks for the links Arkonbey!

They're GRRREAAT! (w/Tony the Frosted Corn Flakes Tiger voice)

ladybug said...

Arkonbey-L-Bug: have you played 3.5?

No, but I'll check it out...I'm kind of w/SB on the "rules" stuff-I have usually used them as "guidelines" more than rules.

SB may even have those particular ones..

Doctor Smoke said...

Arkonbey: not my kind of thing. Never really been into role-play games. But I understand how revolutionary his creation was for millions of people.

Fade said...

I've read his books, I've played his games. I've been filled with the wonder that I got when I read my first comics by the enthusiasm Gygax put into his life's work. I've got a copy of the very first fantasy rulebook he ever made.

This guy is one of my heroes. He literally changed everything as far as gaming went. D&D totally ignited my imagination. Gygax will be missed!

And as far as the geek thang- it's really stupid. It's so stupid I ended up having to straighten about SCIENCE BLOG geeks today who were badmouthing D&D geeks. It's a strange world. We're all Geeks for one thing or another- even the Sports Geeks. People in America don't get respect for using their brains until they get rich from it. Stupid ass people. Cool Tribute!

Fade said...

And by the way, some of the best D&D times ever had were done sitting around a campfire, no dice, no paper, just using our imaginations....

Thank you, Gary!

Arkonbey said...

Hey, you geeks (heh).

More linking. You guys probably should already know about the OotS, but if you don't you should...

Fade: How the heck did you do saving throws? Or was it just like telling a big group story (which is cool)?

Fade said...

Arkonbey- It was almost like a group of actors/comedians riffing on random subjects - fast and furious impromptu collaborative storytelling - subject to the whims of whoever was deemed the DM.

And as anyone knows who's ever played the game- Your game was only as good as your DM. There were plenty of times I threw the rules out the window (without letting the players know), when Dm-ing- The story, and keeping all the players Interested, immmersed, interacting, and entertained came before the rules. I can't tell you how many times I've rolled a few dice, studied the results thoughtfully, murmured a whispered "uh-oh" (just to keep the group on its toes)- then spun the adventure whatever way I felt regardless. It's all about the story.

Randal Graves said...

You hit the nail on the head with your last comment, fade. Instead of digging up some chart, you just kind of winged it as long as it made sense in the spirit of the rules. Want to do x, y or z, do a strength check, adjusted for, oh, this thing.

Man, now I feel like running through Dungeonland and Land Beyond the Magic Mirror. Good stuff!

Arkonbey said...

Fade: that campfire session must have been a blast. We do a two-day/three-night at Mt. Katahdin every year. We should try that.

Fade/Randal: You're right good GM is not just about the rules. My long-distance GM actually awarded extra XP at the end of a session based on how we played the character we created. We didn't have to use funny voices or anything, but we had do play to our character's motivations, not our own.

pissed off patricia said...

Okay, when I heard of his death, for some reason I thought of you. I've never played the game, but I sure have heard a lot about it.

The Moody Minstrel said...

D&D actually had its roots in a tabletop figurine combat game called "Chainmail" that was started by Jeff Perren and then expanded by Gary Gygax.

Chainmail was originally intended for staging (pseudo-)historical battles in a medieval setting, but a section with extra rules for fantasy scenarios a la Tolkien was added when the original game group got tired of historical scenarios. It laid the groundwork for D&D by providing many of the basic rules and terminology such as character and spell levels, but it still relied on a very simple, d6-based system. It was first published by Guidon Games, but when it started to catch on Gary Gygax essentially took it, joined forces with Dave Arneson, created TSR Games, and ran.

Apparently Jeff Perren never forgave Gygax for "stealing" his ideas, and there was some legal wrangling.

D&D originally started as a Chainmail supplement. The first books, which were tiny things (like Chainmail) that looked typewritten, seem bizarre now. The focus was still on the use of miniatures. The creation of the D&D Basic Set (which was where I got my start) and later AD&D really helped the game's popularity take off.

I always felt the rules were meant to be messed with, and when I was a gamemaster I rarely used them as they were. Of course, I have very little experience with the third edition version, so I don't know much about it.

My only gripe about D&D and TSR Games when Gygax was in control was that they seemed to have an attitude problem. With all due respect to the man and his creations, which is considerable, he was something of a control freak who, as D&D became more influential, had a bit of a chip on his shoulder. Unlike many if not most game companies back then, they would never replace missing components of box sets for free; they would always insist on rather stiff payment if not simply demand that you buy another set. When it came to Dragon magazine and novels published by TSR, the company was notoriously proprietary and had a reputation for mucking with writers' work if not simply ripping it off and publishing it under one or their own people's names. It rather soured my opinion of D&D, though I did continue to play it and still enjoy it when I can.

Rest in peace, Mr. Gygax, for better or for worse.

Swinebread said...

Thank you all for your comments, links and thoughts.

I apologize for not responding individually this time.

Fade said...

off topic-