Friday, March 7, 2008

Rest in Peace

I realize I'm late on posting a blog update. Again. What can I say? I'm not the most prompt person. It usually takes some sort of catalyst like...

The Death of Gary Gygax

For those who didn't grow up in a keep on the Borderlands, take an expedition to Barrier Peak, or follow the were-rabbit into Dungeonland, the name Gygax is probably meaningless. For nerds, geeks, and dweebs around the world, Gary Gygax is a father-figure. You see, he was the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, and he passed away March 4th at 69.

Like many, I regard Gygax as the creator of roleplaying gaming. His death won't change the industry, but it does mark the passing of someone who deeply affected my life through his creation-D&D.

I started gaming in 1981, which was fourth grade for me. My friend Billy Talo introduced me to the Dungeons & Dragons game, which his older brother was a "master" of. We spent the better part of one Saturday creating a character, an elf (which was then both a race and an occupation under the very simplistic Basic D&D rules). When we finished, I was revved up and ready to explore a dungeon... and I learned Bill didn't have a clue what came next. He just understand how to create a character. *Chuckles*

Over the next couple years, I would beg for D&D books and slowly build a veritable library of the game. I remember my first copies of the D&D Basic game and later, the Expert set. I remember reading the books at a craft fair my mother drug me to. I remember playing with my friends in our tree fort... until we dropped the green dice into the grass below. We tore up grass for hours, but couldn't find the dice. By sixth grade, I was well into the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules, a more complicated and "realistic" game. Dan Mueller and Mark Serrahn were my gaming buddies, each bringing some different experiences to D&D (and other games, like the original Marvel Superheroes RPG). Mark and I would go on to create our own games, including a Transformers game (using Lego-guys for figures), something we called the Key System (which was meant to be as realistic as possible), and board games like Mark's Battle for Solon.

Mark and I bundled our 1st edition books together, and we had quite a few, and traded them into a place (sort of a pawn shop) for three whole 2nd Edition books--the Player's Handbook, the Dungeon Master's Guide, and the first Monstrous Compendium (a binder that had replaced the Monster Manual). Yup, three whole books. Naturally, we later found our 1st edition stuff being sold for far more than the value of the 2nd edition books, but we were poor kids!

Over the years, roleplaying has been a constant in my life. I gamed online for years, but always go back to the tabletop game. Even as I type this entry, I have perhaps a hundred hard-cover books filling up a floor to ceiling shelving unit in my bedroom. What's there? Some old 2nd edition books I still like to read, a lot of the current 3rd and 3.5 editions of D&D. And thene there are products by other companies, like Privateer Press's Iron Kingdoms setting, the old Marvel Super Heroes game, Shadowrun Books, perhaps a hundred old Dragon and Dungeon periodicals, some of the recent Paizo Pathfinder series (the first two, before I cancelled my subscription because I wasn't using their stuff).

My desk is covered with miniature painting gear and a few partially painted mini's. I have an 8-drawer "hobby" shelving unit next to my bed which doubles as a night stand. I've got counters, dice, and miniatures jammed in there. Just one glance at my DVD collection will reveal my interests... Berserk, the Record of the Lodoss Wars, Legend, The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, the Lord of the Rings collection, The Thirteenth Warrior, even some old animated classics like the Hobbit and the Last Unicorn. Yeah. I like fantasy.

Every weekend I rattle on to Brenda about the "Broken Blades" and the city of Mulmaster, which I've poured my heart and soul into for years. You see, these places, characters, items and monsters... they're as real to me as many people I meet. I can close my eyes and feel the cold winds blowing off the Moonsea (Ed Greenwood's contribution, but Gygax's game). I can hear the hammers beating steel into swords, glaives, speark heads. I can see Tanner wearing his dragon scales and spiked Breastplate in the court, looking uncomfortable, smirking, laughing loudly enough to scare the courtiers, and giving every indication he's the new High Blade because of the strength of his immense arms. I see what others don't... the tenderness with which he treats Saphrael, the trust he extends to the feral Jasper, fatherly Gustavus, forthright Tarka, pensive Llister, ruthless Parne, and glib Harlequin.

I owe these memories to Gygax, just as the millions playing World of Warcraft or exploring Morrorwind on their XBox 360 or Folklore on their PS3 do. While it's truth that Gygax borrowed a lot of his ideas from Middle Earth and Jack Vance, there is no doubt the gaming he develped was a wonderful addition to our world.

Gygax said "I would like the world to remember me as the guy who really enjoyed playing games and sharing his knowledge and his fun pastimes with everybody else."

With a fourth edition of the D&D game right around the corner and Dragon magazine closing in on 30 years now, I'd say that's how we remember him. He's the father of gaming, the guy that gave geeks something to get excited about. With a couple books, a few oddly shaped pieces of plastic, some scraps of paper and a pencil, maybe a pewter minature (though that wasn't the norm for may years), we were able to live another life. It didn't matter what ws going on at school, home, or in the world around us. We were able to escape, with our friends, and immerse ourselves in adventures fit for mythic heroes. I'd say Gygax has left the world a better place than the way he found it.

We'll miss you Mr. Gygax. Thank you for everything.

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