Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

March 6, 2008

Ten great things in gaming Part 3 – Gygax

Filed under: 10 things in gaming — lexifab @ 4:29 pm

Gary Gygax, the (somewhat contentiously disputed) co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons and by extension founder of the hobby on which I spend most of my time and through which i have built a great many enduring friendships, died yesterday, aged 69.

He wasn’t originally going to be on this list. the original intent was to celebrate what’s new in the hobby, what’s taking it in fresh new directions and venturing further away from the safe harbours of going into holes in the ground, killing the things that live there and emerging richer than before. But the hell with what I planned – Gary helped dredge those metaphorical harbours, and on any exploration of where the hobby is going, it’s worth acknowledging where it came from as well.

So, while I think it’s fair to say that what I think is interesting, fun and important when it comes to a roleplaying game session differs markedly from much of what Mr Gygax long espoused, there’s no denying the huge debt I owe him for his part in creating the social context which I expect to occupy for the rest of my life. The roleplaying hobby was emerging as an energetic mutant outgrowth of wargaming when I discovered it at the start of my teens in the early 80s. I’ve never quite managed to let it go in the intervening quarter of a century. In all that time, Gary Gygax was a semi-mythical figure of legendary stature, looming somewhere in the lofty heights of The Industry.

I never quite idolised Gygax the way a lot of gamers seem to. To me, his ideas about how roleplaying should happen were irritatingly pompous, and following his unsatisfactory advice invariably led to misunderstanding and conflicts. He was a tireless self-promoter who sometimes appeared to overstep the bounds in terms of what credit he could rightfully claim. Not to mention he drove me nuts with his habit of throwing the entire thesaurus at a written concept without giving any particular consideration to clarity (or accuracy, in some cases).

(Okay. Yes. Sometimes I do this. In my defense, I like to think I got the habit from shamelessly aping Douglas Adams’ writing style, not Gary Gygax’s. And shut up).

But to give him credit, he was a pioneer, an advocate and a grand old patriarch of roleplaying. He came across as a passionate hobbyist who was generous with his time, a truly relentless writer (I may not have liked all of his ideas, much less how he expressed them, but I give the man props for his admirable work ethic and productivity) and a gentleman to boot, all the moreso in his latter-day presence on the interwebs. He loved gaming, he loved writing, and he loved talking about what he loved, and he had no problems with sharing that enthusiasm with anyone who’d listen. And let us not forget his timelessly quotable contribution to Futurama: “Greetings, it’s a [rolls dice] pleasure to meet you!” Gotta love someone willing to have the complete piss taken out of him just for cartoon immortality.

Last night we took a session off from Emma’s Burning Freeport pirate game, with its character-driven play, its free-wheeling plot-light storyline and its frequent player-generated content – little of which would have accorded with Gygax’s roleplaying tastes – in favour of some old fashioned monster-bashing fun. It would have received the Gary stamp of approval, we thought, but even if not, he can rest pretty comfortably, knowing that something he helped build has grown vast and spread far and turned into something that has touched a lot of lives.


  1. Oh for the love of Boccob, your making me cry 🙂

    Comment by Marco — March 8, 2008 @ 2:18 pm

  2. Boccob cares not for your tears.

    Comment by lexifab — March 8, 2008 @ 6:02 pm

  3. Oddly enough I have just been thinking about Gary Gygax for the first time in years… we went off on holiday without little reading matter, and hence picked up two of his books, “Sea of Death” and “Night Arrant” at a used bookstore in Broken Hill. They are soooo identical to the amateur stories people write about their pet characters. But in Gygax’s case, he can be forgiven.

    Comment by Dr Clam — March 11, 2008 @ 9:55 am

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