March 4th, 2009
Gary Gygax at Gencon 2007

Gary Gygax at Gencon 2007. Photograph by Alan De Smet.

One year ago today, E. Gary Gygax passed on.

He was a lot of things.  Not all of them good, of course; he was as human as everybody, and on occasion, he could come off as a self-important blowhard, a man who at times fervently claimed that there was only one correct way of playing his game.

But then, haven’t we all?

More importantly, there’s the other side of him.  The man who was an inspiration to us all, who co-created (along with Arneson) Dungeons & Dragons, and who prized creativity and improvisation.  The impact he had is, frankly, awe-inspiring:

  • Gencon.  He started it, in 1968.  (Or 1967, if you count the small gathering in the basement of his home as “Gencon 0.”)  There are other gaming conventions, perhaps even bigger gaming conventions, but 40 years later, Gencon is still a showcase for gaming.
  • D&D.  35 years, numerous editions, various spinoffs (of various quality), and still going strong.  Still the most popular RPG, and it’s achieved pretty broad pop-culture recognition too.
  • Tabletop RPGs.  D&D is pretty much the first modern RPG.  The explosion of games that have come out since all owe something to D&D, in a sense.  Some are similar, some define themselves by their differences, some try to ignore the existence of D&D altogether, but the impact is still there.  Might another of these games have emerged without D&D, and become the de facto standard itself?  Sure, it’s possible.  But D&D did it.
  • Computer and console gaming.  Dnd, Moria, Rogue, Hack, and the many roguelike variants.  Western RPG series such as Ultima, Bard’s Tale, Might & Magic, and Wizardry.  Japanese RPG series such as Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy.  All of them started out as attempts to electronically capture some of the essence of tabletop roleplaying, and so all of them owe a debt to D&D.  Later games like MMOs, which based themselves on these earlier games, do too.  It’s not that much of a stretch to lay some of the credit for cRPGs in general at Gygax’s feet.  The games would probably have developed regardless, but they wouldn’t look and act the way they do if not for the template of D&D.

And that’s just the directly-related stuff.  And not even mentioning the articles he wrote, the novels, the books.  The way he expanded my youthful vocabulary with words like dweomer and milieu.

He was no great writer, and, according to my tastes at least, not a terribly good gamemaster at times.  But he was definitely an inspiration, and I’m grateful for what he achieved.

Rest in peace, Gary.


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  1. GiacomoArt, Mar. 10, 2009, 4:30 pm:

    Wow. A realistic (and accurate) tribute to Gygax. I’m impressed. :o )

    It seems like since the last time I looked at D&D, he’d gone from respected forefather of modern RPGs to the Patron Saint of Role-Playing (complete with “What Would Gary Do?” bumper stickers available in the lobby).

    I owe the guy a lot, and I envy the amount of impact his life had on the world, but like the man says, “He’s just zis guy, you know?” I still want to scream and start throwing things every time I’m forced to confront the alignment-based “role-play” virus he infected the gaming world with.

    GiacomoArt´s last blog post: Playing It Old School

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