Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Dungeon Master Dies

E. Gary Gygax, the man who invented Dungeons and Dragons died yesterday. Rumor his it that he was not eaten by a red dragon.

I started playing D&D back in 1976. The original rules were published in 1974, by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. However my fellow gamers and I didn't waste much time on Gary Gygax's version of D&D. We very quickly bastardized several different gaming systems to make our own version of the D&D which we played all through college. Yes, I was a total geek in college, you didn't think I started acting this way just recently did you?

Once I got out of college I got a chance to try playing regular old Advanced Dungeons and Dragons the way E. Gary Gygax intended it to be played. I hated it. But for three years it was the only game in town because none of the gamers in Amarillo TX were willing to try the system my friends and I had used in college. So for three years I languished in Gygax hell.

When I moved to Ridgecrest I was reunited with one of my old gaming buddies and I immediately joined in the gaming group that he was playing in. Getting back to the good old system from my college days was like a breath of fresh air. Gaming was fun again. Then we discovered a role playing game called Runequest and we never looked back. We played role playing games every Friday night for anywhere from 5 to 10 hours.

During the 18 year period from 1976 to 1994 I suspect the only thing I spent more time on than playing role playing games was work, but only because I had to do it 8 to 9 hours a day.

In the early 90s things started changing around here. Many members of our gaming group moved away. We tried bring guys into replace them but they were too Advanced Dungeons and Dragons oriented. In order to play Runequest, or our old made up version of D&D you had to be willing to role play and to think. You couldn't solve every problem by killing everything that moved. After several years of struggling with Gygaxian gamers who were only interested in playing AD&D I finally gave up and quit the group.

This was a total cold turkey split for me. No 12 steps, no patches, no programs. I went home filled three boxes with every piece of role playing paper or information I owned and shoved them into the corner of the attic, where they languish to this day.

I should dig some of that stuff out some day. I may have a few books in there that could have some resale value. In the late 80s my gaming group and I went to the Origins Gaming Convention in Los Angeles. On a total lark, we all entered the AD&D tournament they were having. I decided to not take the game very seriously and was just trying to entertain the the other players at the table. I think I succeeded marvelously. By the time the tournament ended I had most of the onlookers giggling and muttering "I can't believe he said, or did that." Without even trying I finished up the tournament in second place. Later I was wondering around in the market room trying to figure out what to spend my winnings on when E. Gary Gygax put in an appearance. Immediately all my friends started insisting that I use my winnings to buy the latest AD&D book that had been released and then get E. Gary Gygax to autograph it.

I have never been a big fan of stars. I'm not a autograph seeker. In my lifetime I only ever collected a few autographs. I met Rory Calhoun in a restaurant in Rapid City when I was a kid. I got to meet George McGovern when he was running for president. I got to say Hi to Ken Curtis one year at Frontier Days in Cheyenne. I have a baseball signed by the Oakland A's team including Vita Blue, J Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson. The only autograph I have that I really enjoy having is a hand written note and a signed copy of Chicago's Night and Day album, signed by Jason Scheff, the base player.

But in most instances I found that meeting some famous person to be kind of a letdown. They never seemed to live up to everyone else's expectations. E. Gary Gygax was no exception. I picked up my book and my friends shoved me over next to him where he was having his picture taken with one of the Convention organizers. As I held out the book, he glanced at me and snapped "I don't have time for autograghs." So I used that opportunity to try and escape what I found to be a very uncomfortable situation. But before I could shoulder my way through the crowd the convention organizer grabbed my arm and told Gygax, "Gary, you will love this guy, he placed second in the AD&D tournament and had everyone in stitches in the process."

E. Gary Gygax gave me a bit of a fish-eye stare, then snatched the book out of my hand, scribbled his name inside the cover and handed it back to me with a muttered "nice job kid." Then he walked away, taking the enormous crowd of admirers with him.

I went home, tossed the book on a shelf when it sat untouched until it ended up in a box in the attic with the rest of my role playing stuff. I don't even remember what book it was. I only knew it was a hardback AD&D book that I was never going to use to play games.

In the end I should say something nice about the recently deceased Mr. Gygax. I didn't like his game and I didn't like him. But he did create a game that got me and my friends started on a hobby that caused us to waste 1000s of hours over the years. Certainly I could have used that time to do more constructive things. But what the heck, I had fun. Sure it was geek fun, but even geeks are allowed to have fun occasionally, aren't they?

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