Gary Gygax died last month and that made me very sad. I could always go on the internet and find out exactly when he died for sure, but it doesn’t really matter the time or the place. What matters is that a great man who had a great idea is dead. I wonder how many geeks like me came to realize just how cool the game was. We read the manuals as kids and checked it out online when we got older. Feeling a little guilty, feeling a little like they were surfing porn and probably thinking that it would be a better idea to be surfing porn because if you are caught, at least you can explain it.
How do you explain to your wife or signficant other what a Beholder is? Or a Githyanki? Or a Mind Flayer? How do you explain the important of the number 18? What about that lucky bag of dice and that one lucky d20 they would roll only when the situation really called for it. There are some guys that still play the game every weekend, but I’m not sure they play it now like they did as kids. Play it the same as when they first took up the game. Those are the guys that consider it a serious hobby and never consider how much strength it would take to call up all his old friends and play for a whole weekend like they used to, and be able to play it like the fifteen or twenty years from the last game to this one was only a little more than a day.
Yeah. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons was that cool for me.
I read the death notice out loud to Mell. It didn’t really have an effect on her. Now that I think about it, I don’t think I even told Mell who the guy was in the first place. It would not have much of a difference. Mell knows that I played the game with my friends, but I don’t think she ever saw the use of it. I think her brother played the games, too, but I can’t be sure. I’ll have to ask him the next time I see him.
Fespahr Dax, Lord of Gnarly Forest. That was my very first character. Rolled for my by Sean Jara while on lunch, during my day long, weekly scheduled, Five Talents class. I remember me doodling a picture of my character. I remember the pale blue lines of the graph paper. I remember me being able to read the statistics and build a whole person in my mind, and then I doodled it. I don’t think that Sean appreciated the doodle. He wanted to play really badly and he wanted me to play with him and everyone else. That’s not entirely true. I remember him wanting to DM an adventure and I seem to remember that it was one he had written about The Nine Hells ; but now I think that if it was The Nine Hells that he cribbed it from a year long series of articles from Dragon Magazine and took it for being his own. My character was part of the Grey Hawk setting. I don’t remember ever going on a single adventure with my character Fespahr Dax, but I carry the memory of him with me. For some reason, I remember that he had padded leather armour. And I always spelled it with a ‘u’.
There are a great many things I can go on about Gary Gygax and what his games do for me, but for now, there is just one incident that rings out in my head.
I organized once a month, weekend long gaming sessions with my friends. I would help them create the characters, but everything else was mine. Everything. I designed the world, I drew the maps, I wrote the adventures, I DM’d the adventures. I cribbed ideas, too, from here and there (most notably the Krynn adventures ; I loved those Draconians and I couldn’t get enough of the Knight of Solamnia) but I managed some pretty original ideas and the friends I had challenged my mind and my creativity at every turn.
I would pay for the pop and the chips and the pizza and everything. I did my chores and I worked with Dad, earning money picking up garbage with him once (or was it twice?) a week at the townhouse complex he managed. I think I did other things for him, too. But this was before I had a part time job at Harvey’s. Anyway, it had got to be expensive, all of my friends eating up all of my cash. Initially, I didn’t mind. I got a real charge out of people enjoying what it was my little mind could come up with on short notice and I was juiced when my friends would not do the things that I expected they would do. Kind of like ‘choose your own adventure’. You would read those books and there was only ever one or two choices, and you got to a point that you knew how to run circles through the whole book and not get anything done. I had originally thought that DMing a game or a campaign wasn’t much different. It is alot different. Choices are not so easy and kids with active imaginations tend to act outside of their personalities given the right setting. But still, all of that aside, it was getting expensive. So I started to ask for money. Not alot. Just to cover the expense. I wasn’t charging rent or anything. Or trying to rip anyone off. I was just trying to make it so I wasn’t going broke.
Most of my friends didn’t have a problem coughing up a dollar or two. I don’t even know if I can remember all of the people that played.
Jeff Storey? Gerard Wilcott? Did Hiroshi play? Yeah, I think he did. Rich Smith, definitely. Dave Aveledo was later. James. Scott. Joe. Those guys came later, too. This was at the start. The very beginning. When I thought it was okay for a dwarven fighter-magic-user-thief to climb walls while wearing platemail armour. Before the beer being chilled by the open windows in the basement. Before the intense question of ‘Is there blood on my armour?’ could be answered. Before sneaking out in the middle of the night to burn off gigajoules of excess energy. This was when I was a kid and none of us cared about reality. We enjoyed what it was we could imagine. The other things, they happened later, but at the time, when it all started, I think everyone was having a good deal of fun. However, in those beginning times, one of my friend’s mothers did not agree. Looking back on it now, my friend may have been embarrassed as hell that his mother didn’t want to cough up two or three bucks. But at the time, I was just scared shitless. Some guy’s Mom was fucking calling me to ask me where I got off taking money from her son to come over to my house. That was just cheap and low minded, I thought.
And my Dad didn’t go to the phone to cover up for me. He didn’t fight my battles. And he kept Mom away from the phone too. Dad just handed me the phone and pretty much said, “It’s for you…”
I can’t remember how long I was on the phone for. In my memory it must have been three hours. But that memory has been stretched over twenty four or twenty five long frigging years, so I bet it couldn’t have been longer than ten minutes. All I know is that I listened politely, answered all of her questions, pleaded my case, and won her over to my point of view. As a matter of fact, I seem to remember that she didn’t want to give the money to my friend, but give it to me personally. I also remember getting off the phone and having my Mom and Dad clap resoundingly at my work. They were impressed as to how well I handled myself.
Now, in this dialogue I have conjured up memories that I will spend days and weeks trying to sort out and probably try to type most of them here before I go to work on my stories. But for now, I want to remember the first thing I think of when I think of Gary Gygax and that little game he invented.
I am thirty six years old. I have a wife. I have a daughter. I have a house. I have a mortgage. I have a job that last year I made a more money that I ever have in my entire life. I have worked long to get to where I am and I have done good things and I have done bad things. I think it all started after I put that telephone down, after having that conversation with my friend’s mother, after I convinced her that I was right about something I cared a great deal about.
I miss Gary Gygax and I mourn his passing a little because I never had a chance to thank him for that.