Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Ending of An Age

E. Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, father of this quirky roleplaying hobby and author of a style so idiosyncratic that the word "Gygaxian" had to be added to the geek vocabulary, has died at the age of 69. Without him, this hobby may still have come into being, but it would have had a completely different flavor. This blog would have a different name, for one - I think that the lich Vecna was his creation; it was a part of the gameworld he created (and the first gameworld I ever roleplayed in, the one I grew up with), the World of Greyhawk.

Though the man's gaming style was not to my taste, his work certainly made its impression on me. He improved my vocabulary, teaching me words like "milieu" and "dwoemer" through his rulebooks; through his bibliography and recommended reading lists he introduced me to some of my favorite fantasy authors, Fritz Lieber and Robert E. Howard. It wouldn't be going too far to say that the man's work was a significant inspiration to me, and had a considerable impact on my life. In fact, without the work that he created, I think it's fair to imagine that many things which have shaped the geek subculture came into existence because of his influence, such as World of Warcraft (born out of Warcraft, which was born out of Warhammer, which was born out of D&D). He suffered through a lot of legal battles and unfair treatment over the property he created with Dave Arneson, and ended up being unjustly kicked out of his own company. Yet from what I've seen of him, he was open and kind toward his fans and colleagues. He came to The Source in St. Paul once while I was there, and I watched him run a D&D game for a little while. I think it would have struck me as odd to see a white-bearded old man playing a roleplaying game had I not already been prepared for it by seeing our elder friend Vern play Campaign, or met renowned fantasy artist and southern gentleman Larry Elmore, whose artwork will forever in my mind be associated with Dungeons & Dragons.

Sadly, the lives of gamers tend not to be so long. A few other industry creators and professionals of note are in poor health, from what I read on RPGnet. Gamers in general are not known for the good shape of their bodies. So Gary's passing comes as another warning to me - I've been eighty pounds overweight for a while now, and with a father who was diabetic, I'm really pushing my luck.

I don't know what Gary's personal beliefs were, so I can't comment on his ultimate destination. If you'll forgive me for being a bit cheesy and maudlin, all I can do is raise a tankard, say a fond farewell, and thank Uncle Gary for all the fun.

EDIT, Again: I went to the TrollLords website, publishers of Castles & Crusades, and one of the forum posters quoted the last e-mail he received from Gary, on January 16:

Thank You, Michael,

All I am is another fellow human that has at last, after many wrong paths and failed attenpts, found Jesus Christ.

Via con dios,

"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." Matthew 5:16

Moreover, here is one Christian gamer's story about Gary, both his regrets and his triumphs.

Praise God. We'll see you on that far shore in the House of the Lord.


Michael Slusser said...

Amen and amen. Though I often wonder if we'd have been more productive if we hadn't spent so much time in roleplaying, I also wonder if we'd have half of the good ideas we have now without it.

I didn't know you met Larry Elmore...

Devin said...

I met Larry at I-Con in Des Moines. I was a little dubious about approaching him - I never know exactly what to say in those situations, and it's so disappointing when you find out that someone who's work you've liked turns out to be a jerk - but he looked to be an older fellow and I decided that I couldn't let the opportunity pass. The con was shutting down, so I stepped away from Pat (whose table I was working at) and introduced myself. I told him that he had been an early inspiration to me, and that I'd always loved his fantasy work and SnarfQuest. He asked me, in a lazy Kentucky drawl, where I had come to the convention from, and spoke about the natural beauty of Minnesota which he had only seen once. We started talking about the places we'd been, and the relative beauty of each place, and after about twenty minutes, I realized I had taken up a lot of his time and began to excuse myself. Feeling I should make up for it, I asked if I could buy one of his prints, a black-and-white drawing of a Viking in profile in front of a longship, printed on parchment-style paper. He told me I could just have it for free, if I wanted. It was easily the most pleasant conversation I've ever had at a convention.

Ktrey said...


It's really hard to quantify exactly how much of an influence roleplaying games have had on my life. I too remember the younger me reading something by Gygax and scrambling for a dictionary whenever I came across one of those Random Word Encounters. His writings are sprinkled with them, and this in turn, had a wonderful, enriching effect on my vocabulary and caused me to always be on the look out for new and exciting words.

You hit the nail on the head concerning this in your post. He made a profound, over-arcing and indelible mark on me, the hobby/gaming world, and so much more.