Gary Gygax has passed away, according to reports on various games websites. Gary popularised the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game that he and Dave Arneson created, and went on to be the only name associated with the development of the game in popular gaming lore. Gary undeniably turned what started as an amateurish product into a successful and highly professional looking game that gripped students across the world from the late 1970s onwards.
I was one of those students. I was introduced to D&D in the sixth form when a group of us managed to wangle our way out of playing rugby and cricket and instead took over the geography room at Chatham House Grammar School, Ramsgate, to play games of another sort. It was a good time: we had D&D, punk rock and those ginormous cans of imported Foster’s lager that existed before the British brewing industry ruined another perfectly good foreign beer.
Inspired initially by D&D, the trio of Marc Gascoigne, Mike Lewis and myself eventually went on to produce roleplaying fanzine DragonLords, a publication that would eventually lead me to work on Games Workshop’s White Dwarf magazine and then a 20-year career in real journalism. Marc, also employed by Games Workshop, ghost-wrote numerous Fighting Fantasy books for Games Workshop’s Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson, and ultimately became an editor of some renown for Games Workshop’s Black Library; Mike and I now run wargames figures businesses and have again begun publishing our games ideas through Oozlum Games. Without D&D there would probably have been no DragonLords and all our careers might have been all too horribly and conventionally different.
I met Gary once at one Games Fair, a convention organised by TSR UK at Reading University. Gary was enthusiastically running a game, and I caught him on camera being eaten by a giant map that he was unfurling. To be fair he wouldn’t know me from Adam, and by then both Gary and his pronouncements on D&D were objects of fun to those of us in the amateur roleplaying press.
Gary no doubt made enemies in the process of making D&D the phenomenal success that it was. He excited ridicule by trying to insist on doing things one official way when the game itself countered such rigidity by encouraging enormous creativity and thought among its players. Reflecting on what I now do – which is trying to make a living out of the things I like most, wargames and toy soldiers – I can only envy him for being able to do something that he clearly enjoyed so much for so long and for money.
The great Gary Gygax has gone adventuring. We should all be glad that he took so many of us along the same path.