You know, if I make a habit of tributes to recently deceased creators, this is going to become one very maudlin blog very quickly. This year has gotten pretty cruel only three months in. But this one I have to do.
When E. Gary Gygax created DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS together with friend Dave Arneson, he probably didn’t know just what he was doing. D&D was actually released first as a rules supplement to the pair’s miniatures wargame CHAINMAIL, suggesting rules for taking individual figures and using them to represent heroic adventurers exploring caves and forbidden labyrinths full of monsters and treasure. It sold like hotcakes and was quickly published as a stand-alone game, and with that, the entire hobby and medium of the role playing game was created. D&D wasn’t the first RPG I ever played, but when I discovered what these games were it was one of the first I had to have. It was the touchstone, the center of this weird new world, and I’ve followed it from that bright red box to the game it is today, and the one that’s just on the horizon. Gygax had tapped into something big- the desire to identify with the heroes of fiction and myth and to put oneself in their shoes- and placed it in an appealingly straightforward package. However complex the rules may become, the appeal is direct and visceral; fighting orcs and ogres, dodging traps, casting spells, and swiping vast hoards of gold and maybe finding a magic sword or two.
It’s all so wonderfully geeky, and for a brief period in my life I thought this was something to be a bit embarassed about. But let’s face it, fun is fun and there’s no point in being ashamed of a hobby that encourages creativity, imagination, and getting together with friends. Despite being almost perpetually a niche hobby that gets mainstream attention sporadically and rarely flatteringly, the industry that D&D started has survived increasingly intense competition from video games offering the same heroic thrills with less math and more pictures, and seems unlikely to ever truly die. And there’s a unique value to what RPGs do which goes beyond the trappings of genre- at heart, a roleplaying game is one where you can try anything, where the only limit is how generous your game (or dungeon) master is. Any situation not specifically covered by a rule can be winged, and competition takes a backseat to just enjoying oneself.
Gary Gygax’s contribution to pop culture and the lives of young geeks everywhere is a remarkable one, and really the rest of us can only hope to have that kind of impact. It’s sad to see him go, but comforting to know that his legacy continues unabated.