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Dungeons & Dragons Online Column: Wayback Wednesday: A Salute to Gary Gygax

By Robert Lashley on March 13, 2013

E. Gary Gygax was born on July 27, 1938 and passed away on March 4th, 2008. Last week on Wayback Wednesday, to honor the fifth anniversary of Gary’s passing, we paid tribute to the man who is the father of the modern role playing game. Grab your sack of dice and gather up your friends. Its time to take a trip down the RPG memory lane.

We started our evening playing Dungeons & Dragons Online. We quickly made our way to Delera’s Tomb in House Jorasco. The Delera’s Tomb quest chain features the voice of Gary as the guest Dungeon Master. Turbine has also placed a marker in the graveyard commemorating Gary’s work over the course of his life. After we finished the first quest in the series anything that could resemble a successful play session of DDO stopped and we proceeded to share our experiences with Dungeons & Dragons, strategy games, and collectible trading card games.

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Gary was born in Chicago, Illinois but spent most of his life in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. His father moved his family there when Gary was 8 years old. Growing up, Gary was interested in a number of games but it was his love of miniature war gaming that would eventually lead him into becoming the Dungeon Master we all know today. While most kids would be content to play with their toy soldiers, shouting “pow pow you're dead” at the top of their lungs, which would inevitably lead to the kids entering into a screaming match with their adversary (formerly friend and playmate), forcing to one child packing up his soldiers and heading home, Gary and his friend Don Kaye were not most kids. Gary and Don liked to make rules for their soldiers that governed play. It was this love of creating rules and making games that would drive Gary the rest of his life.


E. Gary Gygax (photo courtesy of Gamasutra)

Like most of us, Gary started out his career with a mundane job. In fact Gary sold insurance so mundane might be a little too glamorous of a title for it. But it was during this time in the 1960s that Gary started the International Federation of Wargamers. It was with this club that Gary hosted the first Lake Geneva Convention (GenCon) in 1968. It was at a future GenCon that Gary would meet Dave Arneson: the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons.

Early on Gary was primarily focused on strategy and miniature games. He continued to make a number of games while working odd jobs. It wasn’t until 1973 that Gary founded Tactical Studio Rules (TSR Inc.) with his friend and now business partner Don Kaye. They also brought a money man into the deal to help finance their operations, Brian Blume. 1974 saw the first publication of Dungeons & Dragons, now referred to as the “White Box.” 1977 saw the release of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.


There have been a number of campaign settings for D&D over the years. While most recently the Forgotten Realms has become the popular setting for novels and video games but before the Realms there was Gary’s campaign setting the world of Greyhawk. This was a world that Gary had created while running his own personal games. The picture below is from the World of Greyhawk folio released in 1980.

Gary left TSR Inc. in 1986. The events that lead up to his departure read like a B-movie script about a great business gone bad. This is appropriate since Gary was spending most of his time at this point in Hollywood working on licensing the D&D property into a successful cartoon franchise and trying to work on a movie deal.

After Gary’s departure from TSR he continued to make RPG’s until his death. The amount of influence that Gary had on fantasy and sci-fi RPG’s is immeasurable. Every MMO, RPG, and TCG that we play can somehow trace their roots back to D&D. If you have ever played one of the MMOs here Gary’s legacy has touched your life. His influence has been far-reaching and the man is missed by many.

I can remember as a kid watching my uncles play D&D with their college friends. They even used that Greyhawk map I have pictured above. I couldn’t have been older than 3 or 4 at the time but I would watch them in awe as they navigated painted pewter figures across that very map. Years later they passed on all of their hand-down D&D stuff to me when I was a teen. While I have lost the pewter figures and dice they stored in a Crown Royal bag (I used to move around a lot), I still have those hex maps, character sheets, handbooks, and modules. It was really the maps and the art in the manuals that drew me in and grabbed ahold.


The World of Greyhawk (Photo Courtesy of My Man Cave Floor)

I recently took my son to The Fantasy Shop by where we live for his first visit to a hobby gaming store. We spent an hour wandering around the store looking at D&D guides, Pathfinder manuals, Warhammer codies, and all the miniature games they had. We watched a few groups of players playing Magic the Gathering and Warhammer 40k. My son was very interested in the players measuring out their effective weapon distance with small measuring tapes. By the time we prepared to leave, the son decided that he wanted to get a set of Dungeon Commander. So we picked up a box set for him and a box set for me. We then went home and played for the next 4 hours. It is a miracle at times to get an eight year-old to sit still for four minutes much less four hours. My son and I had a blast and he cannot wait for me to get home from work today so we can play again. Thank you, Gary.

What about you? What are you first or fondest memories of RPGs? How have they touched your life? Please feel free to share your stories with me in the comments below.

For this week’s episode of Wayback we are heading to Cathal Valley in Dark Age of Camelot. Do not forget you still have time to enter for a chance to win a 30 day time code for DAoC. Just follow the link and tell us what is your favorite realm and why.  You can see the action live starting at 9:30 pm EST on our live stream channel http://www.mmorpg.com/streams.cfm. I hope to see you in the Valley.

Robert Lashley /  Robert Lashley is a Staff Writer and Online host for MMORPG.com and RTSGuru.com. Rob's bald and when he isn't blinding people from the glare on his head talking in front of a camera you can chase him down on twitter @Grakulen


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