Remembering Gary Gygax

Gary Gygax - the original Dungeon Master

Gary Gygax’s name wasn’t on the cover of the first D&D book I owned. Inside, in the example of play, one character mysteriously jokes that “Gary sent us!” when parlaying with some goblins. That is when I first encountered the name of the man who was to have a big influence on my life.

I soon learnt a bit more about him, the boxed set I’d been given as a birthday present included Keep on the Borderlands and this did have Gary’s name on the front – a slightly otherworldly name at that… Gygax…

In addition, the box set held TSR promotional material, including a brochure that suggested gamers come to GenCon for the chance to meet the “grandmaster adventurer Gary Gygax” or words to that effect.

Who was this mysterious designer of fantastic places and excellent games?

As I became immersed in the RPG hobby I read more of Gary’s material and began to hear opinions about him, good and bad. It is a strange thing but many RPG enthusiasts approach games with the mind-set of sports fans – games they like are supported, games they dislike, and their designers, are denigrated. As the designer of the first and greatest of the RPGs Gary seemed to come in for a lot of stick. There were many keen to knock his work while talking up the games they preferred.

Years passed, the young lad who liked RPGs became a man who still liked RPGs but I stopped reading magazines and wasn’t in touch with many players. I just played the games I liked with friends old and new.

It was with some sorrow that I learned Gary experienced business challenges and was no longer in charge of the D&D line. I saw Mythus in a local game shop but before I’d had a chance to buy it the game disappeared.

It was in 1998 when I first started corresponding with Gary. I’d recently got on the web and was delighted to find that Gary had a website. I was working on a website of my own and wondered if the great man himself would contribute to it. I didn’t really expect a reply when I first emailed Gary but much to my surprise I received back a long and friendly response. Gary said he might be able to contribute something in the future and asked if I’d like to join his discussion list – and so I did.

Gary’s discussion list was amazing. A hotbed of political and religious argument one day and talking shop for RPG rules the next. I’m pleased to say many list members are my friends to this day. Everything and anything was discussed. I learned about Gary’s new game – Legendary Adventure as it was called at the time (the “j” came later).

Gary used to give us weekly updates from his home campaign. It was in response to one such post that I made some suggestions for an adventure locale. I was a bit hesitant in doing so, after all you shouldn’t try to teach the DM of DMs how to suck eggs.

To my surprise Gary invited me to design an adventure with him. I was astonished and delighted. Gary’s writing had always enthralled me and now I was to write with him. I can still remember my sense of surprise and wonder.

We ended up designing an as yet unpublished adventure called the Well of Shadows. I shall say no more about it here, save that it is a ziggurat of death and horror and maybe the most challenging fantasy scenario a band of heroes could ever brave.

That collaboration led on to many more, I wrote a series of adventures for the LA game, assisted in various projects, co-wrote books for Mongoose Publishing, acted as a content editor, oversaw the work of other writers, and helped develop numerous texts. It was a great time.

In another article I talk about Gary’s amazing output. He had a great capacity for work and even his increasing ill health didn’t stop him producing wonderful books and ideas.

Gary was an inspiration to a circle of writers and designers. Many of them still produce RPG material. But his legacy goes beyond games.

Today, the date of his birth, must be a difficult one for Gary’s family, a day of memories, a day of happiness and sorrow. His many fans miss his work and online presence but for his widow Gail Gygax, his six children, and many grandchildren, the loss is incalculable, personal, and heavy.

I believe Gary’s widow Gail Gygax is doing a wonderful job with the Memorial Fund. Fantasy fans will visit Gary’s monument for generations. Getting the 1st Edition AD&D books reprinted was a massive coup. I tip my hat to everyone involved.

When I think of the years I admired Gary’s writing, and then the amazing opportunity I had to work with him, it makes me happy. I think of his kindness, that he would take time to read my concerns and give me advice, and that he would always be there with a funny story, contentious opinion, whimsical fact, or brilliant adventure idea.

In a very real way I believe Gary is still with us, he has influenced so many people to become achievers and to turn their dreams into reality. He has made young people into readers and inspired people to educate themselves. His legacy is present in every person who read his books or who has enjoyed the genre of games, films, and literature he did so much to create and inspire.

8 Comments

  1. Dave Newton
    Jul 28, 2012

    Jon,
    Send me an e-mail with your address and I can at least send you a copy of the first two Mythus books. I don’t have spares of all the books, but The first two were the core rules, anyway.

    Regards,
    Dave Newton

    • Jagjeet
      Sep 6, 2012

      I finally tried this new-fangled podasct-thingie and the thing I got out of this Tim Kask interview the most was the collaborative process on designing the original supplements and where the inspiration came from for psionics. I never would have guessed it; I always assumed there were some sci fi books from the 1970s I hadn’t read where that came from.

  2. rafael beltrame
    Jul 28, 2012

    very nice words, thanks for sharing :)

    • Hilal
      Sep 5, 2012

      I am saddened to read about the pssaing of Gary Gygax. Many many hours Phil, Jeff, and I sat around a grid tossing 4, 8, 10, and 20 sided dice while attacking the unknown and, of course, coming out victorious. Dungeons and Dragons was not only a great time, it taught us at a very young age to work together, plan together, think creatively, and most importantly, taught us that it is sometimes better NOT to fight but instead try to talk with the unknown monster aproaching us.D&D will always have a special place in my heart. Farewell Gary…Mark

  3. Matt Wilson
    Jul 28, 2012

    A really nice piece Jon, Thanks. We certainly have a lot to thank Gary for..

  4. Chris Clark
    Jul 30, 2012

    Wow. Very nice Jon. This really touched me. I can see why you have chosen writing as a career; you’re very good.

    • Marcela
      Sep 6, 2012

      Dude I love these drawings!!! More, more, more!!! And we toltaly gotta play some time. Heck we could drive up just for that! Ever since you described the soundtracks and your awesome dungeons and storylines, Gale has been dyin to play again! P.S. Love the monster dude!

  5. Santi
    Sep 5, 2012

    Excellent interview.He had lots of inrteesting stuff to say. Mr. Kask definitely has my gratitude for magic missiles that automatically hit.My only disappointment is hearing him speak out of ignorance about newer RPGs. To speak about it as if the players are consulting tables like actuaries and figuring out their chance of success and declining encounters is baffling.Everyone’s allowed to like what they like and not like what they don’t like though.

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