Obituaries

Gary Gygax, 1938-2008

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Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax has died at age 69.

Gygax always enjoyed hearing from the game's legion of devoted fans, many of whom would stop by the family's home in Lake Geneva, about 55 miles southwest of Milwaukee, his wife said. Despite his declining health, he hosted weekly games of Dungeons & Dragons as recently as January, she said.

"It really meant a lot to him to hear from people from over the years about how he helped them become a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman, what he gave them," [widow Gail] Gygax said. "He really enjoyed that."

It's hard to imagine a the video game world evolving the way it did without Gygax; it's tougher still to imagine the normalization of web interaction and the rise of things like Second Life. In 2004, Kevin Parker traced the history of interactive gaming for reason, and in 2002 Chris Mooney did whatever the digital equivilent is of "shoe-leather reporting," treading inside the world of J.R.R. Tolkein games, to understand the tug of the fantasies that inspired Gygax. Chicken John Rinaldi e-mails reason:

Of all the people who contributed to the culture that made you who you are and championed the idea that you can do anything, be anything and do anything any way you want to however you can think it up… Gary Gygax wrote the book. Literally. He wrote the Dungeon Masters Guide, the greatest book ever written. Human nature, science, play, stats, history, geography, logistics and encumbrance… hit points, armor class, fantasy colliding with fact to make it all so real you just got swept away and actually forgot that you were a teenage idiot with no way out. Gary Gygax saved more lives than pennacillian. When I was 10, he was 39. He knew he was writing a book for 10 year olds… but never talked down to us. He was the only adult presence in my life from the time I was 10 to the time I was like 15 that didn't preach, didn't talk down and didn't have any parameters.

Advanced Dungeons and Dragons may be the butt end of the joke to some of you, but to others who understand you are taking a moment right now to remember the magic missle, the basalik and the mirror trick, White Plume Mountain, The Lich from Tomb of Horrors, Loth and the spider minions, Fonnakin Hoddypeak and astral projection.

Gary Gygax should win a Nobel Peace Prize. Either Obama or Clinton should recognize his death… and cinch the nomination. Gary had more fans than Jesus, likely. And no enemies. I am truly saddened that his life was so short, but I'm sure it was fuller than anything I can imagine. I have always wanted to meet him. Life is simply too short.

After the trouble he's gotten into from Goolsbee and Rezko, I think Obama's going to stay away from creative types with curious ethnic names.

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  1. This is a sad day for the human imagination.

  2. I guess he failed his saving throw.

  3. Wow, can you imagine playing a game with GARY GYGAX as DM?

  4. All right, my first urge was to offer sympathy the legions of geeks out there and to conjure the image of them dressed in their goofy medieval get-ups wailing, gnashing teeth, etc., but that little bit quoted above is quite sweet, and I did play D&D for a year or two as a pre-teen (is that what they now call “tween”?)

    RIP, GG.

  5. GYGAX
    Hit Points = -10

  6. highnumber =

    No, “tweens” is a marketing term for kids 10-13 or so. Basically teens who dont quite yet experiment with sex, drugs, fighting, doing everything possible to annoy parents.

    Big D&D cohort, though.

  7. Episiarch =

    damn you for beating me to the same joke. DAMN YOU!!!

    I still like mine better. It’s more technically “dead” in D&D terms.

  8. I’ll second Rinaldi’s point that Gygax’s great virtue was that he never talked down to you. Quite the opposite. He forced you up a few intellectual notches.

    Dungeons and Dragons’ books and games were filled with so much esoteric mythology, religion, folklore and terminology that I constantly found myself reaching for a dictionary or an encyclopedia every time I played just to keep up.

    The game probably doubled my ten-year old vocabulary. It’s not like I would have ever had an interest in looking up a word like “prestidigitator” or “homunculus” if I hadn’t played the game.

  9. GILMORE,
    So tweens are pre-teens that are now officially being marketed to.

  10. He was a great man and we shall all miss him. I doff my helm in his honor.

    I also call dibs on his +1 axe.

  11. Gary Gygax will be missed.

  12. I was 25 and in college when a neighbor in married-student housing introduced me to D&D.

    More evidence that engineers never grow up I guess.

  13. BTW Goolsbee isn’t THAT curious a name. 😉

    –chuck

  14. I don’t know much about G. Gygax, but after reading the correspondence above I can say, with some confidence, that “Chicken John Rinaldi” is the stupidest human being ever to walk the earth.

  15. What a bummer. I played religiously as a 10-12 year old. One of my biggest regrets is selling all my D&D books (and I had them all…DM Guide, Monster Manual I & II, Deities & Demigods, Fiend Folio, you name it) to some guy back in the early 90s for virtually nothing.

  16. damn you for beating me to the same joke. DAMN YOU!!!

    I still like mine better. It’s more technically “dead” in D&D terms.

    Believe whatever you need to. I was on that joke like an umber hulk in a dungeon crawl.

  17. This is a sad day for the human imagination.

    I gotta disagree. Never played DnD — but as far as I can tell (especially from the comments here), he was a good human being. This should be a day of celebrating the life of someone that has done good in the world.

  18. I can’t really express the influence on my life of the games that Mr. Gygax championed. When I discovered role playing games in grade 7, I joined the small, generally poorly regarded gaming club we had at school (where we were completely unallowed to play D&D, ’cause it was SATANIC!), and met a group of people who became my family. I still see them every week, and they are some of the best, brightest, and most creative and stimulating people I know. We don’t necessarily play that many games any more, but the relationships we created through the medium of role-playing have lasted, and will last, the rest of our lives. Thank you, Mr. Gygax, for everything you did directly for the gaming industry, and indirectly, for my life.

  19. The lich in Tomb of Horrors was technically a demi-lich, so suck it.

  20. Believe whatever you need to. I was on that joke like an umber hulk in a dungeon crawl.

    I shall continue to believe you stole it from the fark headline. Before I could.

  21. This is truly a loss for all gamers. The time I have spent over the last 20 years or so in a world of imagination is a direct result of his genius. I have made many friends and had many good times because of his game. Rest well

  22. I don’t need to steal it from fark. I stole it from (wipes tear from eye, sobs) Gary himself…

  23. This is a sad day for the human imagination.

    I gotta disagree.

    I don’t. Think about it. Because of these games young people* in the U.S. have way more peaceful contacts with young people* of other countries than the U.S. State Department. Hard to go to war against someone you’ve slain orks with.

    [Taps]

    *From tweens to grayhairs who still think young.

  24. Hard to go to war against someone you’ve slain orks with.

    Not if you’re both in Alliance and the other guy switches to Horde.

  25. If nothing else, thousands of his followers may come out of their respective mom’s basements to attend the funeral. They can use the sunlight and fresh air so some good may come of this.

    Rumour has it that there might even be a GIRL there…

    Jake
    (who is as big a D&D geek as anybody)

  26. His Myspace page http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=30276142

    Gary “friended” my Campaign page before the 2006 Senate Primary.

  27. I’d like to say thanks to a man who brought us all together over books, polyhedral dice, and fun!

  28. I used to read the books religiously from cover to cover in middle school but never played much. Which might be even more nerdy than playing. Still got the Monster Manual with the cover that looks like it was drawn by somebody in study hall around here somewhere. They were very involving and about 100x more interesting than anything we read in school.

  29. It was Lolth, dammit. He should have been a theif, they have a much better saving throw versus death

  30. Where’s a high level cleric when you need one?

  31. Ah, the good ol days.

    I seem to recall that there was a rumor about Gygax stealing the consept from someone else or something like that. I didn’t believe it then and no one has backed that assertion up as far as I know.

    Also, when I was in high school, there was a church (non-afilliated) that handed out pamphlets declaring that in one of the D&D manuals the word “demon” appeared 70 times or some large number like that; and it’s true. The manual it referred to was the Monster Manual.

    I am religious; just not radical. These guys give religion a black eye.

  32. My mom once came running into my room, screaming and shaking a rattling film canister at me. How dare I bring “pills” into her house. I got her to open it finally. My D&D dice tumbled out.

  33. The dork in me (which is about 97% of me) is deeply saddened. He helped me survive junior high and the half of high school that didn’t involve driving. And when it comes to that age range, survival is the best you can do.

  34. “My mom once came running into my room, screaming and shaking a rattling film canister at me.”

    Funny story and LoL @ film canister. How quaint in this day and age of memory cards.

    GG GG (Good Game Gary Gygax). RIP. You made my childhood much more tolerable.

  35. He he, I have a similar memory. I would have been about thirteen, and some friends and I were playing in my room, and we were being noisy. She banged on the door, and asked what I was doing, and I told her the truth, “I’m summoning demons, ma.”

  36. GG GG (Good Game Gary Gygax). RIP. You made my childhood much more tolerable.

    AD&D, Black Sabbath, and Heavy Metal Magazine, those were my middle school years. Thank God, mum was (is) a hippie who didn’t make it worse by suppressing the good stuff.

  37. RIP Gary.
    This is a sad day. We have Gary to thank for all of the X’ers that grew up trying to min-max everything Gary wrote rules for and then turned into America’s IT staff. For the Libertarians out there, AD&D was probably the first real introduction (you can forget about government education) to the fact that life (or at least your favorite wizard’s life) was governed by rules and there were consequences to ignoring them. I know I’m sounding a whole lot like John Rinaldi but the world lost more than it realizes with the passing of its greatest DM.

  38. People, people, people …
    Gary Gygax is in hell. You know how many kids he doomed to eternal damnation?
    I don’t know, but I’m sure it’s quite a few.

    1. How do you figure that?

  39. My mom once came running into my room, screaming and shaking a rattling film canister at me. How dare I bring “pills” into her house. I got her to open it finally. My D&D dice tumbled out.

    I looked up in the manuals the name of every demon and devil they ever mentioned and wrote them down on a “scroll” which I rolled up and kept.

    Thank God I’m an atheist and so are my parents–they didn’t blink an eye.

  40. And don’t forget, thanks to Gary Gygax, Libertarians have a simple way of describing government. Government = lawful evil.

  41. Didn’t the Utah government try, or even succeed in, banning D&D back in the day? I guess the good burghers of Salt Lake City can rest a little easier today…

  42. My first two years of college, I took all my exams with my dice in my custom leather pouch around my neck.

  43. Mr. West, excellent point.

    On every alignment test I’ve ever taken, I’ve come up as a strong Chaotic Good myself.

    Is there a stronger connection than just this between the World’s Smallest Political Quiz and Gygax’s AD&D alignment test? It doesn’t seem that (modern) conservatives and liberals map to any particular alignment so well.

  44. If you where to wring the tears out of every cheeto-stained Rush t-shirt in America right now, you’d have an ocean.

  45. What an incredibly stupid, callous, and most definitely UNCHRISTIAN thing for for Jamie Kelly to say. Play acting and role playing in a game that involved demons and evil is NOT the same thing as worshipping those forces. And besides, since you didn’t know the man personally and are not God, you really don’t know where his soul is now, do you?

  46. Is there a stronger connection than just this between the World’s Smallest Political Quiz and Gygax’s AD&D alignment test?

    Like this?

  47. I had the opportunity to see Gary Gygax running a game in at the TSR HQ in Lake Geneva in the early 1980’s. I was struck by his passion and imagination. He brought the experience to life for all – those playing and those just sitting back and watching. As I told my 15 year old son today – without him, the face of gaming would be different today – World of Warcraft, etc. A heartfelt thanks to the owner of the genre and best wishes to his family. He made a difference for many people.

  48. Warren, that’s almost exactly what I want. Now if I can just find a chart that tells me how much a typical yearly salary for members of the various D&D classes is likely to be, I’d be very grateful.

  49. Thanks for the fun, Gary

  50. I’ll be raising a flagon of mead to your name this night. Travel well my friend.

    -Groggy

  51. Gary Gygax is in hell. You know how many kids he doomed to eternal damnation?
    I don’t know, but I’m sure it’s quite a few.

    Roll 5d100.

  52. Like so many others, Mr. Gygax’s influence on my life is hard to measure – enabling me to effectively use the ability to create on such a vast scale through simple paper, math and imagination (and some odd shaped dice) has given me a broader appreciation for the universe in general that I would have had otherwise.

    Would we have WoW, LOTRO, EQ, EVE – and any number of other alternate universes to explore without the mind of this pioneer? Perhaps – but maybe he brought it to us earlier that would have been the case.

    Thank you, Gary Gygax, for your gift to us . .

    We roll black D20s tonight…

  53. I remember while shopping in a North Carolina bookstore circa 1985 overhearing a boy, about ten, asking his mother to buy a D&D game. The mom wigged out, responding with a barrage of crap about how “Satanic” the game was.

    I knew nothing of D&D, but from that day forward, Gygax became a hero of mine. I figured anyone who could provoke such a conniption from a Bible-thumping bubblehead was all right in my book. R.I.P. Mr. Gygax…

  54. I started playing D&D in 1978, and have played practically every week since (sometimes more than once). In fact, my involvement in Dungeons & Dragons has lasted longer than all of my relationships put together. In the busy hustle of jobs, families and endless responsibilities, D&D has been a constant source of entertainment and constitutes (this may be sad) most of my social life.
    My thanks to Gary Gygax…D&D will never be the same.

  55. Jim Walsh, I think you’ll enjoy this:

    http://www.fecundity.com/darkdung/index.html

  56. RIP Mordenkainen


  57. As a wargamer (a genuine SPI grognard), I first encountered D&D in the ’70s when it was nothing more than TSR’s medieval miniatures combat rules – Chainmail – with some embellishments, and it was being played by graduate students and postgrad fellows of my acquaintance.

    Interesting stuff, I thought, but nothing for us cardboard-counter-pushing kriegspielers, who thought in terms of historical corps and divisions, not fantasmagorical individual characters and critters.

    I would admonish readers at this time not to forget Gygax’s collaborator in the creation of Dungeons & Dragons, one Mr. Dave Arneson – who is very much still around.

    As for Gygax having had “no enemies….”

    Well, the guy who wrote that didn’t know Gary – or the “adventure gaming” industry – very well at all!

  58. First Buckley, now Gygax. Wonder what the big guy’s up to. Andy Kauffman and Bill Buckley in a D&D game DM’d by Gygax.

    Was introduced to D&D back in the early 80’s. Spent quite a few alcohol and other substance fueled nights playing various characters. Quite a bit of fun. Actually a lot more challenging mentally than many of the computer based RPG’s most folks play now. Not as much imagination required.

    RIP

  59. Tonight I went to my weekly Tuesday evening of dinner, miniature painting, and polite conversation with my fellow 30-something-and-older gamers at my favorite Milwakuee-area game store. Of course, Gygax’s death was THE topic of conversation along with Brett Farve’s retirement. (This IS Wisconsin after all, and even the Cheesehead nerds do try to keep up with the goings on in Packerland.)

    Believe it or not, I’ve never actually played D&D, either classic or D20. My gaming interests primarily lie in science fiction, so Traveller and Star Frontiers were my RPGs of choice. However, you can’t deny the foundation D&D created for role-playing and Gygax’s part in it.

    As for the current state of gaming… Not to sound superior, but I don’t touch WoW, Everquest, or any of the computer-based games. For me, imagining the setting and the action is part of the fun. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t like the idea of a microprocessor doing my imagining for me.

    Nope, give me a pen, a record sheets, some minis, and a Crown Royal bag full of Chessex dice and I’ll be one happy gaming geek.

  60. Heh..loved whoever said “lets not forget Dave Arneson’s role in co-creating D&D” Why not? Gygax certainly tried hard to!! Arneson had to sue him to jog his memory.

    It often seemed like the various folks involved with TSR had a rule that they needed at least 1 lawsuit per supplement.

  61. I used to read the books religiously from cover to cover in middle school but never played much.

    Same here. I’m sure I read the manuals more than I played the game. I did play a fair bit but I really sucked at it.

    Government = lawful evil

    Good one!

  62. Re joe | March 4, 2008, 3:21pm | # My son used to be in a regular campaign DM’d by a Lake Geneva, Wisconsin denizen name of “Ernie.” Occasionally, the party would include Ernie’s dad, Gary. Like playing catch with Abner Doubleday. RIP, Gary.

  63. Well, TSR is long gone and dead, bought by Wizard’s of the Coast and then Hasbro (well, Hasbro bought Wizard’s). Arneson had a role in D&D’s genesis, of course, but he’s not the one who just passed on to his reward in the Upper Planes. So, goodbye Dungeon Master, may all the dice in heaven come up 20. And may your THAC0 always be 1.

  64. “And don’t forget, thanks to Gary Gygax, Libertarians have a simple way of describing government. Government = lawful evil.”

    Lawful Neutral, I would say. The state just doesn’t concern itself much with the micro concerns of good/evil.

  65. I am changing my alignment and God to Gygax

  66. I loved playing D&D as a teenage kid. My friends and I would meet at the local public library. More than once we got so into it that we got thrown out.

    Anyone who thinks D&D is evil or corrupting doesn’t understand the adolescent mind. D&D saved me from an otherwise very lonely and tragic childhood. Later I became a Christian. I honestly think the mythology of D&D helped me make that decision. (Similar to JRR Tolkein telling CS Lewis that Christianity was a “myth that happened to be true.”)

    When I hear Christians put D&D down, I wonder if they have a life at all. (Not that I did. But I do now.)

  67. I can only assume that Gygax’s mausoleum will be an extensive underground complex that is evenly divisible into ten foot by ten foot squares.

  68. Nope, give me a pen, a record sheets, some minis, and a Crown Royal bag full of Chessex dice and I’ll be one happy gaming geek.

    Chessex? Those marbles? Pah! Give me Gamescience or give me death!

  69. I posted on Gygax’s death over at OpenMarket.org, the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s blog.

    http://www.openmarket.org/2008/03/04/rip-gary-gygax/

    We should remember the controversies that surrounded D&D during its infancy–the same kind of hype that surround the suppose negative effects of video games. It was once thought that D&D would lead youngsters to embrace the occult. Seems about as silly as the idea that playing a video game will make you into a rampaging sociopath. Hopefully in a few decades we’ll look back at video games as a harmless pastime, just like D&D.

    RIP Gary.

  70. What a pioneer! I was 10 years old when my dad (an Army Sgt.) told me about a cool game that some of his privates were playing. Even though I was a Hobbit, I got an invitation to their weekly game. I played, you guessed it, a Halfling thief. For the first time, I was an equal amongst adult real-life warriors. I was the sole survivor of the adventure (I fled when everyone else died). Hooked for life!

  71. …and got a million geeks laid.

  72. Hell is stupid people.

  73. (that was regarding the EGG is in hell comment)

  74. Gary Gygax, 1938-2008

    I search his body for gold.

  75. Good night, sweet prince. You will be missed.

    If only we had 5,000 gp in diamonds…

  76. Rest in Peace Mr. Gygax

    Game on

  77. @Tom C: “I can only assume that Gygax’s mausoleum will be an extensive underground complex that is evenly divisible into ten foot by ten foot squares.

    Now THAT would be a module worth writing!

    I started playing D&D as a freshman in high school, either late 1977 or early 1978. We played at school, at home, and (later, briefly) in the steam tunnels at CalTech.

    Ten years later I went to my first Gen Con (1987). Ten years after THAT, I met Gary at another Gen Con (1997), and exchanged emails once or twice after that. I got involved with TSR and later WotC because I couldn’t NOT participate, when given a chance.

    Although not everybody held Gary in the same high regard*, he was very definitely the elder statesman of role playing games, and to watch him play was to believe that magic was real. For thirty years, I’ve striven to be half the DM he was. It’s sad that he’s not around any more, but I think he’s done well to prepare me — and millions of others — to complete the adventure in his absence.

    — Tim

    *Remember the buttons that said “SPI died for your sins”? ;o)

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  82. The Lich from Tomb of Horrors, Loth and the spider minions, Fonnakin Hoddypeak and astral projection.
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