Free Minds & Free Markets

D&D Creator Gary Gygax's FBI Records Make Him Sound Like a Badass

"He is known to be a member of the Libertarian Party."

About a year ago I filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the FBI's files on TSR, Inc., the company that originally published the iconic Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game.

I received several dozen pages of records back on Wednesday, including a May 1995 FBI report that contained several paragraphs on Gary Gygax, the game's beloved creator. D&D may have been the summit of nerd culture in the '80s, but the FBI makes Gygax sound hardcore.

An FBI source in the report alleges that Gygax was "eccentric and frightening," carried a weapon, proudly responded to every letter he received from an inmate, and had a Liberian holding company. It concludes: "He is known to be a member of the Libertarian Party."

Check it out:

1995 FBI report1995 FBI report

In short, Gary Gygax wasn't a snitch and fought the power. When Gygax died in 2008, one of his many fans, the San Francisco artist Chicken John Rinaldi, wrote in an email to Reason eulogizing the original dungeon master:

Gary Gygax saved more lives than penicillin. 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.

Photo Credit: Alan De Smet

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  • Rich||

    An FBI source in the report alleges that Gygax was "eccentric and frightening"

    "Just the facts, Ma'am."

  • Robbzilla||

    D&D was VERY nerdy when I first played it.

    Now, I play it with my friends and my wife, and it's still nerdy, but being a nerd is much more acceptable than in the early 80s.

  • WakaWaka||

    "D&D Creator Gary Gygax's FBI Records Make Him Sound Like a Badass"

    True. But, at the same time, writing anything about Dungeons and Dragons never makes you look 'cool'.

  • Red Rocks Baiting n Inciting||

    Eh., from what I understand, D&D in the early years wasn't nearly as goony and nerd-centric as it eventually became. It appears to have become a virgin dork institution around the time the 2nd edition rules came out and TSR's staff gravitated towards crafting soap-opera quality fantasy novels out of their own gaming sessions.

  • Rhywun||

    around the time the 2nd edition rules came out

    Yeah, it was a mix of nerds and "cool" kids when I played in the early 80s.

  • SchillMcGuffin||

    I started playing back in 7th grade in 1975-76, and the early arc was a little more complicated. When it was new enough not to have any reputation at all, there was curiosity about it from a broader range of kids. Our then GM talked our 8th grade English teacher into letting him run a game during school hours, when she'd been stuck with doubled-up classes one day a week due to some sort of scheduling glitch, and was happy to be able to concentrate on the less-advanced kids.

    Nevertheless, it was the nerdiest "virgin dork" kids like myself who really stuck with it as a hobby, and its reputation was pretty well cemented by the time the "white box" version transitioned into "1st edition AD&D" -- which I'd mark with the release of the AD&D Player's Handbook in 1978.

    What really sealed things in the popular imagination was the "Egbert case" in 1979 -- the 16 year-old college student whose disappearance in conjunction with a failed suicide attempt was initially blamed on his having "gotten too caught up in the game" and run off to live it in the campus steam tunnels -- the inspiration for the book/TV movie Mazes and Monsters.

    2nd Edition was a full 10 years after '89, after the "Satanic Panic" had long since peaked, and was partly an effort to expunge the Christian-inspired demons from the Monster Manual and duck out from under that controversy -- many old hands rejected it then as an "appeasement" gesture.

  • Zhodanius||

    Oh, it was considered pretty darned nerdy where I grew up in New Jersey. My friends and I started playing with the Basic Edition in late 1977 (7th / 8th graders). We pretty much had to hide the fact that we played from nearly everyone else we were friends with because of the game's associations with brainy, nerdy kids. We strove to avoid the whole look of the typical D&D player.

    It's sad, in a way. I was at my 30th HS reunion and talking to some of the other formerly nerdy kids and there were a lot of D&D groups. Same for college. But I never felt comfortable enough to seek other groups out because I did not want to be associated with "those types." I would have had a lot of fun, had I been a bit bolder.

    But anyway, admitting to playing D&D in the early days was a surefire way to ensure you never got invited to hang out with anyone "cool" or go to parties.

  • Baelzar||

    Ha. Gygax invented RPGs. While it might not have been cool when we played in 1980, it's pretty cool now.

    The man was a visionary. Geeks and nerds own the world.

  • Ama-Gi Anarchist||

    Actually, it was Dave Arneson (Gygax's Co-Creator) that is really the godfather of Roleplaying. Arneson's Blackmoor was the genesis of D&D (existing a full year before Gygax's Greyhawk). Gary, however, was the brains behind making it a business. Its kinda sad that both Gygax and Arneson are being forgotten in RPG culture now due to a myriad of reasons (not the least of which is Gygax's widow sitting on his IP and refusing to sell anything because she thinks its worth more than it is).

  • Robbzilla||

    As crass as it is to say, she can't live forever.

  • Ama-Gi Anarchist||

    Believe me, she has done a number of categorically stupid things including going after Ernie and Luke Gygax for using their name to create a Dragon Magazine-like publication called Gygax Magazine. This was a collection of the earliest D&D gamers and they were forced to shut down or face a legal battle that would bankrupt them.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    About a year ago I filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the FBI's files on TSR, Inc....

    So this is why the feds can never finish an investigation in a timely manner. People keep pestering them with FOIA requests! Trump will be out of office before they finally find out he was a Soviet spy.

  • Sevo||

    "Trump will be out of office before they finally find out he was a Soviet spy."

    They could just call Tony; he's got all the dope on that. But TSA probably wouldn't let him on the plane in the tin-foil hat.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Nonsense. Tony is far too busy getting fisted by baboons while performing analingus on morbidly obese feminist SJW's to pick up the phone.

  • SchillMcGuffin||

    It's interesting to me that the documents Ciaramella received seem to extend way beyond the 1980, Top Secret-inspired, raid. The part in which Gygax is called a crazy, gun-toting, Libertarian seems to relate to intellectual property and investment fraud issues, and some sort of package bombings targeting TSR in the early '90s, after Gygax had been bought/pushed out of the company. I'm guessing that when the number of documents they recover via keyword search is small enough, they don't even bother to parse out the specific relevance, but just hand over everything they have. That arguably raises some privacy issues, I suppose.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    That arguably raises some privacy issues, I suppose.

    That was in the back of my mind, actually.

  • Robbzilla||

    Yes, because the intern/clerk that pulled these records was VITAL to the Trump investigations! VITAL I TELL YA!

  • Ken Shultz||

    When I was in boarding school, it was a environment made for late night, weekend long, D&D campaigns.

    One of the more interesting cross cultural experiences I had was sitting in on a D&D game with a group of black friends in boarding school as they were playing. Yeah, it became the summit of nerd culture later--but in the pre-Apple II era, D&D wasn't especially nerdy, like Zeppelin writing songs about Tolkien wasn't nerdy.

    Looking back on watching the fellas play D&D now, it would seem really absurd, like The Onion's Herbert Kornfield talking like Tupac.

    Imagine watching Tupac and his fellow rappers sitting around playing D&D. That would be some funny shit!

    I imagine people in prison playing D&D would be like that. I bet there's been some epic campaigns in prison.

  • SchillMcGuffin||

    Apparently prisons have mixed feelings about role-playing games, with some banning them:

    ...and others not only allowing, but embracing them:

  • Paulpemb||

    On the one hand, role-playing games have always been considered a bad influence and a gateway to Satanism and cults, a lot of people. On the other, a lot of psychologists use them in therapy, letting patients act out scenarios without being personally involved.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Well I never got any satanic powers from playing the game. I think I was gypped.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    But enough about role play with your mom, what about d&d?

  • Brandybuck||

    I had a hardcore biker dude in my D&D game.

  • Steve Foerster||

    Snitches get 3d6 stitches.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Unless they make their saving throw on a d20.

  • Robert Crim||

    This sounds and looks like a piece of a "302" interview, which merely reports what the interviewee told the interviewing agent. Or, it may be a "302" reduced to an LHM (letterhead message). Existence of such a record does not necessarily mean that anyone in the Bureau believed it, although my experience with HEARNAP records is that FBI-HQ tries not to release information that has not been verified.

    Certainly it should not surprise Libertarians that a Libertarian did what he could to minimize rip-off by the IRS. Nor should we be surprised to learn that one likely highly supportive of the Second Amendment carried a gun. But, if you're an agent being sent to interview someone, knowledge of that can mean the difference between life and death. As we recently have had demonstrated in spades, not every political "extremist" can be trusted with a firearm, and it is begging credulity to claim that a party that habitually gets only one per cent of the vote is "mainstream."

    Indeed, I would consider being called "mainstream" an insult.

  • ||

    But, if you're an agent being sent to interview someone, knowledge of that can mean the difference between life and death. As we recently have had demonstrated in spades, not every political "extremist" can be trusted with a firearm, and it is begging credulity to claim that a party that habitually gets only one per cent of the vote is "mainstream."

    You say these two sentences back-to-back and question the credulity of the LP like the FBI is known for a) thwarting attacks rather than explicitly interviewing extremists and then closing the file and b) being the direct target of gun/combat attacks or the direct line of defense, rather than generally showing up after the dust has settled and discovering that they had files on the people doing the shooting.

    How many law abiding citizens has has the Libertarian Party systematically killed? How many known sociopaths has the LP interviewed prior to their committing multiple homicides?

  • Hugh Akston||

    Hey be fair. Sometimes the FBI also goads losers into extremism and then encourages them to plan and gather supplies for attacks before arresting them.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Wonder what my copy of Chainmail is worth now that we know one of the authors was a terrorist.

  • Brandybuck||

    Still got my copy. Somewhere. Damn, not I have to go dig it out.

  • HaroldA||

    Less than you'd probably hope, unless it's a first edition, early printing. If it's the much more common 3e and it's in good condition then you're probably looking at $100 or less. Don't go planning that yacht purchase yet.

  • Steve Foerster||

    I just looked online, and I can't even find a copy of the original Chainmail game available. It might be worth quite a bit.

  • Brandybuck||

    It was the first. Ain't selling it if I find it. It's NOT in good condition.

  • HaroldA||

    If it's a 1e copy that's pretty cool. Here's a useful link re the various editions: /setpages/chainmail.html

  • Robbzilla||

    I got my copy for 1 penny off of a clearance table at Michaels MJD, It's only a 4th or 5th printing, but it's still a great find IMHO.

  • Brandybuck||

    So yeah, Gygax and a tiny handful of others (Arneson) invented something new. But being geekdom, everyone was afraid to innovate beyond that. Imagine Budweiser inventing beer, and then the craft beer revolution obsessing with copying Budweiser. That's sort of how it was with D&D. Games that broke the mold were geeky to the geeks. Shunned by all but the geekiest. I remember getting kicked out of a gaming convention because I wasn't running an official D&D game. "Sorry, but there's a D&D group that needs your table". There was an entire decade in video games where no one would buy a video RPG unless it had a TSR logo on it. The Budweiser age of roleplaying didn't come to a close until the mid to late 1990s.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Wizardry and Ultima would like to have a word...

  • Brandybuck||

    Yes, I know, but those started out before the obsession with recreating D&D tabletop rules on the video screen. They were released for platforms too small to fit a simulacrum of D&D rules, so they got away with it. A half decade later things were different. Fallout was almost cancelled twice internally by Interplay for not being D&D. As late as two years ago there were people bitching that Pillars of Eternity wasn't using the D&D ruleset. Crazy.

    Shit, I'm just old and bitter. D&D has reached the state where people are arguing whether v4 or v5 is better, when to my mind that's like arguing between Bud and Coors. Give me a fucking Arrogant Bad Ale or Raging Bitch instead.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    They were successful for decades.

    3rd edition rules turned me off so badly i never looked back. I have no idea whether i would care for either v4 or v5.

  • Steve Foerster||

    Ditto. I skipped 4e altogether but really like 5e, and apparently that's very common.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Do you just flip classes every level or is it good?

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    Same for me as well, word of mouth alone stopped me from ever touching 4e. I played a lot of 3e -- just recently made the switch to 5e and started playing again. I highly recommend 5e. Gutted the extraneous rules from 3e but left the core D&D framework.

  • ||

    Yeah, 5e is nice and streamlined, and leaves a lot of room for "what if I ..." kind of stuff, rather than a bunch of heavy combat mechanics and skill rules.

  • Robbzilla||

    I played pre-1 through2, then skipped 3 and 4, and now play 5.

    That being said, I also listened to a lot of the Critical Hit podcast, which starts in 4, so I know the rules well enough that I could play in it with minimal fuss.

    4 had major issues. It was vastly divergent from the others. It was WOTC trying to make a different game.

    I prefer 5, but it's a little simplistic compared to 4. I think it's streamlined fairly well, and makes for a decent gaming experience. There are some things we've played with in 5 that are in 4, such as skill challenges. They're fun. But there are weird things like healing surges and the fact that damn near every spell needs/needed a successful d20 roll to hit that were offputting. (Seriously, before it was changed via errata, you needed to roll to hit with Magic Missile.)

    I DO like the loss of the THAC0 charts and how easy it is to calculate hits and misses, and I DO like the way saving throws work in 5. It's simpler than having mounds of crap to memorize, that's for damn sure!

  • ||

    Yeah, sounds like Brandybuck was trying to be an dork and invent his own rules or style of play and got a bit butthurt because nobody liked his changes.

    I'm fairly certain you couldn't cobble together a decade of 'TSR videogames' at the No. 1 spot in the genre. Maybe an entire decade where you couldn't sell an RPG with 'D-word & D-word' or 'alliterative word & word', maybe.

    There were plenty of competitors, my personal involvement began with Warhammer and Warhammer 40K, which started up less than a decade after D&D and was hardly the first tabletop RPG/Wargame. As I said, it just sounds exceedingly like Brandybuck wanted to play Call Of Cthulhu at the D&D table.

  • ||

    Sorry, 'hardly the second tabletop RPG/Wargame'.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    My recollection is that the d&d videogames were hideous until balders gate and did not sell well.

  • ||

    Hideous compared to what? IMO, frequently because of the better/more efficient use of still images, the actual graphic parts were, or could be, better. However, there's a bit of "WTF?' to Brandybuck's claim.

    Sure, the creators of Rogue played D&D and both games are set in dungeons but you'd never confuse a Rogue-like game for an RPG let alone a table top RPG as big/rich as D&D. Moreover, you'd have a hard time differentiating Rogue from other, similar games made by people who either never played D&D or specifically wanted to emulate the aspects of Rogue that had nothing to do with D&D (or both).

    Imagine Budweiser invented beer and, sometime within the next decade somebody driven to copy them, constrained by costs and technology forewent all the hops and fermenting and just sold carbonated water. The next guy down the line likes the carbonated water but, having no knowledge of beer, wished it were sweeter or more caramel-flavored. Damned the stifling of innovation! Why didn't any of these people invent soup, coffee, and four-course meals!

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    I'm talking about the official d&d games. My recollection is this that they were terrible until bioware did bg. Ultima was much, much better and wizardy was just as good a dungeon crawl as any of the official ones. Firgit aboit bard's tale too. That one did fine over that period.

  • Brandybuck||

    Yeah, pretty much. I remember full shelves of nothing but TSR branded RPGs. I played the original Wizardry, original Bards Tale, and while not the original, did start out Ultima with III. But then the video D&D craze came and it seemed like every title had to be D&D, either D&D rules or set in D&D universes, or both.

    It really annoyed me because why the hell were developer trying to simulate tabletop rules on the computer? There was SO much more they could do! Hell, a few of the games even simulated d20 rolls! Gagh! Roleplaying is already simulating a world, why simulate a simulation game? Drop down one meta level and simulate the story's world directly! But the marketing ruled, and marketing said they had to be D&D.

    Go listen to Tim Cain's talk on the creation of Fallout. It was almost cancelled twice because it wasn't TSR licensed. It instead tried to use GURPS rules, and in my opinion, the best thing that happened to the game was SJG pulling out and the team having to hastily make their own ruleset at the last minute.

  • ||

    I'm talking about the official d&d games.

    You typed 'd&d' in the 'hideous' post, my eyes read 'd&d', my brain grokked 'RPG'.

    I agree and would drive the final nail in the coffin with: Baldur's Gate, their first mainstream success, sold almost 2M copies total in it's production run. Final Fantasy *7*, released a year earlier sold 2.3M units in the first 3 days of release. I hardly touched D&D because of Warhammer (and maybe Call of Cthulhu) and I hardly touched the D&D video games because of Rogue, Wizardry, Ultima, Might and Magic (and various other EA RPGs and games), Final Fantasy, King's Quest (and various other Sierra RPGs and games).

  • Brandybuck||

    Nope, not my own rules. Just plain old games WITHOUT a TSR stamp on them. Runequest, Traveller, Heroes, MERP, GURPS, etc.

    In regards to that convention, it was DundraCon, the major west coast RPG convention. It was NOT a D&D convention, it was a general RPG and board game convention. I had signed up for the table a couple months in advance, had proper sign up sheets, paid for attendance, etc. And I had a full group of players who had signed up. But GAMA was in attendance and one of their games had too many players sign up, so they kicked me out to make room for a last minute D&D game. Fuck GAMA.

  • ||

    But GAMA was in attendance and one of their games had too many players sign up, so they kicked me out to make room for a last minute D&D game. Fuck GAMA.

    This is what was missing. I don't disagree with GAMA sucking. However, there are large portions of the video gaming world that made lots of great games, even RPGs, without being at all cognizant of GAMA and/or D&D or, if cognizant of them in any way, choosing to observe some of their methods specifically to fall into a/the genre.

  • Ama-Gi Anarchist||

    The Budweiser age of roleplaying didn't come to a close until the mid to late 1990s.

    The 1-2-3 punch of FASA's Shadowrun (1989), Palladium's Rifts (1990) and White Wolf's Vampire: the Masquerade (1991) would seem to indicate otherwise. While Rifts was very much in the same vein as D&D (level-based progression), it was so gonzo and over the top mixing genres it was just so different. Shadowrun's alternate damage/strain etc mechanics were really innovative and Vampire really began the move to Storyteller-based games in earnest. While none of these 3 ever dethroned D&D (even at its lowest point when T$R under Lorraine Williams was sinking into the abyss), they clearly showed a large chunk of the gaming world was moving beyond the Arneson/Gygax (more Gygax than Arneson in retrospect) D&D model.

  • Brandybuck||

    Sure there were a lot of big titles, but everyone was still playing D&D. Head to a major coastal convention and you would be lucky to find one Shadowrun game listed. The big breakout was actually Call of Cthulhu.

  • Crusty Juggler - Elite||

  • BlueStarDragon||

    I'm posting a link to this at Dragon Foot :)

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    This man is legend.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Sounds like the FBI rolled a critical miss.

    Amirite guys?

  • Brandybuck||

    Imagines some guy in the back of the FBI room screaming IT'S A GAZEBO! A GAZEBO!

  • Conchfritters||

    Yes, they failed their Saving Throw

  • Sean Higgins||

    C.J., if you know, what was the ostensible reason that the FBI was taking an interest in Gygax in the first place? Was it related to the bomb threats mentioned towards the end of the document?

  • ||

    This file appears to be part of the '95 investigation into the unambomber, which tangentially involved D&D for some reason or another.

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    Let's see, Dwarves and Gnomes are great bomb makers, obviously. For the right price in gold sometimes they sell those bombs to humans. Combine this with the fact that the FBI cannot ignore quantum physics and the possibility of an inter-dimensional threat to the United States. And for this reason we now have a clear chain link of events which possibly tie D&D to the unabomber.

    Or to summarize, as always the answer is to blame the nonhumans -- the original 'usual suspects'.

  • Robert||

    Nothing compared to the shit Steve Jackson came in for.

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    The Munchkin Card game guy? He was investigated by the fed?

  • DRM||

    Yeah. Steve Jackson Games had someone writing GURPS Cyberpunk in 1990. The guy who was writing it did research on computer hacking to up the verisimilitude, and in the research managed to catch the notice of the Secret Service. So the Secret Service raided Steve Jackson Games, discovered the drafts of the book, and seized the computers they were on.

    The ultimate result was Steve Jackson Games winning a lawsuit against the SS and the forming of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

  • Brandybuck||

    I've got the original Cyberpunk. People forget how crazy the Clinton years were.

  • Brandybuck||

    Actually, during the Bush years. My bad.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Car wars or git the fuck out.

  • WoodChipperBob||

    In the little plastic box.

  • JeremyR||

    I'm pretty sure that the redacted FBI source was Brian Blume (since he was the other founded of TSR along with Gygax and Kaye).

    He is the one that forced Gygax out of TSR, so you might take what he said with a grain of salt.

  • Ragoftag||

    Knowing far more than is in this report about Gygax, I am concerned about the FBI's accuracy concerning facts. I only skimmed a tiny portion (that provided) and only saw a half dozen errors.

  • Babylonandon||

    Wow ... I hadn't realized how I missed this . I survived several Persian Gulf deployments rolling dice with a gaming crew in a destroyer's aft CIWS control room - all of today's pc games have nothing on the imagination of the stuff our DM ran us thru playing in his offshoot of the Ravenloft addition.

    Thanks for posting this.

  • Kevin Sorbos Manful Locks||

    I want to run the official roll20 campaign, just so we can spend the first 20 hours bickering over alignment before breaking up.


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