Gary Gygax, R.I.P.

Basic SetBill Buckley, Jr died the other day. My Dad, always a staunch Republican, took it rather hard. I only bring it up because a few days later Gary Gygax followed. He was my own, personal Bill Buckley. Always a staunch dreamer, I’m taking it rather hard.

In 1979 a friend of the family dropped by our home in Camarillo, California. He had with him a blue book. There was a dragon on the cover. The title emblazoned across its top read Dungeons & Dragons. If that wasn’t enough to get my attention, he had dice. And oh, my flippin’ God, what dice they were! I’d never seen anything like them before. It was a game, he said, which I’d already deduced; my eleven-year-old brain was desperate to know what sort of game required such gorgeous, glittering dice. They were so beautiful I could have eaten them.

I bet a lot of children did.

Our friend photocopied the rulebook and gave it to me. I devoured it (this time, I’m speaking figuratively.) I tried to play. But the photocopied version of the game didn’t come with photocopied dice, so I had to play with a handful of sixers. Believe me, nowhere near as fun. I recruited neighborhood friend Victor (still a neighborhood friend, almost thirty years later) and soon after, picked up my own version of the game. I had the official rules, I had pencils, I had paper. And most of all, I had the dice. An an obsession was born.

I fed that obsession for years. Victor and I really had no idea what we were doing. Our campaigns were messy, hack and slash affairs with long fights and massive hauls of treasure. But as we progressed we learned he value of telling a story and by the time I was in my early teens, I was itching to tell more. I was like a primordial ooze. All I needed was a spark of lightning and I could get on with all the evolving stuff. That spark came when I picked up a Robert E. Howard Conan anthology. I was so enthralled that I grabbed a pen and began to write.


I haven’t played the game in decades, and I don’t write fantasy stories anymore (vampires are real, dontcha know,) but there was a stretch of years when I lived and breathed Dungeons & Dragons. I saved up my allowance to get all the rulebooks, mowed lawns to buy the modules, scored the odd drug deal to buy the miniatures and spent hours painting them in my bedroom listening to Thin Lizzy and The Who and Joe Walsh. And ever-present during that era, printed on all the material, associated with everything I collected, was the name Gary Gygax.

He died this week at the age of 69.

There are so many clever lines I could come up with to serve as an off-the-cuff epitaph. “He looked into the eye of a Beholder,” for example, or “He rolled for surprise and scored a 1,” or, my favorite so far, “He saw the Gelatinous Cube moving slowly down the hall towards him and when the Flaming Hands spell failed to stop it, he fled and sprung a pit trap, which he couldn’t avoid because he had a Dexterity Score of 8 and he fell and hit poisonous spikes and the DM laughed and laughed.”

The web favorite is this. “I guess he failed his saving throw.”

Seriously. Check it out. Even John August is in on it.

Rest in peace, Gary.

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