Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Remembering Gary Gygax – 1 year later

I actually met him at Gencon 2007. He was hanging out at the Troll Lords' booth and I had him sign a couple of items for me. That was a cool moment.

The first D&D book I ever bought was the 1st ed Monster Manual. That book will always be special to me. It’s corny, I know, but it’s still true. I remember when my buddy first bought it, and there was a bunch of us drooling over it. It was one of those, “Wow, this is really awesome” moments. That was back around 1981-ish, and I think I bought my copy about a year later in 1982. Yikes, that was 27 years ago! Looking at that book 27 years later, I can honestly say that one has seen more use than any other D&D book, and it has held up rather well all things considered. Having Gary sign it was really cool. I have to admit that my 1st ed Unearthed Arcana book is not quite as old as my MM, is slightly less used than my MM, and it is falling apart. When I mentioned that to Gary, he had a quick response to that. Some things are hard to let go of, even after 25 years.

I was in middle school when I first started playing, and that was with the Holmes edition, but we quickly moved to AD&D. I had some exposure to the revised Basic D&D and Expert D&D, but at the time, I did not like either one. A good buddy of mine at the time started out playing the Expert rules, but that rule set never caught on with the group that I did most of my playing with.

It did not take long for us to realize that Gary was the co-creator of D&D and that all the AD&D core rule books had his name on the cover. I remember thinking that Gary must be a really cool guy. Since I liked the game, and his name was on the cover, I naturally had a high opinion of him, even though I had never met him. One hears rumors and such, but I always dismissed them. I was wearing rose colored glasses, and I saw no reason to take them off.

Second edition came out about the time I was graduating from High School. I never bought any of the core second edition books. I liked AD&D just how it was. It was not until 1991 that I started buying some of the 2nd edition supplements. I enjoyed Ravenloft, so I bought a number of those products. I also started buying some of the monster books and page packets. The monster binder was an interesting idea. I like the books better, but if I was extremely organized, I could pull the monsters out that I wanted and put them into a smaller binder and have them ready for use. It was not a terrible idea, just a bit different.

It was around 1993 that I first heard that Gary had left the company. One of the folks I worked with was very familiar with the story, and he filled me in on what had happened. To be honest, I did not know what to think. It was as if I was hearing about something happening in a parallel world. Here was a guy who created D&D, then was forced to leave the company, and he did not own the rights to the game he created. My reaction was “What?!?” That can’t be right. It does not make sense. It was like listening to an old record that the needle just fell off of. As it turns out, it was right, and it still did not make sense. Even thinking about it 16 years later, it still does not make sense. How could something so good, end up in such a mess?

As the 1990’s went by, I was more of a collector rather than a player. I bought a bunch of stuff, but I did not really play. I was hearing that TSR was in big trouble. The brand was dying. It was a bad time to be a fan of the game. Then 3rd ed was launched. I remember when it was launched. I remember that WotC put a lot of energy into relaunching the D&D brand. They had to. The brand was circling the drain.

For the first couple of years, I did not pay much attention to 3rd ed. I knew there was a D&D website, and that WotC was updating it on almost a daily basis. But that was about it. It was not until 2002, that I really discovered 3rd ed. I was surfing the net at work, and I found a lot of sites that were supporting 3rd ed, and that there was tons of fan created free material. So I started collecting and reading D&D stuff again.

I am a bit embarrassed to say that between 2002 and 2008, I bought tons of stuff. I probably bought too much stuff. But, most importantly, I started playing again. 3rd ed encouraged me to play again. That is not to say that I liked everything about 3rd ed, but the timing was right for me to start playing again.

That brings me back to Gary again. One of the things that I was pleasantly surprised to see was that the fans of the game were reaching out to Gary, and Gary was making himself accessible to them. Before I met Gary at Gencon, I had traded several message board comments with him. I enjoyed reading his take on what was going on with the hobby, and his own historical perspective on why things were designed the way they were. While he was not interested in 3rd ed, I think he was supportive of the activities that were going on around him. Now I could be totally wrong on this last part, but I think at the end, he appreciated the legacy that he was leaving behind. While he did not own the rights any more, the fans still considered him the rightful owner of the game. I think he recognized that. I can pull just about any game supplement, adventure or rules book and see Gary’s name acknowledged in the credits. Just to prove that, I pulled down the Pathfinder Campaign Setting, and on the credits page, one can find the text, “in Memory of E. Gary Gygax.”

While Gary was not perfect, and I think some of his flaws are fairly well known, I think fans are willing to both acknowledge that, and they can still appreciate the contribution that he made. I am not one to look at things with rose colored glasses, and indeed, I like to think of myself as an realist, but in this case I am ok with putting my high-school rose colored glasses back on.

Did I mention that I actually met him at Gencon 2007 and that he signed my 1st ed MM?

Thanks Gary!

2 comments:

Sham aka Dave said...

Excellent post. Gary's impact on gaming should never be forgotten.

Mr Baron said...

Absolutely!