I did the cartoon as a sort of a tribute, but I’ve been waiting for the dust to settle before I write anything down in words about the passing of Mr Gygax. You see, I’m in a rather peculiar position when it comes to my relationship with Mr Gygax in that I didn’t start with D&D. My introduction to role-playing games was via the Fighting Fantasy choose-your-own-adventure books, followed by the orange-sided Fighting Fantasy RPG book and then (fate help me) MERP. I started role-playing around the age of 9 or so and it wasn’t until I was 12 or 13 that I even encountered Dungeons & Dragons.
I didn’t like it much.
I didn’t like the rules, they didn’t feel ‘realistic’ and didn’t seem to mesh with the setting, I couldn’t really DO anything. I couldn’t creep up on the owlbear and stab it in the eye while it slept, I just got a free attack. The dungeon didn’t make any sense, it was just an excuse for a lot of traps and puzzles. I didn’t hate it, it was just that all the other games I’d played were a damn sight better than red box D&D.
AD&D was a bit better, at least the treasure and magic item tables were and the gazetteers had a ton of great information and background but the game itself never really hooked or engaged me. It got to the point where that was frustrating, Planescape and Dark Sun were fantastic,engaging settings but they were too closely married to D&D to the point where I wanted to play them, but couldn’t.
I’ve only tangentially gotten into D&D with the advent of third edition, the rules improved to the point where it was almost playable how I wanted to play it and the OGL meant there were well thought out modifications to the rules that did make it work more how I wanted.
The long and the short of it is that my relationship with Gygax hasn’t been through the games he helped create, but only tangentially through the games his and Arneson’s creation of role-playing itself made possible.
My relationship with Gygax has, rather, been the relationship with the man. That man was a crotchety old auteur and that is something I can appreciate and wax lyrical about. Mr Gygax used to run his mouth off when he shouldn’t, sometimes – a quality we share – and while he was, at least at the start, a good businessman he was also unabashedly a hobbyist. He had direct contact with players and GMs before the advent of blogs and right up to the end he was more open to communication with fans. This is something valuable I think, that not enough ‘big’ game designers do these days and somehow Mr Gygax managed to shoot his mouth off arrogantly without the missteps to quite the same degree as the modern mouthy designers do. Maybe because he was older, maybe because of his mythic status as ‘the creator’.
It’s that, I think, that I will miss his presence for. The hobbyist, the loud mouth, the auteur.
I didn’t like your games much Mr Gygax, but YOU were a star and I’ll miss you. Without you my hobby and business wouldn’t exist, I would never have met my closest friends or lovers and I would never have discovered what I was good at.