Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The 1d6 People You Meet in Heaven

Gary Gygax, 1938-2008

Ernest Gary Gygax--writer, game designer, and 23rd level nerd--passed away this morning. He'd been suffering from health problems for the past few years, including an abdominal aneurysm.

For the benefit of those readers who got laid in high school, I should probably explain that Gary Gygax was the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons (along with Dave Arneson). And if you don't know what Dungeons & Dragons is, then you have no business mucking around on Nobel Prize winner Al Gore's Internet.

As soon as the news broke, the geek grapevine was abuzz. One of my coworkers was telling me about it just as one of the managers sent out an email. And then, Stephanie called me to let me know and to make sure I was okay. I told her I was going to take a personal day to spend some quality time with my dice and lead figurines.

I never actually met the man, but I was an unabashed fan of his work. My first attempt at a novel, The Long and Rather Pointless Adventures of Verbal Reynard, Cutpurse Extraordinaire, was an affectionate parody of Mr. Gygax's World of Greyhawk and my love letter to all things Dungeons & Dragons.

I first started playing Dungeons & Dragons back in 1981, when I was in the 8th grade. Unfortunately, it was around this time that the Baptist Church lost its mind and became convinced that D&D was a gateway to Satan worship and black magic. My mom and stepdad were concerned because my friends and I had become somewhat obsessed with the game. We spent all our money on rule books, game modules, and funny dice. And when I wasn't playing the game with them, I was shut up in my room, mapping out elaborate dungeons and thinking of horrific and brutal ways to kill their characters.

It was around this time that Sean and I decided to make our epic Dungeons & Dragons movie, which worried my parents even more. Seeing us all geared out in our makeshift armor and wielding our wooden swords, they no doubt imagined we would eventually make our way down to the sewers and hack each other to death in some kind of diabolical blood ritual.

(To be fair, their entire perception of the game was pretty much formed by films like Mazes and Monsters or retarded publications like Jack Chick's Dark Dungeons. Dungeons and Dragons became a scapegoat for misbehaving teenagers, sandwiched somewhere in between backwards messages in rock music and Grand Theft Auto.)

For my parents, the final straw came in 1984. We had a visiting preacher at church who devoted his entire sermon to the evils of Dungeons & Dragons and how it made the Baby Jesus cry. So on Monday, while I was at work, my mom and stepdad went through my closet and they found my copy of Deities and Demigods (one of the D&D rulebooks). This was all the proof they needed that I was involved in some kind of pagan cult. When I got home from work, they had a little intervention and they informed me that my days of playing Dungeons & Dragons were over.

I protested that it was only a game, that nobody I knew had any trouble distinguishing between reality and fantasy. I argued that Dungeons & Dragons was a creative outlet, that I was in effect writing stories. I pointed out that I was making good grades, that I had a job, and I was in band and yearbook staff. I was not only going to church every week, but I was in the orchestra there. Plus, our circle of geeks had recently expanded to include some real live girls!

Moved by my pleas, my parents agreed to a compromise. I could continue to play D&D, but I wasn't allowed to use any of the other gods in my game. My players had to worship God and Jesus. I agreed to their terms, and even went so far as to draw up some stats for God and Jesus. You know, in case the players ran into them in the game... and wanted to fight them. I don't remember any of the specifics, but I do recall that killing God would yield some primo experience points...

My interest in the game waned somewhat when I graduated and went to college. I had some geeky friends and we'd get together for the occasional game, but the days of marathon gaming sessions had passed. When I was at Brinker, I hooked up with a gang of nerds there for a couple of nostalgic sessions. I had a lot of fun, but I got a little embarrassed when they came in my office and started discussing the game in front of my other friends. One guy, Joey, asked me why I was embarrassed, and I told him, "Dungeons & Dragons is like masturbation... I enjoy doing it, but I don't really want to talk about it in front of a bunch of people."

Most recently, I discovered that Stephanie was no stranger to the dice. I dusted off my old books and ran her, Sean, and a couple of other friends through an old school 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons adventure. (It was the Desert of Desolation series, in case you're interested.) It was a blast! It turns out that Dungeons & Dragons is even more fun when you're sleeping with one of the players! But I digress...

So that's how Gary Gygax shaped my teen years and made me the successful nerd that I am today. I look back on the time I spent with my friends during that period, and I remember it all quite fondly. The funny thing is, I don't remember many of the details about the games themselves. I just remember the all night sessions, with six to ten of us gathered around somebody's kitchen table with our dice, rulebooks, and character sheets, stuffed full of Mr. Jim's pizza and hopped up on Mountain Dew, cracking our dumb jokes and discussing, in all earnestness, what would happen if you put a Sphere of Annihilation inside a Bag of Holding.

Rest in peace, Mr. Gygax.


scarletvirago said...

Okay, so, in my version of 6 Degrees of G. Gygax and D. Arneson... what? Oh no, you're really interested so don't bother rolling your eyes and clicking your browser's *back* button...

ANYWAY, my uncle was totally a DM at this huge multi-gamer convention and he did something the gamers at his table didn't like and they were all, "Nuh-UH, you can't do that! Can he do that?" to the DM at the next table, who turned around and was TOTALLY Dave Arneson, who said that the DM could do whatever he wanted!

I was like, 7 at the time. But I completely, if retroactively, appreciate my brush with the celebrity of geekdom, if there be such a thing.

Eric said...

Awww, the great one missed his last saving throw...

Professor said...

I'm sorry for the loss of your nerd=hero...

And i want to say i love this line: "...evils of Dungeons & Dragons and how it made the Baby Jesus cry." Even in your grief you made me laugh hysterically.

Farrago said...

I never played Dungeons & Dragons. On the one hand, I never found that fantasy world very interesting, so I probably never would have enjoyed it. On the other hand, none of my geek friends who did play it ever invited me to join them. Though a bit of a geek, I guess I wasn't geeky enough.

My condolences to you.

word verification: creat. Interesting coinkydink at the blog of none other than the great Irb!