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RIP Tom Moldvay

I learned a while back that Tom Moldvay had passed away around April 9 (some reports say March 9) of this year, but I hadn’t been able to verify it independently. I’ve seen enough details now to believe it’s true.

Along with Mark Acres, Tom developed one of my favorite roleplaying games ever: Gangbusters. As a teenager at Gen Con, I made it to the finals of the Gangbusters tournament two years running and absolutely loved it.

Tom also made many substantial contributions to Dungeons & Dragons while working at TSR. My pal Steve Winter, who knew Tom far better than I, sums it up well in his appreciation.

I never met Tom in person, but I had the privilege of talking with him on the phone and working with him on some material for Silent Death: The Next Millennium, back when I developed the line for ICE. That never saw print, as Tom’s poor health prevented him from finishing the work before I left that gig. That was something like 15 years ago, and I’m sad to say we lost touch over the years. Still, I remember being thrilled that I would get the chance to talk games with someone whose work I’d so admired.

Farewell, Tom. Wherever you may be, I hope you’re finally resting easy.

Comments 21

  1. Hi Matt,
    I was honored to say that Tom and I were pals. He self-published The Future King, a stand-alone adventure and system, precurser to Lords of Creation, which I (Spellbinders) distributed. I saw him as often as our schedules and his health allowed, but looking back, I wish it had been more often. Thank you for your kind words on his behalf; he was, as the title of his “Dragon” column suggested, a Giant on the Earth.

    Paul Burdick
    May 10th, 2007

  2. Hi Matt,
    I was honored to say that Tom and I were pals. He self-published The Future King, a stand-alone adventure and system, precurser to Lords of Creation, which I (Spellbinders) distributed. I saw him as often as our schedules and his health allowed, but looking back, I wish it had been more often. Thank you for your kind words on his behalf; he was, as the title of his “Dragon” column suggested, a Giant on the Earth.

    Paul Burdick
    May 10th, 2007

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  4. I am saddened to learn of Tom’s death yesterday. While his health has always been poor and some of us had wondered if he was still alive seven or eight years ago, knowing that he truly is dead has been something of a shock to me.

    I met Tom almost 30 years ago at Kent State University. Later, I was part of a regular circle of D&D players that included Lawrence Schick and Tom.

    I found your enthusiasm for “Gangbusters” interesting because I was present when it was conceived. One of our occasional gamers was named Ralph and he lived in Alliance. Ralph collected toys and had several sheet metal “towns” used to play with small figures from the 50s and 60s. We used his western town for “Boothill” several times with Ralph being the DM. In the late winter of 1979, Ralph had purchased a somehow found the town for “The Untouchables” television show. Making some hasty modifications to th rules for “Boothill” (mostly for tommyguns!) we played “The Untouchables”. As I recall Ralph did Elliot Ness. My girlfriend played the madam of a brothel (and tried to poison Elliot Ness but he was too smart for that!) We had great fun that evening. So I am gratified that you did like “Gangbusters”

    I also can remember how heart broken Tom was once when we played “Boothill” when my Swedish Farmer “Bjo Njordstrum” blew his character “Crazy Luke” in two at 50 feet with a scatter gun (the dice came up 19 and 20)…but not to worry….”Crazy Luke” got resurrected at a convention in Columbus the next month and started a dynamite fire that burned down half the town. Tom had a knack for creating some wild characters and having them do some bizarre things.

    I also think you for your kind words for an old friend that I too wish I had kept better in touch.

  5. I am saddened to learn of Tom’s death yesterday. While his health has always been poor and some of us had wondered if he was still alive seven or eight years ago, knowing that he truly is dead has been something of a shock to me.

    I met Tom almost 30 years ago at Kent State University. Later, I was part of a regular circle of D&D players that included Lawrence Schick and Tom.

    I found your enthusiasm for “Gangbusters” interesting because I was present when it was conceived. One of our occasional gamers was named Ralph and he lived in Alliance. Ralph collected toys and had several sheet metal “towns” used to play with small figures from the 50s and 60s. We used his western town for “Boothill” several times with Ralph being the DM. In the late winter of 1979, Ralph had purchased a somehow found the town for “The Untouchables” television show. Making some hasty modifications to th rules for “Boothill” (mostly for tommyguns!) we played “The Untouchables”. As I recall Ralph did Elliot Ness. My girlfriend played the madam of a brothel (and tried to poison Elliot Ness but he was too smart for that!) We had great fun that evening. So I am gratified that you did like “Gangbusters”

    I also can remember how heart broken Tom was once when we played “Boothill” when my Swedish Farmer “Bjo Njordstrum” blew his character “Crazy Luke” in two at 50 feet with a scatter gun (the dice came up 19 and 20)…but not to worry….”Crazy Luke” got resurrected at a convention in Columbus the next month and started a dynamite fire that burned down half the town. Tom had a knack for creating some wild characters and having them do some bizarre things.

    I also think you for your kind words for an old friend that I too wish I had kept better in touch.

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  7. My name is Ralph Wagner.I am the Ralph mentioned above.Lawerence Schick introduced Tom and D&D to me.Tom took to my 54mm western town.He painted and converted plastic figures. He helped on The Magificent Seven and Major Dunee scenarios.Bill Wilkerson claims that “Major Dundee” was one of the best games he ever played.In our club Tom was held with very high regard as a true gentleman and a scholar. Very polite and very neat and clean. Highly intelligent but never aloof.What little he had he was always ready to give away.A model for anyone.I liked how he would get excited when he gave a gift.”I thought you would like it” He would say when he gave a gift,then he would talk to the person and give some insight into the gift then he would smile and sit back in his chair and fidgit still excited that his gift fit the persons interests..Were he would find this stuff I don’t know, He walked everywhere and didn’t have much money but that didn’t stop Tom. He would come up with stuff that was very cool. I still have many books and figures that he gave to me. My brothers and sisters of our club will miss the tall man in the brown leather hat. Keep the dice hot Long Tom. Ralph Wagner.

  8. My name is Ralph Wagner.I am the Ralph mentioned above.Lawerence Schick introduced Tom and D&D to me.Tom took to my 54mm western town.He painted and converted plastic figures. He helped on The Magificent Seven and Major Dunee scenarios.Bill Wilkerson claims that “Major Dundee” was one of the best games he ever played.In our club Tom was held with very high regard as a true gentleman and a scholar. Very polite and very neat and clean. Highly intelligent but never aloof.What little he had he was always ready to give away.A model for anyone.I liked how he would get excited when he gave a gift.”I thought you would like it” He would say when he gave a gift,then he would talk to the person and give some insight into the gift then he would smile and sit back in his chair and fidgit still excited that his gift fit the persons interests..Were he would find this stuff I don’t know, He walked everywhere and didn’t have much money but that didn’t stop Tom. He would come up with stuff that was very cool. I still have many books and figures that he gave to me. My brothers and sisters of our club will miss the tall man in the brown leather hat. Keep the dice hot Long Tom. Ralph Wagner.

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  10. It’s wonderful to hear from old friends again, especially at this time. I had forgotten Ralph’s last name until I read the posing but I remember Ralph very well.

    Tom was incredibly intelligent, well read, and very accomplished. I remember seeing a picture of him performing at the Kent State University Folk Festival in the late 70s. Ralph’s description of Tom brings tears to my eyes. That was Tom-especially the hat! After three years in graduate school I had enough of that, came back to Akron and stayed with my parents. The next spring I was in the Akron Public Library and I saw the “Hat” atop a tall individual going up the escalator. It could be only one person. He was living in Akron too after leaving TSR. I remember him showing me his early sketches for what would become “Lords of Creation.” Tom had a wry sense of humor. I’ve never played but I love reading occasionally the LOC module “OmegAkron”- like Chrissie Hynde, “My City Was Gone” and Tom’s vision of it gone still keeps me, a native of Akron, laughing at times.

    I remember Ralph as the GM for our awesome Boothill adventures. His 54mm towns were incredible to play with. I think we enjoyed setting them up as much as playing with them….toys are sometimes truly wasted on children and can only be appreciated by adults! I remember when Tom’s character “Crazy Luke” got his from “Bo” my character. Earlier Tom’s character, “Crazy Luke”, killed a man in the middle of town in front of everybody and Tom’s response when Ralph confronted him was “Injuns did it”. Ralph made some comment to the effect “Tom NOBODY is gonna believe that..you gotta make [something nearly impossible] for your saving throw..Crazy Luke is gonna get it this time…” Ralph rolled the dice to see if anybody believed that “Injuns did it” and as I recall the roll was 00-what was needed and Ralph just shook his head and muttered “he always does this…I don’t know how he does this…the craziest most outlandish story and he always gets away with it.” Rather than a lynching party the towns people got together and left the town to find the “Injuns that done it.” Gaming with Tom was always lively.

  11. It’s wonderful to hear from old friends again, especially at this time. I had forgotten Ralph’s last name until I read the posing but I remember Ralph very well.

    Tom was incredibly intelligent, well read, and very accomplished. I remember seeing a picture of him performing at the Kent State University Folk Festival in the late 70s. Ralph’s description of Tom brings tears to my eyes. That was Tom-especially the hat! After three years in graduate school I had enough of that, came back to Akron and stayed with my parents. The next spring I was in the Akron Public Library and I saw the “Hat” atop a tall individual going up the escalator. It could be only one person. He was living in Akron too after leaving TSR. I remember him showing me his early sketches for what would become “Lords of Creation.” Tom had a wry sense of humor. I’ve never played but I love reading occasionally the LOC module “OmegAkron”- like Chrissie Hynde, “My City Was Gone” and Tom’s vision of it gone still keeps me, a native of Akron, laughing at times.

    I remember Ralph as the GM for our awesome Boothill adventures. His 54mm towns were incredible to play with. I think we enjoyed setting them up as much as playing with them….toys are sometimes truly wasted on children and can only be appreciated by adults! I remember when Tom’s character “Crazy Luke” got his from “Bo” my character. Earlier Tom’s character, “Crazy Luke”, killed a man in the middle of town in front of everybody and Tom’s response when Ralph confronted him was “Injuns did it”. Ralph made some comment to the effect “Tom NOBODY is gonna believe that..you gotta make [something nearly impossible] for your saving throw..Crazy Luke is gonna get it this time…” Ralph rolled the dice to see if anybody believed that “Injuns did it” and as I recall the roll was 00-what was needed and Ralph just shook his head and muttered “he always does this…I don’t know how he does this…the craziest most outlandish story and he always gets away with it.” Rather than a lynching party the towns people got together and left the town to find the “Injuns that done it.” Gaming with Tom was always lively.

  12. While in Akron this holiday I needed to go to the “Office of Birth and Death Records” to look at a death certificate for this last year. While there I also looked at Tom’s. The certificate had the date of death as 3-9-2007 (rather than 4-9-07). The cause of death was listed as hypertension, arteriosclerosis, and coronary heart disease. One fact that surprised me was that he had moved since I last saw him. He had been living at 666 N. Howard St. Knowing Tom’s sense of humor, I couldn’t resist a chuckle.

  13. While in Akron this holiday I needed to go to the “Office of Birth and Death Records” to look at a death certificate for this last year. While there I also looked at Tom’s. The certificate had the date of death as 3-9-2007 (rather than 4-9-07). The cause of death was listed as hypertension, arteriosclerosis, and coronary heart disease. One fact that surprised me was that he had moved since I last saw him. He had been living at 666 N. Howard St. Knowing Tom’s sense of humor, I couldn’t resist a chuckle.

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  15. Just found this.Didn’t know Tom had passed.I lived that house in the winter of 77 and spring of 78., I”m pretty sure I played with Mike and Ralph. Here are my memories of Tom.The house was called Caer Comwydd and it was a Society for Creative Anachronism house.It would have been an easy place to be a slacker but Tom was at
    his typewriter a couple hours every morning before going back to bed.He loved Piers Anthony and H.P. Lovecraft but also Blake and Kipling.His first ambition had been to be a SF/Fantasy novelist.His band was called Bedlam and and they played english folk.Sometimes he’d play solo for his supper at the Red Radish.He’d taught a course on Magic in The Western Tradition for the Kent State experimental college.He introduced me to Earl Grey Tea.He and Lawrence Schick were definately a team.He
    did a painting once in the style of Pictman-ghouls swarming a subway station. It hung
    at my feet in my basement room for months.The last time I saw him was 1990- I crashed at his house in Akron..He was working on a game and seemed to be feeling
    better- he was riding a bike.He was a very easy going peaceful guy, but I think he would want me to warn everyone: under no circumstances did you want to wake him up.

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    2. Hi Jon,

      Yeah, I remember you and D&D at the Caer Comwydd in the Shire Gwentayrian (OK I never saw it written down …Gwen-tar-i-an). I was not a member of SCA but my sister was later.

      Actually in addition to Lovecraft, Tom was a great fan of Clark Ashton Smith. You can see the influence in his games and D&D modules. He introduced me to Smith. I did not realize that until I started reading CAS about 20 years later. When Night Shade Books started publishing the complete works a few years ago I bought two sets on the prepublication rate. I so wanted those stories published again because my own collection of paperbacks was old and incomplete.

      I didn’t know about Tom singing for his supper at the Red Radish. Working at the “Garment District” did not pay much. Incidently, that whole block has been demolished and it in the process of “gentrification” (= probably another Starburnts. Captain Brady’s is no more.).

      “He did a painting once in the style of Pictman-ghouls swarming a subway station. ” – Lovecraft’s “Pickman’s Model”! I’d love to see it and others might too. How about posting a pix of it.

      “He was a very easy going peaceful guy, but I think he would want me to warn everyone: under no circumstances did you want to wake him up.” True…he kept a dagger in easy reach above his bed.

      I remember crashing at his apartment during Gencon80 . We got in about 2am. He had told us the door would be unlocked. There was no lock. Tom had kicked the door in some time ago when he had forgotten his keys. He said that if he could do that, then the lock was worthless and he had a dagger handy.

      Were you there when we did the quest for the dwarfish crown? We wound up in this cavern with five entrances. We heard this “shout” and Tom said “You’ve forgotten your classic Tolkien battles” and I replied “Oh SHIT….the battle of the five armies.” I got “Rommel’s lost panzer division” to join us ( Hey D&D is a fantasy game after all. A few months later we were on a quest to find batteries for a force ax- better than a light saber). . Cliff (=Iskandar Alexandar) ‘ orc character did not do so well with the Orcs. He turned traitor and payed the penalty for losing. Well that was fun.

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