Gygax Gone

PhbI’ve just learned that Gary Gygax, one of the creators of Dungeons & Dragons and founders of its original publisher, TSR, died in his sleep Monday night. The guys at Troll Lord Games seem to have first posted about it, and I’ve verified it through my Alliterates pals.

I worked as a freelancer for Gary’s New Infinities Productions back when I was in college, and I visited their offices and his home and met his wife (Gail, his second) and kids. As a gamer still in school, it was an amazing thrill. After New Infinities went bust, though, we didn’t have much to say to each other for years, mostly over the money that the company ended up owing me and a number of my friends at the end.

When I saw Gary and Gail at one of the last Gen Cons in Milwaukee, though, I buried that hatchet and chatted with them for a while. It was wonderful. I’m lousy at holding grudges, it seems, and thankful for it.

I met Gary at my first gaming convention, the Winter Fantasy back in the winter of ’81-’82. My mother—sweet and supportive woman that she is—brought me and my friends, and while I was busy playing my first game of Boot Hill with (now fellow Alliterate) Steve Winter, she chatted with one of the people running the show, telling him how much room for improvement the convention had. To my teenaged chagrin, this turned out to be Gary.

I saw him later that spring at a small convention right here in my hometown, at Beloit College. The team I was on won the D&D tournament held there, and the prize was a free charter membership in the RPGA, the magazine of which (The Polyhedron) later printed my first published piece of game design. At that show, I met Gary again, and he signed my Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook. You can see the words he wrote in the image at the top of this post.

“Gary Gygax, Beloit, 1982.” You can pretty much chart my entire career from right there.

One of my last jobs with New Infinities was taking a crack at editing his Necropolis adventure and his book on how to run RPGs, Master of the Game. Neither saw print until years later, under different editors, but I remember the challenge of handling both Gary’s unique style and his position in the history of gaming. “He’s rejected the work of two other editors already,” Don Turnbull told me as he handed over Master of the Game. “Give it a shot?”

I hadn’t spoken with Gary in person for a few years when he died. He had a couple strokes back in 2004, and he’d not been in the best of health after that. He only lived about 45 minutes from where I am, but I never managed to get over that way. Now I’ll never have the chance.

I’d already planned to meet with the Midwestern Alliterates tonight for other reasons. We’ll be sure to raise a glass in Gary’s honor. He affected every one of our lives and careers, and it would truly have been a different world without him.

Ironically, today is GM’s Day. Do something good for your favorite Game Master in memory of the first.

Rest in peace, Gary. And thanks.