Uncle Duke in the News

The Janesville Gazette ran an article on June 4 about the new statewide smoking ban coming to Wisconsin. In it, they interviewed tabletop gaming-industry legend Duke Seifried. You might recall I sat next to “Uncle” Duke at Gary Gygax’s funeral last year and had a chance to catch up with him. Shortly after that, he had a triple-bypass in in May of 2008. I haven’t seen him since then, but I heard reports that he’d recovered and has been playing gigs with his jazz band, the Duke Seifried Trio, in both Janesville and Beloit.

The Gazette article relates how Duke was diagnosed this April with a lung disease called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, likely caused by cigarette smoke. Although Duke doesn’t smoke himself, he spent many nights performing (and playing games, I’d guess) in smoke-filled rooms over the years and was exposed to a lot of second-hand smoke. There’s currently no cure for the disease but a lung transplant, for which Duke is too old. He’ll need to be on oxygen regularly within the year.

I first encountered Duke when I was in high school. I was publishing a gaming fanzine called The Quill and Scroll, and I spotted an ad for one of Duke’s wargame weekends. I called him up and interviewed him about it, which may have been one of my first interviews, now that I think about it. He was warm and chatty as could be, even though I was just some kid who’d called him up out of nowhere.

I’ve had the honor of meeting him several times since then, and you will never find a more engaging tale spinner with such a wild history. Besides founding one of the first miniatures manufacturing companies in the US (Heritage), he’s sculpted over 10,000 figures. He builds stunning dioramas of Middle-earth battles and runs massive games using them at big gaming conventions every year. He was the first vice-president at TSR, the company that created Dungeons & Dragons, and he put D&D toys into the mass market back in those days.

Duke also claims to have been a CIA agent, which I can’t verify, but honestly don’t want to. It’s one of those stories that’s so well told it doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. You can enjoy it either way.

We often say we don’t take the time to remember people until they’re gone. I heard that many times at Gary’s funeral, but less so when Dave Arneson died this year. Gary’s death reminded us that we should take the time to honor people while they’re still with us, so that’s what I’m doing with Duke. If you get the chance, you should too.