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A Tribute to Gary Gygax: Father of Dungeons and Dragons

It was 1982 when I was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons at Camp Longhorn when I was in Boy Scouts. My friend Brian was my first Dungeonmaster (this was a year before I learned what BDSM was from Oui magazine). The game was a revelation for a pubescent boy. It was a world where you could become a powerful, able individual whose choices and actions were on the scale of the heroic. It was a game that you could play with all of your friends, and they could develop differently abled but equally powerful characters of their own.

Sometimes you would face insurmountable odds, and it would take the effort of all of the characters in your adventuring band to win the battle/solve the riddle/complete the quest.  In those early days, we created characters that were impossibly powerful. I remember my first character, Phantom, culled gods from various pantheons to amass the powerful magical items they possessed. After a few months, this became boring, and this period later became known as “The Impossible Days”.

In middle school (1984), Brian and I expanded our game to include Mike and Tim. When we went to high school, the Daves were added. It was this core group that would not only become the gaming group but also would turn out to be my closest confidants for the rest of my life.  Mike, Tim, and I gamed together the most.  One year we even won a first place award for our diarama at GenCon (the world’s original gaming convention) in 1988.

Brian and Dave 1 left for college out of town.  Mike, Tim, Dave 2 and myself went to college in town (UW-Milwaukee). Tim moved into a dingy cottage set at the end of a walkway between two buildings, which we later named “Midian” after the graveyard in the film Nightbreed. For the next three years, I ran a campaign that met every sunday. We adventured across “The Forgotten Realms” and added Brent (a punk rock bassist who had an obnoxious edge but the sweetest guy you could meet).  It was this game that truly honed my skills of story-telling and role-playing. I even went as far as planning out the use of particular musical accompaniment for certain narrative parts. We also smoked a whole lot of pot and drank lots of wine.  There was one game that ended when Dave 2 began heaving his guts out in Tim’s bathroom.  We all were quiet for a second, then the sound of Dave vomiting erupted, and I said “I guess we’ll call it here” without missing a beat.

A little less than a year ago, I wed Tim to his wife. I talked to Dave in Chicago where he’s convalescing because of some chronic health issues. Dave  is a father of two back in Wisconsin, and Mike is a father of one.  Brian just called me tonight to say “Gary Gygax died this week. Give me a call if you need some support.” Tim and Brian live in Portland, and I spend time at their house pretty regularly. Tim and I have developed a wild hair recently to get a game together, and Brian has mocked us for wanting to.  It’s strange that the guy that got me into D&D would turn into the ‘cool kid’ who is too good for the game.  That’s the irony of life, I guess.

Thank you Gary Gygax for producing and endlessly entertaining game that led to deep, meaningful, and long-term friendships. Thank you for making a game that is built on collaboration, imagination, and story-telling.  Thank you for the 40 minute conversation we had at Napoleon’s in 1992 when you had your wife sport the huge diamond you bought her.  It was magical being able to find out that one of my icons was just another human being.  If I had a resurrection spell, I’d bring you back, but I know you wouldn’t want to live with a lower constitution.

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