Never Again

And I still find it so hard
To say what I need to say
But I'm quite sure that you'll tell me
Just how I should feel today
- "Blue Monday" New Order

With the passage of Gary Gygax, a collective heaving of breast could be felt across the thin silver astral cord connecting us together, bridging the gap of our collective antisocial angst. My inbox and AIM rang, two asynchronous bells, throughout the day.

"Did you hear? The DM is dead," they implored. One after another after another. Skype pinged. The phone rang. The red circle around the webcam lit up over and over and over again. Everyone shocked into silence. And I understand. I feel my own pain. A certain hollowness. An age. A sense of dying cell by cell. But that's not what makes me sad. What makes me sad is how little I cared yesterday.

Yes, D&D was important to me. It still is. My early teens were rescued by those three little books in the cardboard case. A tremendous amount of who I am now traces root and vine back to the source of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson.

But here's the sad sad truth - if you had asked me yesterday what Gary Gygax had done since the '80s, I would have been hard pressed. The name "Gygax" will always ring in my head like a church bell. But his contribution to my soul was 30 years ago. Like so many artists, his effect on my life was not direct, it was through his work. And like so many artists, he was a one trick pony.

Lest you think this sacrilege, allow me to enumerate some notable one trick ponies I hold tight in my personal pantheon:

  • Robert Heinlein (Stranger in a Strange Land)
  • George Lucas (Star Wars. The original one. Not all that other crap you heathens)
  • Earl Mac Rauch (Buckaroo Banzai)
  • Jesus Christ ("Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?")

Yes, each and every one of this rag-tag crew did more than one thing, had more than one moment in the sun. But their intersection with my life can be narrowed down to a critical juncture - that moment in time when the message intersected with my need to hear it. But it is the message that has always resonated more strongly than the messenger, and how quick I am to dismiss the messenger once the message is received.

Gary Gygax was not a shrinking violet. In the years since his universally acknowledged contribution to geek-lives everywhere (as opposed to say, his far more important contributions to his own family and community), how many self-professed gamers can tell me what Mr. G was up to? I can, but I'm not proud of it.

I was roaming the floor at GenCon, looking to cover the announcement of Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition. I made a few phone calls to Wizards of the Coast PR people. I was passed over to Troll Lord, who was producing Mr. G's latest works. After hours of combing the show floor, I found him, sitting in a chair, seemingly unnoticed, behind a 3' by 6' standard issue convention table. He was signing a D20 role-playing supplement.

I picked one up and paid my $20 to the 19-year-old making change.

The stubbly youth handed the book to Mr. G. He did not look well. He was clearly old and tired. He signed my book. I shook his hand. I mumbled an incoherent "thank you for all you've done." He may have said "your welcome." I am sure he smiled.

And I skulked off, saddened. Sad because I was walking away from a man who in my youth I had revered with quasi-religious fervor to whom I had nothing to say. Sad because I could not match the image in my head of a demi-god upon Lake Geneva to the all-too-human elderly gentleman who was clearly just trying to make a living and stay in the game. Sad because, ultimately, the song had mattered more to me than the singer.

Gary Gygax, at the age of 39, had an inestimable impact on my life. He transformed the way I saw the world. He gave me hope, solace, and salvation. But Gary Gygax at the age of 69 had no more impact on my life than my ten year old self had on the 39 year olds who surrounded me at parent-teacher conferences and in the aisles of hardware stores.

For all the grandeur of our self-perception and hubris of our aspiration, we of the geekosphere do not live in the harsh green limelight of Hollywood. We still live, after all this time, in a fringe world of obscure referential commentary and a sincere lack of self-confidence. Those we hold as the heroes and creators of our worlds are no less human, no more self-assured than we are. I believe they are, just as I am, longing to make a difference, to know that they matter, and to know they are part of something larger than themselves.

So here is my vow. I will never again wait 30 years to say thank you.


God speed, Gary Gygax.

Robert Heinlein will never, ever be a one trick pony. Other than that good article. I've only played a little D&D, but it was great drunken times.

I had the opportunity to talk with Gary Gygax once. I was freelancing for a local paper here in Monterey a few years ago. Two Marines had attacked a woman on the small coastal trail lining the city of Pacific Grove and when it was finally brought to light their lawyer blamed roleplaying games. I randomly researched them and found his website.

In one email he called me, personally. I don't know what it's like meeting a man at a book signing but the impact of getting a phone call less than two hours after an email is incredible. He helped me track down sources for third party studies done after his own game was attacked for harvesting violence. After all the business was done and I had my story I never got to thank him as the creator of one of my favorite games way back in the day when your mind was more important than computer graphics.

That was my only experience with him directly as a person but I found him humble.

His son is in the Navy and I hear rumors that he is in Monterey studying at the Naval Post Graduate School. I sincerely hope I get to meet his son so I can tell him how much his father has meant to me and perhaps a billion other people. There wouldn't be 20 sided dice without him. That's just for starters too.

This echoes my feelings closely. I have nothing but heart-felt respect for Gygax for giving birth to roleplaying. Great article, and finely takes the man behind the game into account in a way I haven't been able to.

I tremble slightly at the feeling I get at the news of his death, and generally stay out of conversations regarding it. D&D's main contribution to my life came well after many of his works, although I'm sure his work did get to me eventually and I didn't realize it. I've never played Tomb of Horrors or Temple of Elemental Evil. I realize a great man has died, but it will take a long time before I'm fully aware of the impact he had on my life.

I never got to meet him, or to game with him, but I always wanted to.

I never got to thank him, either.

D&D has been a big part of my life for twenty-eight years. Sometimes, like now, it's one of the biggest.

Thanks for the memories, EGG.

What makes me sad is how little I cared yesterday.

That is a common reaction to death. We're generally not wired to think about mortality in advance. It cripples you psychologically if during every interaction you think about how finite your time with that person is.

I think Gygax had been sick for a while. When you saw him at GenCon, he might have been aware that he didn't have much longer.

As always a different and spot on view of the world as we know it. I appreciate your list of one trick ponies, and sadly am compelled to agree with it. Sadly, because i wish my one trick ponies continued to give me the rush of understanding, elation and knowledge that I originally received from them , but i don't get the same feelings later on with newer works.

Even with a greater breadth of work, many artists out there do hit you at a certain emotional time and space. Afterwards they are respected, revered or paid homage in your own head, yet they may never hit you again, even if they grow within their medium.

Overall, an interesting line of reasoning.Thanks Rabbit.

To Gary Gygax, may you rest in peace. Thank you for the D&D experience and all that I have personally derived from it.

Well done, rabbit. And well said.

A one trick pony indeed. And yet, when that trick is an appallingly simple, seemingly effortless one that manages to harness, expand, and communicate one's own imagination, that's some trick! A trick that works not just for its creators, but for anyone who cares to sit and give it a spin. That 35 years later, has a body of work in the stories it's players could tell, of adventures both epic and base that if ever compiled would certainly rival Tolkien or Bullfinch's Mythology.

No wonder the man would seem unremarkable to those who met him. It was your imagination that created those stories in your head. Mr. Gygax just gave you the parchment and ink.

I just hope the man knew just how many stories he helped get started.

Those of you who still play D&D pnp may have already seen this last summer, but this story on ENworld sums it all up for me. In the very little time I spent with him in person, he seemed like a down-to-earth, regular person, very like the many other gamers I know. The accumulated weeks/months/years I've spent with his writing, however, have had much more of an impact on me - if only in terms of vocabulary, much less free time well spent!

I find one trick pony a little diminishing, perhaps its more a case of knowing your instrument and playing it well. In any case, his tools opened up a world a creativity for myself and fostered a love of creating and playing that still thrives to this day. All kids should play D&D, face-to-face, at least once.

It's funny. I wasn't allowed to play D & D as a kid. It was a "game for devil worshipers", said my normally coherent mother. But I desperately wanted in on that kind of escapism. So I found these books that you played with dice. They were kids novels. "Choose Your Own Adventure" style books where you rolled dice and played your way through the game as a D & D type adventure. So I never got to experience his work. It makes me sad, in a way. But on the other hand the fact that D & D was so popular allowed a book to even get made that someone like myself could buy and escape the cruel world of grade school bullying and awkwardness. I feel like at least in that respect I owe him a debt of gratitude.

Yeah, I played D&D for a few solid years, moved on to other tabletop games, came back, moved on, came back, etc. He hadn't been doing too much new lately, and pretty much everyone could see it coming, but he was still a maverick who bore a new hobby... an infectious one at that. Here I am, a grownup at 33, and instead of spending my free time investing money or whatever, I'm writing, reading and aplying tabletop RPGs.

I wasn't choked up, but I damn well took off my hat for a minute. He set this all in motion.

BTW, there's an awesome dedication in the front cover of this RPG I'm working on ( ). It was a dedication written in 2000, aimed at a Japanese audience, but it really rings true:

"Dedicated to Gary Gygax
the culture named RPG
which you bore
has evolved so far
in this frontier."


Shouldn't that be "the passing of Gary Gygax?"

Ouch...take 1D10 Shock Damage, and roll a saving throw vs. crying like a baby.
I never played as much D&D as I would have liked, none of the kids nearby seemed interested in playing as much as I did. But I did get lost in the rules and the universe in general. If nothing else D&D sucked me into the world of minature painting, which I still love to lose myself in today.

I was thinking about this, then went back to Lost Odyssey, looked at Mass Effect stacked next to it, with KOTOR next to them, and thought about how none of them might exist without Gygax and Arneson coming up with those initial books.

Then I thought about playing D&D at lunchtime at school. And those Golden Box games on the Amiga that I had (and even finished one or two). And how much I enjoyed all of it.

So bon voyage to GG - having left a legacy of stuff that made people happy must be well up there in the ways to bow out.

Thanks for writing this, Rabbit.

I ask you all to join me in 1d6 moments of silence.


Eridanis wrote:

Those of you who still play D&D pnp may have already seen this last summer, but this story on ENworld sums it all up for me.

The best part of the above referenced link is:

ENworld wrote:

"So we enter the dungeon and the hilarity begins IMMEDIATELY. Henry (God bless im'!) has taken the liberty of buying a pad of graph paper and is going to map for us. He draws a little staircase in the center of the page. Gary leans over and says, "You're entering in the Northwest corner. You might want to start mapping in the northwest corner of the page. Henry erases his little staircase and redraws it in the northwest corner of the sheet of paper.

"You descend the stairs and come to a corridor. It leads 30 feet west." So right away we go off the first sheet of graph paper and Henry pulls off another one and keeps mapping."

That is just too funny, and you should have seen it coming

"One trick pony" seems a rather limited way of looking at things. I guess if you only attribute Gygax's influence to some early version of D&D you played. But what about the impact of that on other pen & paper RPG's? What about it's impact on various D&D based CRPG's over the years? What about it's impact on computer/console gaming in general?

I'd argue that Gygax can be named as a founder of something much larger than just pen & paper D&D.

Sarkus wrote:

"One trick pony" seems a rather limited way of looking at things. I guess if you only attribute Gygax's influence to some early version of D&D you played. But what about the impact of that on other pen & paper RPG's? What about it's impact on various D&D based CRPG's over the years? What about it's impact on computer/console gaming in general?

I'd argue that Gygax can be named as a founder of something much larger than just pen & paper D&D.

Founder of modern, post-Tolkein fantasy I would say.

The way I see it, Gygax was a one-trick pony in the sense that while he indeed gave birth to roleplaying as we know it, he has not had much of an influence on where the scene has since gone, and little of his work since D&D is relative today. And please, this is not to put the man down in any sense, I have nothing but respect for him.

I think you're taking that comment too deeply - my point is that there was a moment in MY life where he mattered most directly to who I would become. He had a lifetime of good work, that's not my point.

Let's put it this way - he got almost a full page sympathetic obit in The Times today (you know, the proper one), as well as a mention in the editorial comment, and the word 'geek' made one appearance. It takes some level of international cultural importance to rate that.

rabbit wrote:

I think you're taking that comment too deeply - my point is that there was a moment in MY life where he mattered most directly to who I would become. He had a lifetime of good work, that's not my point.

It seemed to me from your list that you regret treating them as "one-tick ponies" even though you know they weren't/aren't.

To put us back on topic.

If each of us were to travel to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin to pay homage to Gary Gygax what would we bring to symbolize our gratitude?

There were so many things the man was responsible for but mainly it was the welcomed extention of my own imagination. I think I'd probably just put a rose potted with 20,10,8, and percentile dice but even that wouldn't cover it.

He will be critically missed! I plan to pour out one of my 10d4 ounces this weekend.

Some might argue that Gygax had a lot in common with the Creator of the Universe: sure, (s)he hasn't done much since that first great act, but it did give us everything we know.

I just feel bad for Dave Arneson; poor man gets no credit at all.

I also had the honor of meeting him at one of the GenCons around ten years ago. I got a chance to talk to him for about ten minutes. He was amazing and enthusiastic and had seemingly endless enthusiasm. I consider it a privelage to remember him like this. He brought a lot of happiness to alot of people. If only that could be my epitath.

Let us all remember that he came up with D&D as a method in his basement for simply keeping his kids and their friends entertained at first. Also remember that Gen Con started there as well. Either way an whatever we can say- I praise the man for including my imagination in the most important parts of my life as person not just a gamer. He is one more pinnacle of inspiration we as a people all forgot until his death. Copernicus would be proud.