Tuesday, March 04, 2008
Gary Gygax has lost his final saving throw. The founder of TSR games died today after a long illness. For a guy I know nothing about other than that he invented Dungeons and Dragons, he sure shaped and changed my life. When my son dragged me into his Magic league, I unearthed my ancient dice so I could show off my pathetically worn icosahedron with corners that has been rounded nearly spherical. It’s my geek badge of pride from my roleplaying past.
It may come as no surprise to readers of this blog that I used to play D&D. I was in fact a Dungeon Master, and a very good one if I do say so myself even though I came into the hobby by accident. In junior high, I played tons of military games, mostly the Avalon Hill games like Panzerblitz and Squad Leader. I thought that role playing games were beneath me.
When I moved to Florida for high school I spent a lot of time that first summer at the local library because as a new kid in town I had nothing to do and nobody to do it with. One afternoon I saw a bunch of other teenagers going into the meeting room behind the circulation desk. Curious, I asked what they were doing. It seems the library was a great place to meet for gaming since the meeting room was nearly always available and it was large and comfortable. I swallowed my pride and learned the ways of fantasy role playing games (which as an adult has a whole different meaning).
That was in 1979 and Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (or AD&D, to distinguish it from its more convoluted predecessor) had just hit the market. D&D impressed me with its comprehensiveness. No aspect of the fantasy world was too obscure to be cataloged and quantified in obsessive detail. There were names for every level of character class. The spells and creatures covered every possible sub-genre and milieu. Somewhere deep in my closet of childhood paraphernalia is a first edition of Deities and Demigods complete with the copyright infringing Cthulthu mythos. I found it odd that the titular dragons were often much wimpier than many other far more obscure creatures in the namesake dungeons.
The kids I had hooked up with were a local group of gamers that called themselves The Bombers for no apparent reason. For the next couple of years, I spent at least one night a weekend with a floating group of maybe a dozen other people that shared common interests in addition to the need to pretend to be battle-ax wielding dwarves. We would trade book recommendations, order pizza, and even engage in substance abusing activities when the game got too dull.
My signature character was a half-orc fighter with astoundingly low charisma. I eventually tried my had at dungeon mastering and became the de facto leader of the rather loosely strung group. My crowning achievement was to get a girl to take up the game. My future wife and this other girl were taking a summer drivers ed course. I would ride my bike down to the school on the way to the library and flirt with the both of them while they stood around in the hot Florida summer sun waiting for their turn behind the wheel.
This girl was a voracious reader of fantasy and got intrigued by the D&D reference manuals in my backpack. I got her to start coming to our regular weekly games. She was short, nearly anorexically thin, and very pale. Between her pallor and her shock white hair she appeared nearly Melnibonéan. She would come to the games dressed in dark denim and a black Frazetta tee shirt. Her presence cut short the gameplay barmaid wenching in the town pub that often took up half the game before the characters would head off to the dungeon. This classic Dead Alewives routine pretty much summed up a typical evening for us. It’s like they had hidden microphones in my dining room.
From Wikipedia, I found that there is an audio only sequel to that sketch that includes a girl.
I eventually cast aside my dice tossing days to spend more time with the girl that I have spent the last twenty-five years with. Who has never played D&D once. I don’t regret leaving that nerd rite of passage behind, but every now and then I see a group of pimply, poorly groomed geeks with both the traditional six-sided and the d20 decimal dice generating characters with those critical 3-18 stats. I watch them and can’t help but fondly remember those days when I too mastered the dungeons.
Thanks for the memories, Gary, and I hope you fondly look back on us fellow gamers as you walk the planes.