Friday, March 07, 2008

Gary Gygax changed my life.

He really did.

Gary Gygax, who died a couple of days ago was, for the non-geeks among you (I'm assuming there's a couple), together with Dave Arneson, the inventor of Dungeons and Dragons, right back in the year Nineteen... Tumpty Tum. Now D&D is nowhere near the best roleplaying game. In fact it's nearly the worst; it's clunky, humourless, sees Renaissance Fairs as examples of medieval-style gritty realism and mashes together Tolkien, Jack Vance and gribbly monsters in a way that doesn't make any sense whichever way you hold up the Monster Manual.

But when I was a socially-crippled teenager (and I don't mean that in a self-deprecating way, I mean literally hobbled with embarrassment and shame and fear even beyond the standard requirements of teenagerdom), D&D gave me a means by which I could interact with other kids my own age without it mattering what music I liked (Supertramp), or how good I was at sport (not very), or whether I had the right kind of clothes (Supertramp t-shirt). What matters in rpgs is how well you can tell a story, and how well you can work with the other players to make the collaborative story far better than anything any one of you could make up on your own.

Eventually of course, the whole thing fell apart, when alcohol came along, and then girls, and I was left clutching a plastic bag full of character sheets and funny shaped dice, wondering what had just happened. I still do, to be honest.

We hadn't just played D&D though - in fact once the limitations of the system became apparent, we moved on to a game based around the works of Michael Moorcock, utterly unhindered that only one of our number had even read them. Call of Cthulhu was another favourite, in which nineteen thirties investigators confronted Lovecraftian monsters from the beyond and went gradually and irrevocably mad. I also ran a game of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in which an anthropomorphic fox and polar bear teamed up to fight a) alien monsters and b) Robocop in order to protect another alien disguised as Denholm Elliot, but to be honest even I don't really know what was going on in that one.

But one thing D&D had showed me, even before we starting mucking about with other games, was a sense that collaborative storytelling could be a thing all of its own, like and yet unlike reading a novel, watching a film or attending the theatre. At its best, it encompasses any and all of those and yet can still be its own thing entirely. And entertaining though it was, we were dimly aware that on some level we were creating a strange kind of Art, that was entirely ours and unlike anything we were taught as school. I wanted to be a writer long before I became a gamer, but what kept me sticking with it even through shit jobs, and years of thinking I wasn't getting anywhere with it at all, was trying to recapture a tiny bit of that genuine storytelling magic I used to experience three times a week over at Ben's house, drinking way too much coffee and rolling little plastic dice.

So Gary Gygax, I will forever be in your debt. Although I still think the Cure Light Wounds spell was underpowered.

11 comments:

Oli said...

Dungeons and Dragons wasn't the first RPG I played, but all roleplaying sprung from that well.

I've bonded with more people over RPGs than any other one thing, and whilst friendships came from all the other stuff that makes life fun, more often than not Rifts, Vampire or Fighting Fantasy served as that first connection.

GMing is where I first started telling stories, something that's still very important to me. I owe Gary Gygax a lot, not least my Tuesday night Exalted sessions.

I hope he knew how happy he made a lot of people.

Jayne said...

Half-elf magic user/thief over here...

(tried Cthulhu but went too mad every other session to function properly. Plus I just liked a. killing things and b. stealing things so D&D always had a greater appeal)

hugo said...

chaotic neutral half-orc barbarian with 17 INT. *sniff*. 1st edition ftw though.

'nuff respect gary. safe journeys to your appropriately alignment-coded outer plane.

Tim Footman said...

I look forward to similar heartfelt obituaries when the bass player out of Supertramp croaks.

Valerie said...

I played D&D with my siblings in junior high school -- we wrote our own version of the dungeons. My hippogriff invited travellers in for tea; if the player tried to fight him, they'd quickly die, but if they spoke to him, they'd get tea and treasure — a little door prize. I left RPGs behind, for the most part, long ago, but I salute Gary's creativity and the good times he gave to some of us who were socially inept, but creatively intact..

wyndham said...

Sadly, dispatching twelve skellingtons in a crude cardboard approximation of a dungeon corridor thanks to several lucky throws of a dice is one of the triumphs I remember in my life. I gave up role-playing games shortly after. Trying to work out how to slingshot my starship around a dying sun in Traveller, and all the mathematical business it required, did for me, I'm afraid.

james henry said...

I keep trying to get back into RPGs, but just find the maths impenetrable these days. And I was rubbish at maths as a kid as well, how confusing.

Anonymous said...

why don't you try paranoia? yeah there are dice and maths involved but really they're irrelevant. that was my fav game.....manymanymanymany years ago.

many.

llewtrah said...

I half-heartedly played verious RPGs, mostly not the AD&D ones, but I read Gygax's Greyhawk books.

We've lost sci-fi writer Arthur C Clarke too, so not a good time for sci-fi and fantasy..

Beach Bum said...

I have the first 20 or so copies of White Dwarf ... no more Gods, demi-Gods and Heroes anymore.

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