Gary Gygax, 1938-2008

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It’s being widely reported around the Net that Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, has died at age 69.

I’m not sure what to say except to quash any jokey “he’s given up his last hit point” lines. You just can’t wrap your head around what a massive influence this one guy’s imagination had on the minds of a generation of people who grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons. Even his name on the cover of the Player’s Handbook was freaky and otherworldly (it was Swiss, apparently). It would be easy to dismiss him — and he has, of course, been largely dismissed by mainstream culture — and God knows there was plenty of later wrangling over the rights to D&D, in which nobody came off well — but you have to give it up: he was one of the master architects of the dungeon-crawling fantasies that play themselves out in my constantly looping mental fantasy movie, and I’m not the only one. And you know, the idea of simulating those heroic Fafhrd-and-the-Grey Mouser-style stories, of breaking them down into numbers and probabilities, governed by cruel plastic dice-gods, and then inserting yourself into them as a role-player — it must have required a tremendous leap of the imagination, and huge amount of work on top of that to make it happen. And he was one of the people who made it.

I never met Gygax, though I did send him a galley of my first book. The book wasn’t very good, but he sent back a very kind blurb to put on the back cover, of which I was hugely proud — it remains my favorite thing about that book. I’ll leave you with a link to the best piece of writing I’ve seen about Gygax, Paul La Farge’s “Destroy All Monsters,” which ran in a 2006 issue of The Believer. La Farge actually had the stones to go to Wisconsin, hunt down Gygax and play in a game that Gygax DM’ed. Now that’s a fantasy right there.

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