Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson

I never met either man. I've never tracked them down at a convention. Nor have I ever been to Lake Geneva, which is about 3.5 hours away from my hometown.

During my early years playing D&D, I had sort of a reverence for Gygax, since he was the creator of the game. His voice, via his Gygaxian prose, carried through in his works--especially the Dungeon Master's Guide. I imagined him being a showman, a hard-nosed businessman, and a strict DM.

Gygax wanted to see you improve as a player, as evidence by the material  in the AD&D Player's Handbook ("Successful Adventures,"p. 107), the Dungeon Master's Guide ("The Ongoing Campaign," p. 112), and the Tomb of Horrors ("THIS IS A THINKING PERSON'S MODULE," p. 2). He wasn't impressed with character powers. The classes in the Player's Handbook reflect this. The classes with the  most potential for unbalancing the game had restrictions (i.e magic-users were weak at low level, paladin's had a code of ethics AND needed a 17 charisma which his hard to get even rolling 4d6 drop the lowest).

Later, as I learned more about the early years of the hobby, how D&D developed from its wargaming roots, I became convinced that he didn't create tabletop roleplaying games. Obviously, this is common knowledge, but remember that  the Internet back in the 1990s wasn't as prevalent as it is now, so I was didn't know what had happened. Folks like Dave Arneson had been roleplaying well before D&D game out. Gygax just had the business sense to put it all together and market it.

Maybe if I had met him in person I'd have viewed him more as a saint. And do not wish to speak ill of the dead. Yet he certainly was no Santa Claus like some people make him out to be. For example, both Gygax and Arneson co-created D&D, but why is it that Gygax is getting a memorial and Arneson is not? Because Arneson was more or less out of the picture when D&D exploded in popularity at the end of the 1970s and early 80s. Players were exposed to Gygax's name.

I knew who Gygax was before Arneson. The first picture I saw of Arneson was in a Dragon magazine in the late 1990s (though I can't remember which one). He looked like a jolly, perhaps even mischievous, old guy (who might have passed for Santa Claus were he wearing red or green), and wanted to people to have fun, but didn't care for whiners--at least in this story at Beyond the Black Gate.

I think Arneson deserves more credit, since he was role-playing longer than Gygax.

Then again, I didn't meet either man before they died. I can only feel a bit envious for the players who go to meet Gygax and Arneson, and felt even more envious for the players who got to game with them.

(Recently I heard a story about a player who actually killed one of Gygax's characters with a misplaced spell some years ago--how would you like to be that guy? Apparently, Gygax left the session).


Did you ever meet Gygax or Arneson? Or both? What were your thoughts and feelings about them during your early years in the hobby?

1 comment:

  1. I met Gary once at Gen Con and shook his hand. He had sent me an email a few years before and it was always one of my red-letter geek days.

    I was going to stop and chat with Dave Arneson one Gen Con, having briefly spoken with him the GEn Con before (the same one I talked to Gary). But he was busy talking to Ken St. Andre so I didn't want to interrupt them.

    In both cases those were their last Gen Cons respectively.

    Moral of the story here folks. If you want to thank someone for doing something cool in this hobby, please do it on your first chance; you might not get a second one.


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