Gary Gygax invented (along with Dave Arneson) Dungeons & Dragons, and with that the roleplaying game genre. Back in the seventies that meant pen, paper, dice and friends – these days its more likely to be online in a MMORPG with friends you’ve never met. The traditional P&P (Pen & Paper) game still exists and in fact is getting a new edition in June 2008.
If Gygax hadn’t have invented that game 30 odd years ago my life wouldn’t have been as fulfilled. I wouldn’t have developed a deep love for reading and story-telling and I doubt my imagination would be as broad. I’ve been the playing Dungeons & Dragons predominantly as DM (Dungeon Master), the director of the story, for about 23 years and continue to play in a weekly game with some old school gamers like myself.
I never met Gygax, but I read and reread his fantastical name on many a rulebook (there are hundreds of rulebooks) and wondered what kind of gamer he was.
I wrote a short story a couple of years ago about the first time I ever came into contact with Dungeons & Dragons, and I include it here as homage to the proto-dungeon master. Thanks Mr. Gygax, for all the things I like about me.
My first time
Everything that happened when I was young seemed to happen when I was ten years old. I frenched kissed a girl for the first time. Got drunk and threw up for the first time (they are unrelated by the way, the kissing and the getting drunk on champagne). Made my first best friend that I would keep in contact with throughout my life, albeit irregularly. But the biggest life altering experience was my introduction to the grand-daddy of all role playing games, Dungeons and Dragons.
It was during a school break, I had finished my sandwiches and was rushing to go and play one of my favourite games, “stingers”. A fast-paced game where you try dodge speeding tennis balls. If you got hit, it would sting like a bitch, hence the name.
I ran passed some boys huddled on the stairs leading out to the quad. I remember the day being sunny and the light was catching the lid of a red box on the floor between them. The box cover enthralled me and I stopped in my tracks. It was fire engine red with a large ferocious red dragon about to kill a hapless warrior. The warrior was in the dragon’s den and both were standing on a mound of golden treasure. I had never seen anything like it. I asked what it was and a boy named Gregory Sayers (the aforementioned lifelong best friend), said it was a game called “dee-en-dee”. I read the box cover to make sense of what he said, “Dungeons and Dragons” it proclaimed in large fantastical type, with the ampersand being a dragon curling around itself and breathing fire. It was magical. He had some small light blue objects in his hand that intrigued me, so I asked him what they were. “Dice.” he replied in a short manner. He seemed very absorbed and his answers sounded rehearsed, as if he was asked these questions all the time. I sat down next to him and asked if I could see the dice. He nodded and rolled them onto the ground. They blew my mind. I can still remember the quiet thrill of seeing the now all too familiar multi-sided dice. There were six of them in total. A square one which didn’t interest me at all as it had the regular six sides I knew from board games like “Monopoly” and “Careers”, but the others… There was an eight-sided, a ten-sided, a twelve-sided and a twenty-sided. It was hard to tell just by looking at them and I had to ask Gregory what each one was. The twenty-sided die held my interest for a long while (so many sides) when I noticed the last die. It was shaped like a pyramid. I picked it up, the numbers didn’t seem to be in any order and all were very low. “And this one?” I asked. “Four-sided,” he replied, looking up for the first time since I sat down. I then proceeded to ask him every question I myself have now answered thousands of times. “How do you play?” “What’s the twenty-sided die for?” “How do you win?” “What’s a Dungeon Master?” “What’s better, a dwarf or an elf?” “Can I get a magical sword?” “What spells does a first level magic-user get?” “What is first level?” What is beyond third level?”
I never did get to stingers that day, nor for any other day while I was at that school. By the end of the break I had rolled up a ‘fighter’ character, and armed with a sword and shield was facing carrion crawlers with their poisonous tendrils and rustmonsters that could turn your armour and weapons to rust in seconds. I was enthralled. All this was happening in my fertile imagination with a few scraps of paper and the very cool polyhedron (a word I would later learn) dice. I played a character for the first couple of months and left the Dungeon Mastering to Greg. Soon I bought myself the same red boxed set and was eager to try my hand at leading some of the stories, so I asked Greg if I could Dungeon Master the next game session. He gave his assent and afterward the players said it was their best game to date. From then on I was the Dungeon Master, and have rarely played as an individual character ever since.
That was 23 years ago and I can still remember it clearly. I grew up and the games grew up with me, becoming more adult in nature. More complicated rules, more genres, styles and themes. Dungeons and Dragons moved to a shelf as other games came on the scene.
It is hard to understand how two, thin, soft cover books with small ink drawings in a red box and a bunch of weird dice could generate so much power that could inspire for a lifetime. Thanks Greg for introducing me to the game, you have given me worlds.
I credit DnD for my love of reading, my imagination and ultimately for my love of story-telling. It is by far the most empowering game for a child, ever. Who knows, I still might be running around trying to sting someone with a tennis ball if I hadn’t seen that box cover. Thanks E.G.G. for “roll for initiative”.