It’s a sad day - Gary Gygax, pioneer of pen-and-paper roleplaying games and one of the original DnD creators, has passed away aged 69.
While I never played the original DnD (I was only a year old when it was released), Gygax had a hand in many of the seminal experiences I had with PnP RPGs. I’ve had a long history with them, starting from MERP (which all came about from reading LOTR) when I was 13/14 all the way to the present day. Having transitioned naturally through ICE’s more complex systems after MERP for a couple of years, including Rolemaster and its derivatives, I remember encountering Gygax’s work for the first time through ADnD Second Edition in 1989/1990. It was something of a revelation - ICE’s systems were very technical in nature and time-consuming to play, and ADnD took what felt like a more vital approach to the genre without being ‘too’ simple - and it really gelled with our groups maturation and growing displeasure with overly mechanical gameplay. Really from that point onwards we started to move away from the kind of fixation with mechanics some systems promoted, and more towards the development of rich story and characters, and that trend has survived in our current group to this day - and Gygax’s systems helped that. It’s a principle that underpins our group’s hatred of miniature use today, which is promoted a lot in the latest edition of DnD - we think it encumbers the game horribly and roots you to a physical medium that takes too long to maintain and can’t represent really imaginitive scenarios quickly and easily. Personally I think it’s a cynical ploy to make people buy more products (the miniatures) and has nothing to do with the core values of the game. Leave arseing about with miniatures to the wargamers for goodness sakes, RPGs should be about character, mental agility & imagination, not counting grid squares.
Yes, that’s right - we still game despite most of us having grey in our hair; we’ve been joined by some of our wives too now. It’s always good to get a bunch of people together, socialise and stretch the imagination a little bit - as much as I like CRPGs, even the best ones can’t hold the tiniest candle to an experienced PnP group - even MMORPGs don’t remotely cut it, since they only (barely) address the social aspect, their interactivity and scope for imagination are still desperately primitive. It’s terribly difficult to explain to people who aren’t familiar with the activity though, hence why over the years most of us have learned it’s often best not to try, for fear of sounding like a weirdo - most people ‘get’ playing games on the computer / console, but many seem to find it much harder to understand a bunch of people sitting around talking and somehow creating a collective story from that. Worse, popular culture often represents the activity as a bunch of nerds sitting around wearing capes / wizard hats, geeking over their +1 Cluebat of Smiting and acting out horribly clichéd fantasy stories involving 2-dimensional muscled barbarians and mysterious wizards wading through dungeons and rescuing well-endowed women grabed in armour of questionable protective merit. Which is nonsense of course - the reality is that we of all people are not going to tolerate crappy fantasy plotlines - after almost 20 years, our tastes are far more refined than that. Rich plots, believable characters, twists, interesting dilemmas, varied settings (contemporary, pseudo-historical, futuristic) - anything you can think of in a good book is what we’re usually aiming for. Oh, and none of us like dressing up and doing LARP, that’s one of the most irritating assumptions we come across. It’s a creative social activity enjoyed by mature, intelligent adults with a bit of imagination to chuck around, and there’s nothing quite like it.
Directly or indirectly, myself and millions of others can probably attribute a lot of our enjoyment of the genre to the influence of Gygax’s work, even when we’re using other systems (and we’ve used tons), so his passing definitely deserves to be marked here. RIP.