Gygax was one of the creators of Dungeons & Dragons, a game that pretty much saved my life when I was a kid.
I first heard about D&D at the grade school bus stop. Some older kids were talking about a game involving wizards and dragons, and I couldn’t contain my excitement. “Tell me about it,” I begged. “It’s great,” the kid said. “When you get to eighteenth level, you can cast Power Word: Death!”
I had no idea what he was talking about, but it didn’t matter. I bought the D&D boxed set when I was twelve and taught myself to play. I bought the Advanced D&D books. I read Dragon Magazine. I created a suitcase full of characters and drew character portraits for all of them. I dreamed about dragons and memorized monster statistics.
When I got to high school, I hit the jackpot. I fell in with a small group of friends and we started our first real campaign. Rylin Whitefall, cavalier, became my alter-ego for almost four years. I still have notebooks filled with sketches, photos, coat-of-arms, and descriptions of her adventures. We played every weekend, usually in someone’s basement. We drank Coke and ate outselves sick on potato chips and M&Ms. We had marathon sessions on the weekends, whenever our parents would let us. We escaped high school and found a place full of adventure and meaning.
I kept playing in college, every Friday night and sometimes during the week. I made new friends, rolled new characters, and explored new worlds. I even took a turn developing a campaign during my senior year, and I still mine that huge notebook for story ideas whenever I can. (“Lady Blade,” my story forthcoming in Japanese Dreams, comes from that world, as does one of the main characters in my current WIP Above World.) I played in D&D tournaments, I led role-playing sessions at cons, and I never stopped loving the game.
Believe it or not, the years after college were actually my best in terms of gaming. Two multi-year campaigns produced my favorite characters and gave me some of the best gaming memories. Oh, the stories I could tell! And I have the notebooks to back ’em up. Someday, those characters will find their way into my fiction.
My fiction. That’s what eventually suppressed my ability to play D&D. I could not continue to put so much creative energy into my games and keep enough of it for my writing. D&D slowly faded into the background as I began writing, and the rest is history.
Sure, I’ve played dozens of other role-playing games through the years, and had many joyful campaigns and evenings of fun. But Dungeons & Dragons…there are no words that do justice to its impact on my life. It’s such a huge part of who I am, and I’m proud of it. Someday I’ll do one of those “Everything I need to know, I learned playing D&D” entries because, seriously, I learned more playing that game than you could possibly imagine.
Does anyone remember that episode of X-Files with the kid who played D&D? He said,
You don’t play Dungeons and Dragons for as long as I have without learning a little something about courage.
Thank you, Mr. Gygax.