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Gary Gygax

Post #1135 • March 7, 2008, 2:44 PM • 48 Comments

A week of milestones has passed. Soon I will tell you about some of them, but I want to get to the most important one first: Gary Gygax, creator of Dungeons & Dragons, died at the age of 69 this past Tuesday. He had been hosting D&D games at his home as recently as January.

I'm not ashamed to admit it: Gygax is responsible for many happy hours in my adolescence. D&D worked like propane on the engine of my imagination, and played an important part in my artistic development as I drew characters, maps, weapons, and monsters. I was a chaotic-good hafling thief that got up to 11th Level before I found other interests, and until then my elven, human, and dwarven companions and I had a grand time plundering, fighting, negotiating, strategizing, and fighting some more as we sauntered through the Tolkeinesque landscape. Somewhere I still have my collection of four-, six-, eight-, ten-, and twenty-sided die, which made for an interesting introduction to Platonic solids and probability. One of my first computer programs, written in BASIC on an Apple II+, generated D&D characters. salutes you, Dungeon Master of Dungeon Masters, and wishes you fair skies and the wind at your back on your journey.




March 7, 2008, 3:21 PM

nice one franklin. long live D&D! i wish i still had my monster manual and DM guide book. came across a bunch of d & d gear at a gargae sale not long ago. talk about throwback.



March 7, 2008, 3:22 PM

and damn i loved those die as well.



March 7, 2008, 3:32 PM

I did too. Those die were so beautiful, especially once they came out with the translucent plastic ones.



March 7, 2008, 4:27 PM

i was collecting lead figures to paint as well. so rad.



March 7, 2008, 6:47 PM

I wouldn't have survived a troubled childhood in suburban Long Island without Dungeons & Dragons. I have to admit that I was a kick ass Dungeon Master.



March 7, 2008, 7:10 PM

anybody tried the WOW? i haven't but some folks i know that play it seem just like junkies sometimes. ah, fantasy role playing...

but really what isn't magic about this whole ride?


Marc Country

March 7, 2008, 9:06 PM

Franklin, my lvl 10 cavalier with gauntlets of ogre power AND a girdle of frost giant strength would snap your puny halfling in two. Yo' backstab shit ain't working here, little one...



March 7, 2008, 9:26 PM

I remember creating dungeons, castles, towns, villages, and cities using graph paper and 2B and 3B pencils and writing detailed descriptions of specific areas on the maps in a looseleaf binder (I believe I used a Trapper Keeper. Remember those?). Dungeon Mastering (I guess it can be a verb) was a perfect combination of planning and improvisation.



March 7, 2008, 9:35 PM

one of my first sustained drawings was a copy of this drawing i had in a module or manual of a samurai type with his his longbow drawn against a sea serpent. forked arrow and all.



March 7, 2008, 10:09 PM

Geekoids, unite! Not that I didn't sometimes wish I could play too.



March 8, 2008, 6:55 AM

Cavalier? Good luck with that frost giant strength when you never see the attack coming. Cloak of invisibility, boots of silence, +5 dagger blessed against the undead.

Maybe D&D was where I learned to talk smack.



March 8, 2008, 6:59 AM

@Ex: I drew the line at WOW. I respect it, but all the things I'm not getting done are going to not get done even harder if I get into Warcraft. The same kind of thing keeps me out of Second Life. And when Supergirl rolls her eyes at this dweeboid she married, I can still say, "Honey? At least I'm not gaming."


Marc Country

March 8, 2008, 8:05 AM

That's it Franklin: roll for initiative...

I too have painted a few lead miniatures in my day, and I have a set of dice, but I confess, mine are brand new...

In January, I got together with a group of my old gaming friends for a pre-wedding nerd-fest, in lieu of a more conventional bachelor party. I made everyone's characters, by deciding what race and class they would be if they had, say, been thrown from the real world into a fantasy world by a malfunctioning magical roller-coaster... my short biologist friend became a halfling ranger (I know, it's not technically allowed in 2nd ed. rules..), my even shorter rugby-playing friend became a dwarven bererker, etc... I was an elven bard, of course (A jester, really... well, maybe more of an insult comic.)

I was just thinking about Gygax's passing in the studio the other day, as I work on my newest sculpture, in tribute to him: a helmet for an aquatic elven prince. It's made of brass, soldered together with mithril, naturally...



March 8, 2008, 8:20 AM

Just for the record, I don't know these people, and I have no idea what they're talking about.


Marc Country

March 8, 2008, 8:22 AM

Sorry Jack... you've stumbled into an Anachronistics Anonymous meeting...



March 8, 2008, 9:31 AM

I am impressed with your powers of retention. I remember some of the stuff but not that much. I do remember the joy I felt when I set up the Dungeon Masters cardboard shield that had all of those facts and figues printed on the Dungeon Master's side of it, so that the players could not see what I was doing with those cool ass dice. I also remember the intesne feeling of joy I felt when the Monster Manual II came out. Imagine a whole new book filled with new monsters!


Marc Country

March 8, 2008, 10:05 AM

Eric, maybe you should call up your folks and see if they still have your old Trapper Keeper in the attic...



March 8, 2008, 10:30 AM

Jack, I'm with you. What language are they speaking?



March 8, 2008, 10:39 AM

Well, it would appear to be something akin to Trekkie talk, but I wouldn't really know. I spent my adolescence reading Janson and old Greenberg reviews (in between museum and gallery visits, of course).



March 8, 2008, 10:42 AM

I'm for euthanasia.



March 8, 2008, 10:45 AM

Oh dear. That was meant for the public art thread. Sorry.



March 8, 2008, 11:11 AM

sorry to steer things elsewhere, but i was wondering if anybody got to see the Poons show that franklin posted about a while back along with the WDB text...



March 8, 2008, 11:18 AM

Everyone I've talked to who has seen it thought it was a great show & there have been a number of sales. I'd like to hear here from anyone who has seen it. George?



March 8, 2008, 11:44 AM

The Trapper Keeper (TK) is somewhere in my attic I think, along with piles of old sketchbooks. In the TK, along with my D&D maps and descriptions, are the pen and ink drawings I did of the members of the Galaxy Squad, a thirty to forty member superhero team I 'created', each of which was essentially a variation of a Marvel or DC comics superhero/heroine. I also have several boxes filled with Marvel and DC comic books (mostly Marvel) from the late seventies to the late eighties. I am sure nothing is worth that much, but I did bag and board each comic a few years ago. I have some strange gems in my collection: just about every issue of The Micronauts, every issue of ROM Spaceknight, many issues of Dr. Strange, a very limited double sized series (they were a dollar per issue back then)put out by DC called Time Warp, which included several science fiction tales some of which were drawn by Steve Ditko, many issues of Power Man & Iron Fist... I could go on but I will spare you.



March 8, 2008, 11:56 AM

my father weened me on ROM, Silver Surfer, Red Sonja, and ARAK. and when the secret wars story arc hit...



March 8, 2008, 12:55 PM

I came across issues from an amazing mini-series produced by Marvel in the mid-eighties called The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. Each issue was double sized and essentially it was an encyclopedia of all of the Marvel characters, including the most obscure ones. Each character took up a page or two and was drawn by a different artist. Of course these encyclopedia type things are fairly common nowadays, but back then they were rare. The detailed entries are great. Anyone remember, Paladin, a mercenary and private investigator who first appeared in Daredevil (He has a cool dark purple costume.), Psycho-Man, Chief Scientist of Traan and Conqueror, who first appeared in the Fantastic Four, Quasar, who first appeared in Captain America, Quicksilver, former adventurer and son of Magneto, who first appeared in the X-Men? John Byrne was the main penciler for all of the covers in this series and he is in my top five list of greatest comic artists of all time.

Last word about D&D. Isn't it amazing to think how creative the game was when compared to what is available for kids today? Video games, handheld games, WOW, etc., All of this shit is more or less spoon fed to the teenagers. Granted we would have loved to have devices that simulated reality for us in such an attractive way, but it was fun having it all play out in our imaginations back then.



March 9, 2008, 6:45 AM

I called a childhood friend up a few weeks ago and, seeing my name on the caller ID, answered, "What's your armor class, Charisma Zero?"

I think I drew a million dragons in the margins of my grade school notebooks.



March 9, 2008, 6:52 AM

I had no idea how much this would resonate with readers. Welcome, brothers!

The NYT has run their appreciation. See also xkcd.



March 9, 2008, 7:56 AM

Finally, something worth reading in the Times!

That flow chart is great.


Arthur Whitman

March 9, 2008, 8:51 AM

There's something rather D&D like about the whole notion of a blog. The blogger/DM creates this continuously updated (and often interlinked) world, which also becomes a platform for the social interactions of assorted "player characters." Not that I would want to confuse fiction with non fiction, but still.



March 9, 2008, 10:36 AM

william gibson saw it all coming



March 9, 2008, 10:37 AM

and in his seeing and commenting helped it become what it is. nerdery underpins it all!!!



March 9, 2008, 10:47 AM

Neuromancer is still my favorite book by him. Does anyone here who reads Gibson think another book by him tops it? Let me know and I will read it.



March 9, 2008, 11:13 AM

geez eric. that's hard. the trilogy that began with 'virtual light' i enjoyed very much. 'pattern recognition' was all about the aesthetic to an extent. it was good. he often weaves modernist art into his stories. there was an AI doing 'cornell' type collages in one book. another book i liked recently by neil gaiman was 'american gods'. it charts the plight of gods that humans have embodied thourhgout our history through various waning faiths and beliefs..


Marc Country

March 10, 2008, 9:31 AM

Uh-Oh. My package I ordered from Amazon just arrived: Neverwinter Nights 2.

The adventure continues...


Chris Rywalt

March 10, 2008, 9:32 AM

I don't know if I should be ashamed or if I should brag about this, but, um, I still play D&D. Hell, I'm still playing the same character I played in high school. Of course, there was a hiatus of a few years in there while I went off, discovered girls, got a college degree, got married, had kids.

Not much has changed about the game, though. It's still mostly about arguing, looking things up, and making anal rape jokes. Well, maybe your games were different. Anyway, now there's beer and, of course, mead.

And as far as the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, I just went through mine and re-boxed them. My son's almost eleven and so I gave him my comic collection (after making sure none of them are worth much on eBay). He settled on Spider-Man and Iron Man and the Avengers as his favorites, so I sorted out the ones he wanted from the rest, and put all the comics I'd bought since 1988 in order, since that was the last time I bothered to sort my collection. Then I put them back in the boxes and back in the attic, which is climate-controlled (it's always within fifty degrees, plus or minus, of the outdoor temperature).

When I played Champions, the superhero role-playing game, my character was based on Quasar, Eric. Speaking of which, there's going to be an online version of Champions coming out soon.

My son has also bugged me about playing D&D. I'm just not sure I want him to be that much of a nerd....



March 10, 2008, 9:43 AM

Thanks for sharing Chris (not the bit about anal rape). I feel much better about my middle aged nerdiness now. I have already shared some comics with my four year old son but I won't give him the whole collection, several boxes worth, until he can take care of them a little better. We did memorize the Spider Man tv show theme song together.


Chris Rywalt

March 10, 2008, 11:22 AM

I am positively agonized at how my son treats comic books. I'm using this as an opportunity to practice Buddhist detachment from the material world.



March 10, 2008, 12:12 PM

Yes I clench my fists and my entire face when I see the covers getting ripped off and the pages bent. I usually let him read/destroy issues of Marvel Tales or other reprint series because they are worth as much as they were when I bought them give or take a few cents.


Chris Rywalt

March 10, 2008, 12:36 PM

Well, you could've made a great investment in comics if you'd followed me around and bought anything I didn't buy. All of my comics are virtually worthless. In fact most comics from the mid-1960s on are virtually worthless. On eBay the only comics getting good prices are graded by professional comic grading companies, and unless you're a store and have a contract with them, getting the comics graded costs so much it's not worth it. Basically it's another scam.

I gave up collecting comics. Now I buy a scant few and read them. I throw them in the box when I'm done and don't worry if I bend them or anything. I think of this as my contribution to future collectors: If everyone treats something as worthwhile, then they won't throw anything away, and the object will never become collectible. The only way it can become collectible is if it's rare. So I now treat my new comics like crap. Well, okay, not quite like crap. But I don't obsess over them like I used to.

I don't buy many comics anyway. It's a sad commentary on the state of comics when a fan of the medium walks into a store with cash in his pockets looking for something to buy and walks out without a purchase. Lately all I pick up is anything by Frank Miller -- 300 was great -- and Astonishing X-Men, which is one of the best-penciled and -colored comics of all time. And I bought a few issues of Cable & Deadpool because I've gotten acquainted with the artist, W. Reilly Brown, at a drawing group I go to. Marvel canceled the series, though.



March 10, 2008, 1:33 PM

Yes all of my comics are worthless. All of the worthwhile ones were taken from me years ago. I have thousands of them though. I do have a great variety of Marvel titles from the late seventies on. I still love my Dr. Strange comics and of course the X-Men and Avengers, especially the ones drawn by George Perez when he was teamed up with Terry Austin. Those guys worked brilliantly together. John Romita, Jr., John Bryne, geniuses one and all. I bagged and boxed them years ago and they sit in boxes. I will gladly pass them on to my sons. I also plan on finally getting around to using this nice image projector I bought years ago and making comic inspired paintings with complicated compositons and even more complications iconographies. Ha!

I think the thing that has turned me off the most to the new comics (or graphic novels excuse me) are the outlandish prices. I subscribed to the X-Men and Avengers about ten years ago and they did not do anything for me. The art wasn't very good and the writing was atrocious. They were printed on better quality paper though.


Chris Rywalt

March 10, 2008, 2:03 PM

The whole printing process in comics has undergone an amazing revolution. When I go back to comics printed in the 1970s or '80s I'm amazed we were able to read them at all -- those old offset presses were so lousy. (Incidentally, this is why so many old comics have been collected and printed in black * white -- the old color plates are useless since the archaic printers don't exist any more. So comics have to be entirely recolored or printed in black & white.)

Nowadays, with computer printing and lettering, so much is possible. The trouble is a lot of coloring companies think that because you can do so much, you should do all of it on every page. So a lot of modern comics look pretty terrible. That's why books like 300 and Astonishing X-Men are such stand-outs -- Lynn Varley is a true artist and she uses the possibilities perfectly, while Laura Martin on Astonishing is a great team member. John Cassaday leaves his art wide open and lets her interpret so much detail with color alone.

As far as prices, Eric, you're showing your age there. Modern comics actually cost about the same in adjusted dollars as comics in the '70s. It only seems astronomical because your brain is still stuck in outdated prices. (Mine too. I read that a round-trip flight to San Francisco costs $500 and I'm like, who has that kind of cash?) Well, the CPI calculator says prices have gone up even in constant dollars. Just not as much as it seems. ($3.95 today is equal to $1.01 in 1975 -- pricey for a comic back then, even an annual.) Anyway, it's not as bad as it looks.

Hm, comic book-based paintings...I feel lich we've already been down that stein....



March 10, 2008, 2:48 PM

Yesterday I imagined doing a shoulder length portrait of a frowning Hulk with a word bubble next to him reading Hulk depressed.

Yes I am sure you are right about pricing and all that. I guess the last time I walked into Forbidden Planet down the block from the Strand in NY I was intimidated by the overwhelmingly huge selection of titles. The kids in the store and the creepy adults were having a ball though.

You really still play D&D? Wow. What a trooper.


Chris Rywalt

March 10, 2008, 3:06 PM

Here's the thing. I'm really nerdy but I'm not King Nerd, if you know what I mean. I don't go to conventions, for example. I think I've been to maybe two comic conventions in my life, and one of them was because a friend had taken out a table (he was published last year in Heavy Metal -- but he is, alas, no longer a friend). I've never been to a role-playing convention. I don't dress up as anything and I don't speak Klingon. I do watch Doctor Who but I haven't seen an episode of the original series in about 20 years. Like that.

I've only ever played D&D, really, with the same couple of people. My DM is a guy I've known for over a quarter of a century. He and his brother are two of my best friends.

When I left for college in 1988 I stopped playing role-playing games. I didn't have time -- getting an engineering degree tends to take a lot of effort -- and anyway it was more fun to, you know, play with my wife-to-be. I lost touch with my pre-college friends.

Then a few years back my old DM and I got back in touch. Then a mutual friend told me that our friend was depressed. Things in his life hadn't been going well -- no job, mother of his child took the kid and left him, stuff like that. All he had left, really, was D&D. Around that time the DM asked if I'd re-join his game playing the same character I'd left behind back in 1988.

How could I say no?

I doubted I could get into D&D the way I used to. I mean, we used to play for the entire weekend, sleeping only when absolutely necessary. Our diet often consisted entirely of microwaved White Castle hamburgers and fried bologna sandwiches. But I joined anyway.

Since then my DM's life has turned around -- nothing to do with me, of course -- and I'm the depressed one. But I find the occasional game relaxing. We just play for the day on Saturdays, maybe until midnight. There's only three of us, me, the DM, and one other player (he brews the mead). It could just as easily be a poker game or a book club, really, but instead there's dice. For a little while I can scratch and belch and not worry about the kids and make anal rape jokes. It's not the most fun I've ever had but it doesn't have to be, and that's what's good about it. No pressure.

It also helps that now, at 37, I'm so much smarter than the DM, the other player, and the people who write the modules that I can play my character's 19 intelligence pretty realistically. Not that I actually would have a 19 intelligence, you understand, just that relatively speaking, with the bunch I play with, I seem to.

I still love the dice, though. Something about them. I always have to refrain from buying more whenever I'm in a gaming store. I just love dice. So colorful and shiny.



March 10, 2008, 4:23 PM

Wow you stuck with the new Dr. Who? I could barely make it through one episode before giving up on it entirely. Tom Baker was and forever will be the best Dr. Who. I don't care what anyone says.



March 10, 2008, 6:46 PM

Yes, Franklin, but I'd replace halfling with gnome.

I didn't like the translucent dice. You could poke your eye out with one of those things. The old ones with the soft rounded edges were so much more solid for me. Tho I still remember the horrible "Basic" set with its cut-out "chits." Ugh.

My favorite was undoubtedly the 30-sided die. An article in Dragon magazine suggested using one to compute a character's dying blow.

My group played less by the rules than for the sake of the story, as if were characters in a novel being unfolded by the person acting in their turn as DM. Those of course were the days of Ultima.


Chris Rywalt

March 11, 2008, 5:14 AM

Back when I was a Boy Scout, our Rifle & Shotgun teacher during summer camp was British. We got to talking about Doctor Who and I learned that, back then at least, British TV didn't show repeats. So TV series had no history except what people could remember. He told me that most viewers' favorite Doctor, then, was whichever one was on when they started watching.

Since Tom Baker was the first Doctor to come to America, he's usually the American favorite. Personally I always liked Peter Davison, but then he was the Doctor when I first really got into the show. Of course I'd seen Tom Baker before that, but Davison coincided with the height of my watching the series.

The new series is really, really good, though. Chris Eccleston took some getting used to as the Doctor, but by midway through his first and only season I loved him. In a sense he was acting the way the Doctor should have acted for a lot of years. I mean, once he'd beaten the Daleks six or seven times, he really should've been more confident going up against them, and Eccleston really played that.

If Eccleston turned you off I'd seriously recommend watching some David Tennant episodes. He's probably got the most Tom Baker in him of any Doctor ever. He took a while to grow on me and there are still aspects of his performance which grate on my nerves, but his time on the show has had some great scripts -- not just great Doctor Who scripts, but great TV scripts. Some of the best writing I've seen on the boob tube. Of course the series is wildly uneven, just like it used to be.

I don't know what your options are for getting old TV episodes -- rent them on DVD, download them, TiVo them, whatever -- but if you can, I'd strongly recommend sitting through a few episodes of the new series. Try School Reunion (season 2 episode 3), Human Nature and The Family of Blood (season 3 episodes 8 and 9), and Blink (season 3 episode 10). To me, they carry forward the great things about the show while ditching some of the dopey things. But still with cheesy special effects!



March 11, 2008, 8:46 AM

Thanks Chris. I will try to find the time to follow up on your tv viewing recommendations.



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