Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Nerds in Mourning

Most of you what know me know that I'm an irrepressible nerd. The signs are everywhere.

I like showtunes.

In school I was in Drama

" " " " " Band

" " " " " Choir

I still do all three at one time or another.

I've read the Lord of the Rings more than once.

I'm good at math.

I love to play chess.

I stood in line to see Star Wars.

And the Empire Strikes Back.

And the Return of the Jedi.

I own an expensive, official, lightsaber that lights and has authentic movie sounds.

Given time I could come up with dozens more, I'm sure.

But there is one more I'll add to the list: I've played Dungeons & Dragons off and on since 1979. And I make no apologies. I love Role Playing Games (RPG's) and have played many differnt types besides the standard fantasy. Military, Post-apocalyptic, Spy-Thriller, Horror, etc.

But it all started with Dungeons & Dragons.

I was first fascinated by the fancy little dice, shaped in Pythagoras's solids (plus the d10, but I digress...) They looked mystical, like magic crystals providing access to some arcane art. Books on the table in the library at lunch, papers everywhere, and nerds sitting about taking on the roles of doughty fighters, sneaky thieves, mystical wizards, and pious clerics, all with strange names, odd powers, and a particular lack of fear of the unknown.

They creeped and crawled through dark, dank, slimy tunnels lined with secret doors and lethal traps. Around any corner, beyond any door, they might be pounced upon by strange and vicious monsters intent on ending their exploration and keeping safe the secrets of the ancient dragon dwelling in the depths of the mountain.

Of course, you couldn't see any of this. It was all in the imagination, and mine was fired up. It wasn't long before I talked grandma into buying me the basic set with an incredible illustration by the legendary Erol Otus.

On the books inside the author was identified as one E. Gary Gygax.

Gary Gygax, along with his friend Dave Arneson, were avid players of table-top battle simulations, with miniatures. At some point, they took it a step further, creating a fantasy world inspired by the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien, Fritz Lieber, and Michael Moorcock, among others, for their minature figures. Rather than faceless figures in battle, they became characters searching for treasure and magic in dungeons and haunted castles.

As D&D caught fire and gave pimply teenage nerds a means of isolating themselves from brainless jocks for hours at a time, Gygax became the icon for this new, captivating hobby. Over the years, even though the game evolved, it never outgrew the palpable, tense excitement of the unknown, of imminent danger. The godfather of RPG's was never far from the hobby.

His life was not without conflict and controversy, as is usually the case with visionaries when money is involved. Yet through it all, despite his faults, there was always an almost universal affection for the man who had brought so much fun and excitement to so many.

In the wee hours Tuesday, right around midnight, Gary rolled his last die.

For those of you who don't understand this weird, stupid game, well, a eulogy such as this one is probably meaningless. But for those of us who grew up and found great impetus for our imaginations in this arcane game, his passing brings both sadness and a sense of gratitude for creating Dungeons & Dragons.

Fare thee well, Gary. May all your hits be crits.


It's about me, dummy!!!


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