Friday, March 07, 2008

Da Count - Gary Gygax's Gift

Gary Gygax died on March 4, 2008.

Gary, a writer and game designer, was considered the "father" of table-top roll playing games, particularly since he co-created Dungeons & Dragons with Dave Arneson.

When I'd mentioned this to a colleague who was unfamiliar with D&D, she asked if it was anything like World of Warcraft. I said, yes, it's pretty much like WoW, only it predates most computer games (given that it originated in 1974), was played using pencils and paper, a series of different sided die and occurred mostly within the minds and imaginations of the players.

I didn't play D&D, but did play the revised modification that came out in 1979 called Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. I participated in various "campaigns" with different groups of friends, and we would often spend entire afternoons or evenings sitting around together with soft drinks and chips or popcorn and playing AD&D.

It was fun not only learning that there could be more than a standard 6 sided die - we had 4 sided and up to 20 sided ones - now how cool is that?! The dice were used to determine all kinds of things, from creating your actual character profiles (ie, a fighter character had to have a certain score in terms of the stretch and agility aspects, while a magic user had to have a particular level of intelligence and wisdom) to deciding whether or not particular tasks could be performed successfully (you need to roll a 18 or higher on the 20 sided-die in order to dodge the dragon's flame attack -- if you roll <> 14 you get mildly burned; if you roll less than 14 but greater than 5, you get severely burned; if you roll less than 5 you're dead) during an adventure. One might think of the dice as the underlying aspects of fate or chance.

Of course, on top of the roll of the dice, much of the worlds and scenarios (and monsters) for our adventures came from a combination of the many manuals written by Gary and his colleagues (like the Monster Manual, Players Handbook and Dungeon Master Guide -- the Dungeon Master, or DM, was the narrator who guided the players through their adventures) and the imagination and mind of the DM.

In a nutshell, this role-playing game helped spark all kinds of creativity and imagination in the minds of the players. Remember, unlike video games, there weren't really that many visual things happening -- most of the adventures took place through verbal narration and in the imaginations of a group of people sitting around a table.

I even went on to write two "novels" based on characters that a friend (Tom Potts) and I had created for a series of adventures. I spent an entire summer in the basement of our home hammering out "The Story of Conan Boc" on an Underwood typewriter. (Conan Boc was Tom's barbarian character. It should be obvious where the name "Conan" came from; Boc was actually derived from the band "Blue Oyster Cult" that Tom was a huge fan of.)

"The Story of Conan Boc" would be the first novel I ever wrote. I think it came to about 20 or 30,000 words (which seemed, to my 14 year old mind, to be a pretty decent length for a novel). The following summer, I hammered out the sequel to this novel called "The Search for Aaron Boc" (you see, by then I started recognizing that I couldn't use the name Conan for my character, since that name had, kinda already been used before - so I replaced the name "Conan" with "Aaron" -- the only similarity, BTW, between the two characters, other than the fact that they were barbarians, was the name)

Both of these novels were typical teenage boy fantasy adventures - lots of sword fights, lots of slaying monsters, lots of naked women with giant breasts.

Similarly, both these novels, while they live deep in a drawer in my filing cabinet, will never be submitted to publishers or, hopefully, ever appear anywhere that people can read them. They are relatively terrible tales, complete exercises in learning as a writer. The plot was hackneyed and the writing pedantic -- but going through the exercise helped me with some elements of character development, helped me practice plot curves and structure, and definitely helped me learn the absolute commitment required to be a writer.

But I have to thank Gary for inventing this world which I lived in with many of my friends for many years and for helping inspire me to write those learning-ground fantasy adventure "novels"

Rest in peace, Gary. And thank you.


1 comment:

lime said...

fascinating glimpse into one of your inspirations. :)