E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson made a difference to my childhood and adult life alike. Without the popularity of Dungeons and Dragons in the 70s and the surge of games that spawned around the role playing phenomena in the ensuing decades, I would never have led the double life I have. Yes, I would have still read fantasy books, but I might not have read them with such interest and enthusiasm.
Having read ‘Lord of the Rings’ (or part of it) in my pre-teens, I received a copy of the Middle Earth Role Playing (MERP) game as a birthday gift. I had been playing occasional games of D&D in the practice rooms behind the main music room in my school for months and wanted to run my own game. One friend, Graham, ran D&D – where I had a fighter called Ironheart, while another friend, Jon, ran Call of Cthulhu and Star Trek – which generated Matt Houston, the grizzled private investigator, and Captain James Andrew Garth, commanding officer of the USS Lexington, respectively. When I finally ran MERP, I did so with the over-enthusiasm of an amateur gamemaster with a dodgy understanding of the setting, throwing the characters into a conflict with a group of Black Numenoreans just outside Bree. However, with time I found my footing and a firmer grip on the setting, resulting in adventures that spanned weeks, then months. At one point, we gamed for an entire summer almost non-stop, spending endless hours in the sweltering heat of a caravan in Graham’s parents’ driveway.
Those were exciting times, filled with constructs of imagination and youthful excitment, peppered with references to Monty Python and the Holy Grail and the adventures of Guybursh Threepwood that ground sessions to a halt in storms of laughter. In time, the real world crept in and sessions became ever more infrequent until they stopped altogether… but, my interest lingered on.
I played extensively at university, finding a splinter faction of the Role Playing Society that didn’t find character generation such an exciting nine week experience. I then dragged around my role playing collection from house to house, moving for convenience to get into work, wherever that might be. Occasional culls led to the destruction of the occasional magazine or the loss of a book to amnesiac borrowers, but otherwise my collection stayed intact and grew.
A few years back I stumbled on the rebirth of the PARANOIA role playing game and the open playtest that surrounded its creation. Allen Varney gathered a team of willing co-writers around him who have helped to generate a whole new line of books. Not only did I finally get my name into print inside the covers of a role playing manual, but I managed to beat out a supplement of my own – ‘The Underplex‘ – and fulfil some small dream. Now, I play a little with my own children, engaging their brains and voices in a way that Nintendo never will – throwing them in the face of challenges and danger without threat of harm, and seeing what they can make of it.
E. Gary Gygax (1938 – 2008) changed my life. In one way or another, without him (and Ironheart the fighter) I would be who I am today. I’d certainly have a lot more free shelf space… Gary – you willed me missed. Like that final climbing skill roll that killed my favourite Gnome rogue Golchak Grimface.