Long Roll To Ruin

Gary Gygax, creator of Dungeons & Dragons, passed away today at age 69. Like others, here’s my D&D story.

Back in middle school I wasn’t quite the mopey outsider I cast myself as in high school.

We had just moved to Georgia following a 9-month stint in Chattanooga, Tennessee (Go Owls!) and I was quite content to merge my big-fish-in-a-little-pond/elementary-school persona with my tweenage (though they didn’t have that word then)/angsty/new kid persona.

So I did what any tall, lanky, socially-awkward (we’d moved twice in a calendar year) kid would do: I joined Band class.

Band, it turned out, was a gateway drug to all manner of geeks.

Chorus geeks.
Drama geeks.
Orchestra geeks.
Art geeks.

And of course the middle of the Venn diagram connecting most, if not all, of us: Dungeons & Dragons.

My middle school was large enough to be a feeder school for two area high schools, but some of the D&D relationships outlasted the 8th grade and crossed over Grease-style rivalry boundaries.

There were the Hess brothers whose house doubled as our normal home-base. Headed by a hippie Mom and a tune-in former Army brat Dad, they always had lots of soda, chips, candy and Renaissance Fair-purchased/slightly historically accurate weaponry.

We stayed up too late, behaved like loud fools and had a blast. No basement for us, we played at the kitchen table.

The basement belonged to the Van Hiels. Their folks were much more straight-laced but no less accommodating. Plus they had a pool table and an older brother with a driver’s license to ferry us places and GM some of our more mature adventures. [Aside: I actually bumped into the older brother this evening in CVS before writing this post. Small world.]

It was here that D&D became a gateway drug to Magic: The Gathering and pretty much every SSI PC game licensed by TSR.

We eventually wound up in another basement – the Sears’ – playing lots of the shareware version of the first Doom game for PC, some original Playstation and a ton of Traveller.

Along the rest of the journey there was GURPS and FUDGE and Warhammer (both RPG and miniatures) as well as other TCGs and even a trip, in 1997, to Dragon Con. My folks lived in Wisconsin – though I never visited Mecca/Lake Geneva – but I did see what Gary wrought on the world: a community of geeks.

I’m forever in Gary Gygax’s debt for helping me explore all the stupid, silly, boyish fantasies I ever had. For helping me be an actor and a playwright and a director without ever having to study acting, put pen to page or deal with crews and budgets. For letting me imagine and dream and, most importantly, commune with other dreamers.

Here’s to all the shitstorm-inducing, Chick tract nonsense that Gary started all because he wanted a way to model combat and, lacking a PC like the ones we now blog on, dreamt it all up again.

Here’ to hoping they’re still referencing and venerating D&D 3d6 years after his passing and beyond. I know I’ve been doing it on my about page forever.

Make a saving throw for nostalgia and geekiness, will ya?

And if you need some cheering up, watch this World of Warcraft-generated music video [Via james]. I’m a WoW addict (I guess it’s a natural progression, after all) and this made my day.

I can’t help but think that D&D, Mountain Dew and early shareware are the building blocks of many in my generation.

Until tomorrow.

PS: If you’re not reading Will’s (fellow Metblogger) GamePlayWright, you should.

PPS: 4th edition D&D effluvia now online. Get it while it’s Digg-able.

4 thoughts on “Long Roll To Ruin

  1. “Go Owls?”

    Hmm. Your post says “Chattanooga,” but your mascot tells me “Ooltewah.”

    Here’s to those initial sparks of Nerd Pride.

    And thanks for reminding me of those early SSI games. On to that stack, I’d have to pile a handful of fantasy games on the Commodore 64, like Nine Princes Of Amber … all of which were a way of perpetuating the imaginary worlds of pen-and-paper gaming when a cadre of fellow nerds weren’t available.

  2. Ooltewh Middle School for half of my 6th-grade year. We had a Chattanooga address and were there for the grand opening of “Tennessee’s Biggest Mall”, Hamilton Place.

  3. Thanks for the shout-out, Seth. It’s great hearing folks’ D&D stories these days.

    It looks like I’ll be doing some writing and design for the new edition of the Warhammer RPG, which just moved to its new publishing home in the house of some friends of mine in Minnesota. To get myself back up to speed, I’m running the game some down here in Atlanta. Want to stir your nostalgic geek? You’re welcome to come out and play with us sometime.

    The best thing? For me… it’s not (just) silly play. It’s work. So you can call it “playtesting” and respect yourself afterwards! Maybe.

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