RoleCraft: Thank You, Gary Gygax!

As many roleplayers are aware by now, an icon of the RP gaming world passed away last week. I speak of Gary Gygax, of course, co-creator of the Dungeons & Dragons game, where I and no doubt many other roleplayers first entered into this genre of gaming. Yes, the internets are full of pages and posts about him, his life and legacy, and what he meant to gamers and their games. I sincerely hope you can spare attention for one more.

This article is aimed at helping other MMORPG players with roleplaying, plain and simple. The obvious connection that it has with D&D, especially in my RP gaming background (which you may read more about at RP Archives) is an aspect that simply cannot be ignored. If you’re like me, you have read very similar accounts about how much influence Gygax’s creation was and remains to us gamers, so I’ll not bore you with yet another. I will say this: I get paid to share my passion for RP with others here in the most public of media formats, on the world wide web, and if you think about that, it’s an absolutely amazing thing. Thank you, Mr. Gygax.

The spark that fired my imagination for RP gaming was D&D, where Gygax shared with me adventures in lands from his own imagination. To depart a bit from the usual RP conversation here, I want to tell you what else I learned from D&D, things about the real world that were taught to me through a fantasy game, and how they have and are coming full circle.

To say I grew up poor would be telling it nicely. Not homeless, mind you, just destitute, well below whatever the poverty level was back in the ’70s and ’80s. I never had a lot of toys to play with as a child, so I began to make drastic use of my imagination, fed to a large degree by books and music. Those of you old enough to remember sea monkeys and pet rocks will know exactly what I mean. I could turn an old tennis racket into a guitar, a broomstick into a sword or light saber, or a cardboard box into a race car. The region of America where I grew up was also not very high on the country’s financial rating, which meant the schools I attended only offered up the most basic of subjects. I’m not at all saying they were bad schools, only that they didn’t have many other subjects I’ve since learned that others my age and from wealthier parts of the country had available to them.

But in 1980, my entire world changed, on many different levels. The tales and stories in the books I had been reading suddenly merged with my make-believe games when I opened the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game. The years that followed are of such monumental importance in my life, both in where I was mentally and physically at that time, that they are rather difficult for me to clarify. Only my martial arts training holds an equal place in my mind as having forged me into what and how I am today. It went far above and beyond a means of gaming and entertainment for me. It was an education in life and the world, and at least introduced me to subjects that were never even so much as eluded to in my schools.

For instance, I credit D&D for developing and strengthening my love and knowledge of military history. Having such a close relationship with medieval Europe, as many of those early ‘dungeons’ had, naturally lead me into learning about topics such as knights, archery, chivalry, castles, clerics, guilds, siege machines and hundreds of other items to many to list. In school, I learned that knights wore armor, a sword, and shield for battle. Through D&D, I learned that they wore plate mail and chain mail armor, learned the difference between a long sword and a broad sword, and that they would do better carrying a kite shield than they would with a buckler. That’s just one example, of course, and I could go on for pages about other ways D&D brought to life for me many other elements of military history. Suffice it to say, it helped to make it so much more than just knowing a bunch of dates.

One subject that is often beat up against D&D is religion. It’s been said, and I’m sure is still repeated by the unlearned, that we who play the game are devil worshipers, Satanists and pagans who regularly practice ritualistic ceremonies and sacrifice human virgins to Gaia. Please. That is and has always been utter nonsense. I’ll tell you what’s true and fact in my own life: that I learned more about the world’s religions, philosophies, legends, folklore and mythologies from D&D than in any other place, period. And would you believe, I’ve yet to gut a lamb on an altar or knife a chicken to read my future in the drops of blood? Imagine that!

Recommended Videos

In learning about the world, geography is yet another category that was more strongly enforced to me by D&D, more than merely learning about what country is where. Specific things like how an oasis is created and how the seasons differ between an arid and a tropical region. Take geology as another example. It was D&D that taught me first about stalactites and stalagmites, about lichen, about saltpeter, which also leads into alchemy and other sciences in history. Metallurgy, botany, nature, culture, physics, meteorology, orienteering, lions, tigers and bears – well, you get the picture.

All those and many, many more are materials that I had but brief brushes with while in public school, but were shown to me in varying detail through the D&D game. What’s also important is that I learned these things at a young age, versus learning about them after my teen years, when they could’ve remained only figments of various errata, or been missed altogether amongst the daily trials and tribulations of adulthood. Am I saying I would rather not have went to school, and instead just played D&D? No way. Though this may seem to be a lament about how poor the schools I went to were, that is not at all what I am saying. The fact that I went to school AND played D&D is something I think has made me all the better for it.

Gary Gygax didn’t create roleplaying, and he didn’t create gaming, but it was partly his vision which helped to bring them together into a single format which anyone could access. I, for one, will ever be thankful that he did. I certainly don’t think I would be doing what I am today without having experienced his vision, and I mean that in the best way. Sure, the world is full of naysayers and griefers who will always do all they can to make us feel incompetent over feeling so strongly about a game. He had the zeal within him to create a game that is now known throughout the world, so I have no worries whatsoever about feeling the same zest for having played it, and for attempting to share that passion with others through this column, as he shared his with me. Am I hitting or missing? Only time and maybe a d20 will tell. Until then, as I bet Mr. Gygax would want me to do, I’ll role on.

The Escapist is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more
related content
Read Article RoleCraft: Roleplaying Without Roleplaying
Read Article RoleCraft: The Rule of Roleplay
Read Article RoleCraft: Before the Cataclysm
Related Content
Read Article RoleCraft: Roleplaying Without Roleplaying
Read Article RoleCraft: The Rule of Roleplay
Read Article RoleCraft: Before the Cataclysm