I wanted to get this post up a few weeks ago, but was too busy with essays and the like. It was hard to write, and to know what to say, but I think I’ve finally hashed it out. You see, we just passed March 4th, the fourth anniversary of Gary Gygax’s death. I never met him, and certainly don’t agree with everything he said, but I can’t deny the fact that I owe him a lot.
There’s a saying in philosophy, paraphrased from Alfred Whitehead, that “All philosophy is a footnote to Plato.” And it’s true, in a sense. Philosophers are part of a tradition. We write in the context of that tradition, and react against it. Even the philosophers who insist that they’re breaking with tradition and doing something completely new are part of that tradition, because they’re pushing off of it. In the same vein, all roleplaying games are a footnote to Gary. He was one of the ones that started scaling back Chainmail and imagining what it would be like if each person had a single character and went on wild adventures. If he hadn’t, well, I’d be in a really different place right now.
I started when I was about ten, with Darksword Adventures, a small paperback rpg book I’d bought thinking it was a novel. It took me a while to figure out what the nature of the game was. I’d heard about D&D, but never met anyone who played it. I played Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger, and loved imagining strange new worlds. I badgered some friends into playing with me, and once I thought I understood it, started designing my own game so that we could live out my vision. It was atrocious, but I still have binders full of papers where I vented my creativity into lists and tables. When I was 14, I played in a Warhammer Fantasy game at camp, and learned a lot more about how mechanics work. I fervently redesigned my game when I got home (and it was still atrocious, but fills even more binders). I found friends to play my game with, and we had some good times (and some bad ones I’ll admit, I wasn’t a very respectful GM back then). I looked on roleplaying as some kind of secret nerd order, where only the elite were fit to weave stories. I was a little weird.
I really got into it when I started playing vampire in my teen years, at a bunch of local larps. Every weekend while other teenagers were getting drunk and meeting girls, we were all up at the university wearing black and pretending to be vampires. I ran a few larps, and started running smaller tabletop games, and got a lot of practice at it. There were times when we played five or six nights a week during the summer, and most of us were out of school then. Larping died down, and I started a D&D game in 2003, which I’ve been running off and on for the duration. I discovered gaming communities like the Gaming Den and the Brilliant Gameologists, and through the internet found more and more games, like Spirit of the Century, Savage Worlds, and Burning Wheel. I went to D&D Encounters whenever I could manage the time (which was not very often), and remember being incredibly enthused when the new gaming store had a table full of little kids lined up to play 4e D&D, even though it wasn’t my favourite edition. I saw myself in them, looking on fantasy worlds and seeing the kind of fun that could be had there.
It sounds pretty crap when I draw it out like that, but the people I met playing those games are still with me. We have fond memories of playing together, and of all of the things we’ve done outside the context of games, when we needed each other to lean on. No family ever loved each other more, and we bonded through roleplaying games. There’s a quote from Gary that I love, from just a few years before he died.
“I would like the world to remember me as the guy who really enjoyed playing games and sharing his knowledge and his fun pastimes with everybody else.”
Well I’ll go you one better, Gary. Two years ago I stood with a friend in the room where we’d larped many years before, and he asked me a pertinent question. “Seriously Jim,” he said, “What the hell were we thinking?” I answered him as honestly as I could. “I have no idea, but you know what? I wouldn’t trade it for anything.” And I wouldn’t. Not now, and probably not ever. And all of that I owe to what Gary started so many years before. You helped give me an amazing family and unforgettable experiences, so here’s to you Gary. We may not have agreed on everything, but you’re a 20 in my books.