Gary Gygax just died. I never knew him, never met him, but he was one of the primary architects of my childhood.
He created Dungeons and Dragons, which in its various incarnations served as a hub, a jumping off point for wild imaginings and storytelling in the most classic and ancient meaning of the word.
Storytelling not by repeating a tale, but from weaving it, crafting it on the spot with input from any number of active listeners. Not passive listeners, but listeners who can help steer the tale. Listeners who will be mentally and emotionally invested in a tale if it is well-told – they will meet new friends there, look forward to cameos from old favorites, and fight monsters and villains.
I always enjoyed D&D, when I was running a game, I cared more about creating interesting characters, memorable moments, fun puzzles, than I did about the actual *rules* of the game. Sure, they were there, but I looked on them as a resource to be tapped when needed, not as the driving force.
I can’t count the number of times I played D&D late into the night with friends, only going to sleep when our bodies simply failed to function, then awoke to start right on playing.
I remember a time that D&D saved me. It was when I was going to Lotus Land School (later renamed Jordan Glen School) in Archer, Florida. I was probably around 10 years old. There were these two boys, I don’t even remember their names, but they would bully me all the time. On the tennis court they would hit balls at me as hard as they could, trying to peg me. Or they would knock me down, or throw my books. I remember one time, they were chasing me through the school, it must have been after hours, since the classrooms were empty. As I fled, I knocked chairs over behind me, causing them to trip and swear and try to catch me even more.
I realized I didn’t have a plan of escape. In one of the rooms, I stopped and turned to them. “Wait,” I said, “have you ever heard of D&D?” They stopped, puzzled, and I told them about it. They didn’t really get it, so I dispensed with all the rules, pared it down to its essentials, an interactive story.
So we started to play. I discovered the best way to keep them interested and enjoying the story were to add more ribald bits, so I made sure the barmaids were all buxom, and of course, in fantasy worlds there are no STDs…
But it was then that I realized the real power of intellect, of creativity. From that point on, I never knew anyone I considered an enemy*. Imagination, it turns out, is a pretty powerful thing.
So anyway, Gary, who I never knew, thank you for your worlds, and for showing me how to create my own.
*ok, there were two people since then that I have called “nemesis”. One I no longer have a problem with, and the other is hopefully long dead.