Gary Gygax and the Summer of '76
My First Summer Playing Dungeons and Dragons
It was summer in 1976 when my best friend walked to my house one day with a Dungeons and Dragons rule book. It was from the original boxed set that was released in 1974 and sold for $10.00. I wish I'd bought a hundred of them and sealed them up in a vault.
We were both at an age where history was being revealed to us in school and, being young boys, we were particularly drawn to knighthood, chivalry, and medieval warfare. Even before we'd heard of D&D, we'd been pretending to be on noble quests in the fields and creeks that surrounded our homes.
So, when my friend arrived with the rule book and some polyhedral (many-sided) dice, we used the rules as a framework for own adventures fueled by our notions of history and our imaginations.
We noticed the names 'Gygax and Arneson' on the front of the booklet but paid them no mind. At that point in our lives, they may as well have been named Gilbert and Sullivan.
The game was awkward at first. We didn't know who should play what role or how to express ourselves in the imaginary world without being embarrassed. We only knew that we had fallen in love with what we'd come to know as fantasy role-playing. Whatever was going on in our young lives, an escape to a mythical place awaited us whenever we got together with that simple little rule book and those mystical dice.
The History of D&D and Its Creators
School was out until September, and that summer we wore that little booklet out. We introduced some friends and family to the game and soon we were writing and illustrating our own adventure campaigns. Our mothers would chase us out of the house and we'd go on long hikes in nearby woods and meadows. During those romps, we'd talk, pretend we were on important adventures, and come up with new material for our Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. Sometimes, when we returned from our explorations, my mom would have snacks ready for us to enjoy as we got down to the serious business of having fun playing D&D.
Over the years, my friend and I began to find other interests and our time spent playing D&D together ended. I made new friends who enjoyed the game, and I continued to play the pen-and-paper version for many years.
In my early teen years, I developed an interest in computers and computer games. I watched as TSR, Inc. updated and released more involved versions of that old basic rules pamphlet. And in 2006, a wonderful company called Turbine released the massive multiplayer version of the game and called it Dungeons and Dragons Online.
All the while, Mr. Gygax was writing fantasy novels and new adventure material, hosting conventions, and perfecting his gaming system. He eventually left TSR, which he founded, and then returned years later, much like his former partner Dave Arneson had done.
Dave Arneson, who died in 2009, was instrumental in fantasy game development. He was the co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons, but it was his partner, Gary Gygax, who would retain creative control of the board game and bring it to stardom.
A Simple Game Delivers Valuable Lessons
What I took from my time playing the pen-and-paper version of D&D would last a lifetime. Creating involved campaigns taught me to develop my writing skills. Being a dungeon master taught me how to interact with people better; it taught me the simple philosophy that one person can do a lot, but groups of people working together can achieve almost anything they put their minds to.
Perhaps the greatest gift I took from the game was the realization that there are no bounds to fantasy. The only limits set upon the genre are those of the imagination. And that's why I've found myself returning to write fantasy and play Dungeons and Dragons whenever time allows.
I've read Gary Gygax's Saga of Old City several times. The simple storytelling style coupled with the gritty urban environment appealed to the child-adult in me and it still does today. Dungeons and Dragons Online injects a significant amount of reality into its fantasy world (the world of Eberron) and it is that element that keeps me playing.
When Gygax died in 2008, it was like losing an old and dear friend. I never met the man, nor did most D&D players, but we felt like we knew him because the adoration he felt for fantasy role-playing and social interaction came through in his game and writings.
Take a look at his original Dungeon Master's Guide, and you'll appreciate the level of dedication this man had to his game. You can easily see that the game was designed for adults, but that its nature was appealing to kids. The result was that my childhood friend and I developed our math skills and writing talents that summer in 1976 more than other kids who were taking part in less intellectually stimulating endeavors.
A Note About the Author
I am not professionally affiliated with Dungeons and Dragons. They don't pay me to write or promote for them. (My entire dungeonraider porfolio on HubPages has netted me less than the cost of my monthly internet subscription lest ye think my motivations for writing about D&D aren't as innocent as I suggest.)
I write about Dungeons and Dragons and play DDO (the online version) because it reminds me of my youth and because I love to write about monsters and magical lands and heroic adventurers. And I write to honor Mr. Gary Gygax who, along with my father and mother, helped raise a kid into a man who is still young at heart.