Gary Gygax, the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, died this morning at age 69.
I haven’t played the game in 15 years, but it remains the single biggest influence in my career as a screenwriter. And I’m not alone: a quick poll of my writer friends revealed a huge number of teenage rangers and magic-users. That’s no coincidence. Building an adventure in D&D requires the same imagination as constructing a screenplay. Running a campaign is like running a TV show, with weekly sessions at the ping-pong table in the basement.
D&D isn’t where we learned to write, but where we learned to think epic. A game could last all night. Or all year. By the time my friends and I stopped playing, our characters had three generations of mythology behind them, with family trees that would bewilder Faulkner.
The game is also where future accountants learned to obsess over convoluted rules. Particularly in the early editions, there were more charts and figures than you’d think a seventh-grader could handle. But we ate it up. In a pre-internet age, a few hundred pages of dense data on mistletoe-gathering and the restrictions on Limited Wish spells was like info-crack. Even when you weren’t playing D&D, you were thinking about the next character you wanted to roll. The next adventure you wanted to build.
I’m sure I’ve read Gygax’s AD&D books — notably, the original Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide — more than any other printed matter I’ve owned, probably by a factor of 10. It’s where I learned what c.f., i.e. and e.g. meant.
I’ve moved 10 times since college, but the crate of D&D books has always come with me, unopened but somehow indispensable.
So, my sincere thanks to Mr. Gygax for what he brought into the world. We live on after death by creating things that outlast us. By that metric, Gygax is nearly immortal.