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Happy Birthday to Gary Gygax!!


 By Kevin Curtin

I want to take a moment to remember one of the people that had a great and positive impact on my life by wishing a very Happy Birthday to Ernest Gary Gygax. Gary would have been 84 on July 27, 2022, if we did not lose him way to soon on March 4, 2008, at the young age of 69.  

I consider Gary as an almost mythological figure and regret I never had the chance to meet him. I love reading his old posts on Dragonsfoot and seeing "Gamer Gary" in his full glory, dispensing wisdom and positively brimming with enthusiasm for a game he brought into the world almost 50-years ago. We only had glimpses of "Gamer Gary" in The Dragon magazine and other periodicals. It was usual "Corporate Gary" speaking in those articles and well, he was just not as much fun as "Gamer Gary".  

A little history. On July 27, 1938, Ernest Gary Gygax was born in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.  As we all know he went by his middle name, Gary, given to him by his mother as a nod to the great American actor Gary Cooper. His father was Ernst Gygax a Swiss immigrant and a violinist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. His mother was Almina Emelie Burdick. 

The Gygax family moved from Chicago to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin when Gary was 7-years old after a group of boys he ran with called the "Kenmore Pirates" got into a tussle with another group of boys. Of course it makes perfect sense that Gary was running around with Pirates! If it had been the 80s it would have been the Kenmore Ninjas. 

It was in Lake Geneva that Gary would fulfill his destiny as the "Father of role-playing games". With his one-time colleague, Dave Arneson, they formed one of the greatest Dynamic Duos of all time and created an entirely new thing, a fantasy adventure game that you might have heard of called Dungeons and Dragons.

Dungeons and Dragons was built on its wargaming past and combined with the new concepts coming out of Dave Arneson's Blackmoor Campaign which is lovingly detailed in the film Secrets of Blackmoor. Gary saw the potential for this game to become a big financial hit but I'm sure he had no idea just how world-changing Dungeons and Dragons would be. Without Gary's ardor and zeal, this would never have happened. His passion brought us the game we all know and love.  

I personally owe a great debt to Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, and the amazing creators at TSR. Their invention taught me so many things about life. My vocabulary was immeasurably increased by reading Gary's works in his unique writing style dubbed "High Gygaxian" by some. I spent many an hour with a dictionary in one hand and the DMG in the other puzzling over the strange and fantastic ideas contained in this marvelous tome. By the way, the book itself was also amazing. A 238-page hardcover game book? Unheard of at the time. I still have my original book and despite 40 years of use, it is still intact. Mostly. 

The early D&D game was also great at teaching the value of working together as a team. If you were going to delve into Dungeons, Deep, Dark, and Dangerous, you had to trust your thief to find the traps, for your your fighters, paladins and rangers to remain steadfast on the frontline, that your wizards would save their spells for the right time, and that your cleric would heal you after victory. If one failed in their important task, you were all doomed. A great lesson to learn at a young age. 

It can be argued that a tabletop role-playing game was a new form of  entertainment but in my opinion it is so much more that just a game. It can teach us so many things about ourselves and the world. If you have enjoyed playing any tabletop roleplaying game, you owe a thanks to Mr. Gygax and his drive to get people to play Dungeons and Dragons. Thank you, Mr. Gary Gygax, for sharing your treasures for all of us to enjoy.

Some of our favorite Gary Gygax quotes:


“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.”

— Gary Gygax

Dungeon Crawls

"Those who reject the dungeon crawl are like painters who refuse to use red pigment in their work. This leaves their palette lacking in a primary color."

— Dragon #272, Hooray for the Dungeon Crawl!, June 2000

Emergent Story

"As for a story, that’s an adjunct to the “adventure” the PCs experience. the players and the GM do create something than might be a story dull or exciting, dramatic or comedic….if it were written or told after the fact. that isn’t the aim of the game though. An RPG is to entertain and amuse the participants through play.

— Dragonsfoot, Q&A with Gary Gygax, Part III, 2005

Roll-Playing vs. Roleplaying

Many people knock “roll-playing,” but it is a necessary part of the PRG game form where chance is a major factor in the game–as it is in real life. The real bad rap against dice rolling is if combat is the predominate feature of play, that negating the other elements that make up the game…such as role-playing.

Rules are necessary for a structured game, doubly so when it is based on fantasy where no real facts are available to the participants. then the structure becomes the major feature of play, though, then it is at least as onerous as roll-playing, so both terms are equally damning. If a game is nothing but role-playing, then it is not really a RPG, but some form of improvisational theater, for the game form includes far more than acting out assumed roles.

— ENWorld, Q&A with Gary Gygax part 3, 2003

 Ignoring Rules

"My belief is that the rules for an RPG should facilitate the enjoyment of the game for all concerned. If they get in the way then they are no good."

— ENWorld, Q&A with Gary Gygax part 1, 2002


Nobody seems to know what “Gygaxian” means. I sure don’t after perusing the lot. there’s a considerable amount of confusion in regards to my DMing style, and not a few people there blowing hard without having an inkling of what it is like.

If I set out to kill PCs, how on earth did Tenser, Robilar, and the rest ever get to relatively high levels? What the whiners don’t like are adventure situations where they lose their PCs due to their own inept play. My modules don’t suffer fools lightly :-D

— ENWorld, Q&A with Gary Gygax part 4, 2003

Fudging Rolls

"If mere chance is the cause of the impending failure, I modify the situation to have the adversarial side be likewise blighted by ill fortune. If I over-powered the NPCs/monsters I do indeed reduce these capacities in some way so as to enable the party to succeed.

In the case of sheer foolish play on the part of the players, I let the chips fall where they may, and if that means new Avatars, that’s the breaks."

— Dragonsfoot, Q&A With Gary Gygax, Part VI, 2006

Long Running Campaigns

"Indeed, I assumed no campaign with an end but connected episodes, with occasional sagas such as the "G" and "D" series of adventures. When PCs got to around 15th level they were generally retired, went only on special adventures."

— ENWorld, Q&A with Gary Gygax part 4, 2003

Vancian Magic

"The “memorize then fire and forget” principal for casting spells Jack Vance assumed in his fantasy stories seemed perfect to me for use by D&D magic-users. It required forethought by the player and limited the power of the class all at once."

— ENWorld, Q&A with Gary Gygax part 13, 2007

Weapon Speed Factors

Forget weapons speed factors. I must have been under the effect of a hex when I included them in the bloody rules.

— Dragonfoot, Q&A with Gary Gygax, Part II, 2005


As I created them, there are absolutely no good Drow save for the insane.

— ENWorld, Q&A with Gary Gygax part 13, 2007

Drow females are like spiders in regards their superiority to the male. There are quite a few examples of females being larger and stronger than their male counterparts in the animal kingdom, and it seems that many of the theropod dinosaurs were likewise.

— ENWorld, Q&A with Gary Gygax part 13, 2007

“The drow were actually created to be the dominant human-like race in the vast subterranean world. what little I know about how they have been treated by other authors since then is not at all palatable to me. The drow are purely malign by temperament, as hateful as wolverines, as opportunistic as hyenas. They have absolutely no angst, save when facing an immediate threat from a more powerful drow or demon.

— Dragonsfoot, Q&A with Gary Gygax, 2005

You can find more information on Gary's life at Wikipedia including a family tree that indicates he is the 22nd great grandson of Edward I Longshanks Plantagenet, King of England.


Cover of WG5 Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure




 Drow Female by Erol Otus


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