Tuesday, March 04, 2008

there was an Observer colour supplement with a children's section with earnest debates about banning school uniform and old Flash Gordon strips; and there was two column inches about a game where you searched for treasure and a picture of a painted playing piece in the shape of a wizard

there was a pretentious black and white Hulk comic with a small-ads section and the stamped addressed envelope came back with a catalogue and photocopied reviews of games about aliens and red moons and dragons

there was a shop which sold joss-sticks and wooden toys for art-teachers' children and crystal coloured paperweights and unofficial Star Wars toys called force blades which had just stopped being new and a shrink wrapped box with a rule book, a set of dice and the first adventure; and even now the word polyhedral makes the room smell of Micronauts and Elfquest and The Eternals; and even if I had been able to afford it it wouldn't have been a good buy

I never did play Keep on the Boarderlands and never really wanted to

there was a shop in Finchley which sold toy trains and aeroplanes for grown ups and there was just one shelf which had maybe 20 metal models; a knight, a skeleton, a spider, some wizards, they came in small plastic bags with cardboard labels and handwritten descriptions; and next door there was a very small shop that only two or three people could fit in at a time that sold military wargames with hex boards for grown ups and I bought a red twenty sided dice with the numbers 0-9 on it twice and had to paint half the numbers with a dab of silver paint to make it serviceable for rolling 1 - 20

there was the blue book with the dragon on the front

there was me and Shaun and Jeffrey and Roger and Martin and green graph paper from the back of a maths books and a knight and a wizard and some skeletons and a spider and on the lowest level there was a small black dragon and when it finally died they all cheered and I was the referee

there was the temple of Tegas-fer-Rogan which was so epic that it needed three exercise books and ran for an entire weekend

there was Mormegil the Black who had tatoos on his face because of Acroyear in Micronanuts and for many years the only use for the Silmarillion was to pull out names at random for my characters; I read Lord of the Rings over and over but Shaun and Jeffery preferred Conan; I found Conan dull especially when he replaced The Avengers in their own comic but not as dull as Master of Kung Fu

there was Scorpion and the guild of assassins and Mormegil standing on his comrade's coffin fighting off the ninja so he could take it to town and buy a resurrection spell

there was Ken Livingstone and the idea that you should be able to afford to travel by tube which made Mrs Thatcher so angry but for 6 months I traveled from Cockfosters to Hammersmith for 50p every single Saturday and walked down the alley with a fence on either side and walked past the rows and rows of xeroxed pamphlets and said "Is the Dungeonmasters Guide out yet?" and it wasn't

there was a magazine with a yellow cover and line drawings of dwarfs and an article about Diplomacy and pictures of monsters and it was talking about rulebooks I had never heard of, Eldritch Wizards and Blackmoor and Ardiun Grimoire as if I they had been playing them forever and I have never felt so much like an outsider and never wanted more badly to be an insider and I never, ever was

there is a dining room table, and cups of tea and chocolate biscuits, and at lunch time there are tins of Co-Op vegetable soup and fresh rolls from the baker and exercise books and character sheets pulled sparingly off an official pad and coloured cardboard floor plans representing rooms and corridors and miniatures which were never quite painted and never quite matched the adventure and pencils and biros and rubbers and dice which had had all the good numbers rolled out of them and shouting and talking in funny voices

there is the part which says that this world of the lizard men who live in tunnels under the city and orcs who live in the caves and my sword with runes on it is like the trailer for the cartoon said a world more real than any other; and there is the part which says that it is all just dice and all just numbers; and I have read in The Beholder that there are betters ways with stories and cities and characters who make sense

one day, there will be college and Martin and Pod and Varos and Asmee and the special game that went on for years and years and after that there will be Star Wars and Pendragon and Southern Provinces and LARPs and freeforms

today, there 40 kobolds, AC 7 , hit on 11+ on the red dice with silver paint and against them stand Mormegil the fighter and Scorpion the assassin and Medalf the wizard and also an Elf.

"this must be the entrance to the dungeon: we will find what we're looking for here”

so let it be with Ceasar


Porlock Junior said...

I am not worthy to post the first comment, but that was beautifully done.

Sam Dodsworth said...

I remember those two column inches in the Observer, too, and the photo of the painted wizard; and memorizing the whole Monster Manual; and waiting for the DM's guide to come out so I could actually use all the cool stuff in the Players' Handbook; and playing solo with the Random Dungeon Tables. I even bought my copy of the Basic Set from my local model shop.

I also remember "Role Playing Mastery", and the "bell curve of 3d6", and that awful, awful, prose style... but then there was the bibliography that put me onto Jack Vance and Fritz Lieber. And even the number-crunching gave us Diablo 2, and Eye of the Beholder, and Nethack, and Final Fantasy.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Clearly, there is scope for critical re-assessment, in which the words "Dave Arneson" and "Dangerous Journeys" would feature prominently. But not, I think, until after the funeral.

As the fellow said: do we always have to think of Noah drunk and naked in his tent? Shouldn't we sometimes remember that he built the ark.

Louise H said...

I asked for and got the boxed Basic set for my birthday (long after you guys, but then I was not only younger but female) and my big sister refereed for three of us. I must have been about 15 or so. We got stuck behind a portcullis that we couldn't move and the wandering monsters ate us in the end. It was incredibly exciting in a rather monotonous way. No miniatures, just the paper bits provided. I think it probably came from the local toy shop

That was pretty much it till we joined the local club and discovered that we might just be geeks at school but to male geeks we were GIRLS. I can still remember the feel of the delight in that discovery! And we played some more D&D (which I sadly can't remember at all), and acquired roleplaying boyfriends (which I can) and I learned to say "just tell me which dice to throw" and that was the sixth form.

Those were the only D&D books I ever owned, though of course I married into rather a lot more.
i still have the box but not the contents; I wish I knew where they'd gone but I suspect they got Mothered.

Dan G said...

May your sword never rust, may your boots never wear out, and may the king welcome you to drink at his table.

Phil Masters said...

As the fellow said: do we always have to think of Noah drunk and naked in his tent? Shouldn't we sometimes remember that he built the ark.

A long moment of politeness until after the funeral does indeed seem indicated. The guy did co-invent the hobby, and defined the imagery which has been ripped off by other industries, and 69 is too young, and a lot of people seem to have discovered Vance because of that bibliography. Respect is due as much more than a matter of form.

Mind you, I am getting a nasty whiff of bullying sentimentality in places. I've been saying nothing, but when, say, someone like Scott Kurtz apparently starts getting hectored for not being fulsome enough, it may be time to pause.

And elsewhere... There have been suggestions of setting up a Gygax Prize or something in the industry, which is great, and I can't think of anything more appropriate. But there has also been talk of giving a reading of some of Gary's writing at the next GenCon - and if anyone doesn't see why that would be a mistake, they've never read the original DMG.

Fenwick said...

That was nicely written and a pleasure to read. The site is The Life and Opinions of... I have a sense now of understanding more about the Life portion.

I confess to being obtuse; I didn't connect the piece to Gygax's death until Phil's post reminded me of it.

My own background is rooted in the hexagons. (More properly, it began with the squares on the first edition of Avalon's Hill's Gettysburg over forty years ago.) I was 10 and it sparked a lifelong interest.

Because of this long background in gaming, my brother and his girl-friend tried to interest me in Dungeons and Dragons. I tried three games, but it never lit a spark for me.

I suppose that's why I particularly appreciated the piece. It offered a glimpse inside the genuine attachment and engagement that RPG's can have. I confess that I was one of those dreadfully "serious" gamers who sort of sniffed haughtily when RPG's began to catch hold and indeed began to displace board games in popularity.

I have always loved Invented Worlds in fiction. I have no idea why I was unable to connect with Invented Worlds in gaming. But my haughty denigration days are certainly over, due in no small part to this piece.

Again, thanks.

Porlock Junior said...

In case anyone has missed this tribute:


Fenwick said...

Some further thoughts about the curious intersections of lives and interests. I first arrived at the Life and Opinions site because of a close friend who is a game designer.

I am extremely ignorant of computers and only recently became connected to the internet. (To me, a computer was an electronic typewriter than allowed me to manipulate text more easily than the ancient manual machine I learned on.) Bowen sent me his bookmarks to get me started in poking around on the internet. His five categories were: Wargames, Shopping, News, References, and Stuff.

I found the Life and Opinions bookmark in Stuff, a miscellany of sites mostly about film and humor. (I am suddenly conscious of the missing 'u' in the last word.) I do not know, but I strongly suspect that what led my friend to Life and Opinions was his love of C.S. Lewis's works, particularly his Christian writing and fiction. I can easily imagine him poking around and discovering a thoughtful piece on Lewis here and adding it to his bookmarks.

Over the years, my friend sparked my interest in Lewis. I think Bowen has sent me every book than Lewis has published and I caught his enthusiasm. Til We Have Faces and That Hideous Strength captured my interest in his fiction. The Discarded Image drew me into his scholarly and analytic works. Mere Christianity and Men Without Chests engaged my interest in Lewis writings about Christianity and morality.

There is a reciprocal influence that I have had on Bowen. I feel deeply in love with Middle Earth in 1967. For the first twenty years of our friendship, I periodically suggested that he read The Lord of the Rings. He resisted stoutly and I never pressed.

I suspect that the more he read of Lewis--and of the close friendship between Lewis and Tolkien--his resistance to trying The Lord of the Rings slowly dissolved. He enjoyed it and appreciated it. At long last it joined the other staples of our conversations of life and opinions.

Now how does this tie in to the Life and Opinions of Andrew Rilstone site? How can this biographical sketch of two friends resonate with other visitors?

My friend Bowen is a board game designer, and a very good one: The first title of his game company won a Roberts award. For people who love games--whether historical or RPG--and who have derived so much enjoyment from them, there is a particular poignancy in the death of a person who created them. not unlike what we feel when a much loved writer or artist or musician or film actor dies. And for thousands and thousands of folks who painted silver dots on polyhedron dice as children or adolescents or young adults, the death of Gary Gygax carried reminders of past innocence, life-long passions, and--now--of mortality.

Another way in which the biographic sketch of two friends may ripple into the site: Bowen and I began with a shared passion for gaming. But it grew far beyond that dimension of our lives: He introduced me to Lewis; I introduced him to Tolkien. And to me, in the more modest spaces of our lives, our close friendship of thirty years may in some way mirror the friendship of those giant talents. Friendship is indeed among the Four Loves.

When I read Andrew and the comments, I have a strong sense of something similar operating. I feel like I am in the company of articulate friends with shared interests, yet sometimes differing perspectives. I'm so glad that I'm here.

A Postscript: I think Andrew's comment about Noah was so graceful. Whatever flaws or odd wrinkles Gary Gygax had, he set the world of RPG afloat.

Sam Dodsworth said...

Whatever flaws or odd wrinkles Gary Gygax had, he set the world of RPG afloat.

I seem to have hit a wrong note, so I should say that this is what I was trying to express in my post. Flaws and wrinkles make a complete person, and I think an obituary should be for the complete person.

Dan G said...

I feel like I am in the company of articulate friends with shared interests, yet sometimes differing perspectives. I'm so glad that I'm here.

Ditto that. Reading Andrews posts and the comments is, I suppose, the closest this (only somewhat) articulate Texan will ever get to those halcyon days at the Bird and Baby.

Jo Walton said...

Someone on Making Light suggested that the perfect memorial would be building him a huge impressive tomb... full of traps and monsters.

Pandora Caitiff said...

What with Dave Sim, New Who, and The Fantastic Four, I had forgotten how I first discovered this blog.

I still have my copy of Role Playing Mastery (though bought long after "10x10 rooms with an orc" were passe).

Gygax made an important contribution to the field, and without his vision there would be no mainstream gaming for me to rebel against.

Spike said...

How very sad, and resonant.

I remember a similar progression. Micronauts was the world I inhabited with my inseparable friend, Karsten. Childhood play. Then in a flimsy packet came the Steve Jackson Microgame, WarpWar. WarpWar contained a flyer that opened up catalogs - there were no game shops in semi-rural Pennsylvania. Then one day from the catalog came a black box, and everything changed.

"This is Free Trader Beowulf....Mayday."

The comparison with Moses is apt, because he gave us the Law, but in the end we went beyond the Law and found a more beautiful freedom. It is perverse, how we railed against the founding fathers. Teenagers do that, though, don't they? But respect was sadly lacking as we forged ahead, heading up-country, turning our backs on the pioneers who landed first on these fantastic shores.

I don't know enough of his later writing to know if he ever let go of the idea that it was a game, a thing with winning and losing and score and rules. We made it a form of drama, or at least a way of telling engaging stories together.

But let's accord him every respect, every reverence. He led us to the Promised Land, though he did not come to dwell with us there.

RIP, "Ebon".

wally said...

i don't wish to be(come) a Fan, god not another of those, but i come back and reread this every few months or years and it's my favourite thing you've written, andrew, sweet and sad and familiar. my old friend would say: *something happened here.*

a few years ago i gave a friend's son an omnibus edition of susan cooper's eerily beautiful The Dark Is Rising sequence, and inscribed it something like, 'this is how the house became haunted.'

i don't know why this makes me think of that or vice versa.

they landed a rover on mars today. it's snowing outside. tonight i have my weekly d&d game with some friends from college; i play a fighter named Pendulo who is essentially Carrot from Ankh-Morpork. we found a wounded soldier from Pendulo's home city, coughing up blood in a parapet in hell; Pendulo sent the other characters on to explore the rest of the castle, and when they'd gone he wished the man peaceful rest and slipped a knife into his heart. the other players let out a gasp and the dungeon master was proud of me. i'm 42 now and i thought (not for the first time) of this:

'...and when it finally died they all cheered and I was the referee'

the past isn't even past