Gary Gygax, who engineered a large part of my teenage years, is dead.
I started playing Dungeons & Dragons when I was perhaps 13 or 14, when my parents surprised me one christmas with a box-set of the Basic edition. Almost immediately, this became a hit, and a troupe of players was formed in school.
I’ve lost contact with the players over the years, but their names were Neil, Sean, Brian, Tiarnan, Anto and Gavin.
What D&D gave to me was an imagination and companionship. Once a week, I was able to escape from the drudgery of being an outcast and transform into someone else.
After a while, I transferred to AD&D (Advanced Dungeons And Dragons – an entirely new set of rules) 2nd edition. This was pivotal – the rules were more complex, but that didn’t matter, as the accompanying stories were so much more fascinating. I would buy (and in some cases, steal, to the amusement of the police – they expected young criminals in Tallaght to be stealing cars or mugging, not stealing books to feed a voracious imagination) manuals, read the rules, but study the accompanying short-stories and excerpts.
The goal of AD&D is not to beat up orcs, steal their treasures and amass a huge value in XP. As a dungeon master, I tried to reward the players for playing their roles passionately more than I’d reward them for the various atrocities they committed on the rapidly endangered bad-guy species in our make-believe world.
Through the game, I came across wonderful gems such as Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s Dragonlance books – which would go on to be hugely popular. I always fancied myself to be a little like Raistlin/Fistandantilus – a weakling outcast who had big potential inside. Unfortunately, Raistlin was also a little, well, evil, but no-one’s perfect! His brother Caramon was a bit of a dweeb. Sorry if I mangle names a little – it’s been twenty years since I read the books!
The antics of Tasslehoff Burrfoot were sometimes annoying – the Jar-Jar Binks of the Dragonlance world. But it was fun to read the events of Fizban The Fabulous – an addle-brained sorcerer who would turn out to be very very important (and also turned up in another unrelated series by the same authors, as “Zifnab”).
Eventually we would go on to play other games such as Vampire: The Masquerade and the over-complicated but realistic Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. We would always go back to A&D, though; nothing could beat it.
Gary, if there’s a heaven for gamers and dungeon masters, I hope you’re in it, enjoying a pipe with the great sage Elminster.