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4:50pm on Friday, 7th March, 2008:

If a Student had Done This...


So, E. Gary Gygax is dead.

I wasn't going to blog this, because it's not like QBlog is a news agency. Yes, I did meet him; no, he didn't know who I was; no, he wasn't very pleasant; yes, Dave Arneson was much more interesting to talk to.

What's provoked me into blogging this is his obituary. I was looking out for his obituary in The Guardian, ready to write them a letter of complaint if after a couple of weeks or so they hadn't put something about him in among the assorted minor civil servants, barely-known 1960s pop group members and organisers of literary parties that they feel made a lasting contribution to humanity; today, though, they carried one.

Yay! They care about games!

Except... OK, here's a scan of the obituary:

My suspicions were aroused when I read the line, "Gygax became particularly interested in the game Gettysburg, which he ordered from an Avalon Hill company". Uh? Avalon Hill was the company, it's not a place. This obituary wasn't written by a gamer, it was written by a non-gamer paraphrasing an existing text.

It wasn't hard to find the existing text, as it was the first one I looked at: Wikipedia.

Because Wikipedia can change rapidly, here's what it said about Gygax when I looked just now:

Ernest Gary Gygax (July 27, 1938 — March 4, 2008) was an American writer and game designer, best known for co-creating the pioneering role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) with Dave Arneson, and co-founding the company Tactical Studies Rules (TSR, Inc.) with Don Kaye in 1973. Gygax is generally acknowledged as one of the fathers of the tabletop role-playing game.

Gygax was the son of Swiss immigrant Martin Gygax and an American mother. His love of gaming began at the age of five, playing pinochle and chess as well as the imaginative games of any child, similar to live action role-playing. He played with Jim Rasch as referee/game master and John Rasch and Don Kaye as fellow participants. It was during this timeframe that Gygax began exploring science fiction with Ray Bradbury's "The Veldt" in Bluebook and Robert E. Howard's Conan the Conqueror.

In 1953 Gygax began playing miniature war games with Kaye. The game Gettysburg from the Avalon Hill company captured Gygax's attention. It was from Avalon Hill that he ordered the first blank hexagon mapping sheets that were available. He began looking for innovative ways to generate random numbers, and used not only common dice (with six sides), but dice of all five platonic solid shapes.

In 1966, the International Federation of Wargamers (IFW) was created with the assistance of Gygax.

Gygax organized a 20-person gaming meet in 1967. It was held in the basement of his home and later became known as "Gen Con 0" as this meet birthed the annual Gen Con gaming convention in 1968. Gen Con is now the USA's largest annual hobby-game gathering. Gen Con is also where Gary Gygax would meet Brian Blume and Dave Arneson. Brian Blume later entered into TSR as partner with Gygax and Don Kaye.

"I'm very fond of the Medieval period, the Dark Ages in particular. We started playing in the period because I had found appropriate miniatures. I started devising rules where what the plastic figure was wearing was what he had. If he had a shield and no armor, then he just has a shield. Shields and half-armor = half-armor rules; full-armor figure = full armor rules. I did rules for weapons as well."

Together with Don Kaye, Mike Reese and Leon Tucker, Gygax created a military miniatures society, Lake Geneva Tactical Studies Association (LGTSA), with its first headquarters in Gygax's basement.

In 1971, Gygax and Jeff Perren wrote Chainmail, a miniatures wargame from which the role-playing game (RPG) Dungeons & Dragons (aka D&D) was developed.

Gygax and Kaye founded the publishing company Tactical Studies Rules in 1973 and published the first version of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) in 1974. Gygax was inspired by Jack Vance while developing the spell systems and also drew upon the work of such renowned fantasy authors as Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp and Fritz Leiber. The hand-assembled print run of 1000 copies sold out within nine months. In the same year, Gygax hired Tim Kask to assist in the transition of the magazine The Strategic Review into the fantasy periodical, The Dragon, with Gygax as author and later as columnist.

After the death of Kaye in 1976, his widow sold her shares to Gygax. Gygax, now controlling the whole of Tactical Studies Rules, created TSR Hobbies, Inc. Gygax, coming into financial troubles soon after, sold TSR Hobbies to Brian Blume and his brother Kevin. The Blume family would own roughly two-thirds of TSR Hobbies by late 1976.

Tactical Studies Rules published the two first printings of the original D&D and TSR Hobbies, Inc. continued on with the game.

Beginning in 1977, a new version of D&D was created, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D). The Monster Manual would be the first rule book of the new system, with many books to follow. The AD&D rules were not compatible with those of D&D and as a result, D&D and AD&D would have distinct product lines and expansions.

Gary Gygax left TSR in 1985 during changes in TSR's management. This development arose while Gygax was involved in the making of CBS cartoon series Dungeons & Dragons.

"I was pretty much boxed out of the running of the company because the two guys, who between them had a controlling interest, thought they could run the company better than I could. I was set up because I could manage. In 1982 nobody on the West Coast would deal with TSR, but they had me start a new corporation called Dungeons and Dragons Entertainment. It took a long time and a lot of hard work to get to be recognized as someone who was for real and not just a civilian, shall we say, in entertainment. Eventually, though, we got the cartoon show going (on CBS) and I had a number of other projects in the works. While I was out there, though, I heard that the company was in severe financial difficulties and one of the guys, the one I was partnered with, was shopping it on the street in New York. I came back and discovered a number of gross mismanagements in all areas of the company. The bank was foreclosing and we were a million and a half in debt. We eventually got that straightened out, but I kind of got one of my partners kicked out of office. (Kevin Blume, who was removed as TSR CEO in 1984 - ed.). Then my partners, in retribution for that, sold his shares to someone else (Lorraine Williams - ed.). I tried to block it in court, but in the ensuing legal struggle the judge ruled against me. I lost control of the company, and it was then at that point I just decided to sell out."

After leaving TSR, Gygax created Dangerous Journeys, an RPG spanning multiple genres. He began work in 1995 on a new RPG, originally intended for a computer game; however, it was released in 1999 as Lejendary Adventure. A key goal of its design was to keep the gaming rules as simple as possible, as Gygax felt that role playing games were becoming discouragingly complex to new users.

In 2005, Gygax returned to the Dungeons & Dragons RPG with his involvement in the creation of the Castles & Crusades system with Troll Lord Games. Troll Lord Games has published Castle Zagyg, the previously unreleased, original version of Gygax's Castle Greyhawk with the original dungeon setting for D&D.

In 2007, Gygax had a special guest appearance as himself on the G4TV show Code Monkeys, when Todd sought him out and offered actress Molly Ringwald as a "virgin sacrifice" to Gygax to restore Todd's Charisma points.

He also lent his voice to his cartoon self in the episode "Anthology of Interest I" of the TV show Futurama.

Gygax married Gail Carpenter on August 15, 1987, coincidentally the same day as his parents' 50th anniversary. As of 2005, he was father to six children and grandfather to seven. His first five children are from his first marriage to Mary Jo Gygax, and the last child is from his second marriage. Gygax resided in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. He described his studio in his typical narrative fashion as

A small but sunny upper room — cluttered with books, magazines, papers, and who-knows-what else. Right now, pending the redecorating of that room, I am lodged in the downstairs dining room at a long table that holds two computers and a scanner, with the printer hiding to one side below it. The radio there in the studio was usually tuned to a classical music station, but the station was sold, programming changed, so now I work sans music, or now and then with a CD playing through the computer. While there are bookcases in the upper studio, elsewhere on the second floor, and on the first floor, the main repository of printed lore (other than that piled here and there) is my basement library which includes thousands of reference works, maps, magazines, and works of fiction.

Gygax died the morning of March 4, 2008, at his home in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. He was in semi-retirement, having almost suffered a heart attack after receiving incorrect medication to prevent further strokes after those on April 1 and May 4, 2004. He was diagnosed with an inoperable abdominal aortic aneurysm. Even while his health failed, gaming remained very much a part of his life. Gygax was still active in the gaming community and had active Q & A forums on gaming websites such as Dragonsfoot and EN World.

"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."

The Guardian's obituary is nothing more than a rehash of Gygax's Wikipedia entry. If one of my students handed in a piece of work that close — or even a quarter of that close — to Wikipedia, I'd have them up on a count of plagiarism so fast they'd believe in time travel. What the hell does The Guardian think it's playing at?!

I'll put it gently: Wikipedia is a mixed-up mish-mash of truth, half-truths and outright lies, skewed by selective editing and defaced by countless students sitting in libraries with two hours to kill before their next lecture. You can't believe everything it says. The Gygax obituary, for example, studiously omits to mention The Lord of the Rings as an influence, even though the first edition of D&D included references to hobbits and balrogs; this is because the Tolkien Estate came down on TSR for copyright infringement. The obituary writer didn't know this (did she even know who Gygax was?), and so 200 years from now when someone looks through the archives and comes across this piece, they won't know either.

Now I'm wondering how many of the other "facts" in The Guardian come courtesy of Wikipedia...

Oh, and for context, E. Gary Gygax got 20% of a page for his obituary. The other two obituaries were of Ralph Beyer, an "inscription carver who made a memorable contribution to Coventry Cathedral" (80% of a page), and of Norman O'Neill, an Australian cricketer of the late 1950s and early 1960s, "the great entertainer of Australian Test cricket in an austere era" (60% of a page).

That earlier yay of mine doesn't look quite so yayful now.

Referenced by self.hoist(petard).

Referenced by Kind to the Awestruck.

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Copyright © 2008 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).