It is never easy when a giant passes, and Gary Gygax was one of of the giants of the gaming industry. In the late seventies, Dungeons & Dragons was a revolution. Its parts weren't so revolutionary, as it grafted magic rules on top of a proven miniatures platform, but the context certainly was. Ever wargame is a roleplaying game in some way; the player takes the role of a commander at some level, and makes decisions that his historical counterpart would make. Most often he makes decisions too that are way above or below that individual's actual pay grade, resulting in a form of omniscience and omnipotence, but the center is always on a commander's role in the conflict.
Dungeons & Dragons put the roleplaying aspect of the game front and center. Being the character was more important even than winning. Therein lies the revolution.
Like many revolutions, it was disruptive. In the context of wargaming, it was incredibly so. Previously devoted historical boardgamers abandoned their old corner of the hobby in droves, favoring the immersion of the D&D world. In the late seventies, I remember, there were people who put down their counters and resolved never to go near one again, the attraction of D&D was so great.
Along the way there were others who had never considered playing any kind of conflict simulation, non-wargamers, some of their repulsed by the martial atmosphere of our hobby. If they had problems fighting Nazis and Communists on paper, they had none whatsoever with taking on a band of Orcs, or being one themselves. Letting today's army join you, to use a seventies recruiting slogan, was far less acceptable than joining the forces of lawful evil.
Who were these people? Many were literary and artistic types, some extremely non-competitive, who still found an outlet in the Big Tent that was D&D. Maybe it was atavism, maybe it was catharsis, for each it was different. Much to the credit of Gary and his partners, there was something there for all of them.
This was no me, however. In 1978 and 1979 I HATED D&D. I tried it, didn't see the appeal for myself, and went back to my boardgames, where I remain to this day.
Moreover, D&D cut into my circle of friends. I wanted to play Panzerblitz and everything that came inside of Strategy & Tactics. They didn't. Sometimes I deeply resented D&D, and its success.
At the same time, even then I recognized, as I do now that they audience wasn't just taken away by D&D. It was lost by wargaming, which didn't have an idea to offer that was nearly as compelling.
If there was one sin committed by Gary Gygax and his partners at TSR, D&D's publisher, it was the murder of SPI. As many people have noted, the problem with the game business is that it's run by gamers and not by business people. A long losing streak of bad business decisions, and in some cases no decisions at all, led SPI to death's door. That it was the most prolific and creative of boardgaming companies did nothing to save it from the crushing burden of debt. TSR was a creditor, and TSR foreclosed.
That is business.
What wargaming as whole has not recovered from, and never will, was that TSR refused to honor existing magazine subscriptions. Sorry customers, you're shit out of luck, go home and play some D&D if you feel angry.
Wargaming never recovered. In fact, among older gamers, there is a sour aftertaste that will linger until the sun dies and all of our game collections turn to ash. I hate to speak ill of the recently deceased, but the decisive blow against wargaming, committed in a spirit of short-sighted callousness toward the consumer, is part of Gary Gygax's legacy, and the worst part.
Nothing else was destructive, not even luring large numbers of boardgamers to the D&D community. If wargaming deserved to keep them, they would have. The industry failed, and the people left.
Likewise, Thomas Jefferson once said that the greatest contribution that a man can give his country is to introduce a new crop to cultivation.
Gary Gygax introduced a new intellectual crop to the gaming field. That is the essence of his contribution, and if we couldn't handle the revolution that followed, that was our problem.
So rest in peace, Gary Gygax.