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.

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Comment by Eric Walters on March 6, 2008 at 2:44pm
Brant, that was a terrific post...I hadn't even thought of half -- no, a THIRD -- of what you mentioned. Of course, my favorite tidbit was Steven Jackson Games getting raided by the FBI, not that Steve was very happy about that (cost him a mint, if I remember correctly).
Comment by Tom Sievers on March 5, 2008 at 9:42pm
I too got bitten by the SPI/TSR debacle, and was bitter for a long time about it. But that was a long time ago. And though I’ve never been much of an RPGer, I can’t help but feel now that D&D and RPGs in general have added more to the gaming hobby than they ever took away from wargaming. The whole field of fantasy boardgaming has been heavily influenced by D&D…I owned a copy of TSR’s old D&D spinoff “Dungeon”, and for many years I got my cousins to play when they came over for family get-togethers, when they wouldn’t have touched an AH or SPI game. Not a wargame maybe, but a heck of a lot more fun than Monopoly! Others that I own such as “Runebound”, “Dungeon Twister”, “Dragon Pass”, “Wizard Kings” and “Battleground: Fantasy Warfare” (yeah, I know it’s not a boardgame) all owe a debt, if indirect, to D&D…if only because it placed the worlds of fantasy so directly in the path of those inclined toward gaming.
For me the SPI/TSR bitterness has long been assuaged by the games of companies like Columbia, GMT, MMP, Khyber Pass, Worthington, Simmons Games, BSO and all the other companies producing creative and compelling wargames. When I heard about Gary Gygax’s passing my first thought was of a GenCon ,in the early ‘70s at the Horticultural Hall in Lake Geneva. I attended with my only wargaming friend. It was a revelation to us to meet, talk and game with other wargamers. We played our just-purchased copy of the newly-released “Chaco” at a table in the garden of the Horticultural Center, and one of the designers (wish I could remember which one) stopped by to ask us how we liked the game. We thought we were in wargame nirvana! At the center of all the excitement were Gary Gygax, his family, and his friends from TSR. I can only remember now with gratitude, respect and admiration a man who gave so many people so much fun over so many years.
Comment by Kim Meints on March 5, 2008 at 12:50pm
Wow Jim, great discussion my friend. That took me back to the start of D&D which to this day I only have the original game and 2-3 modules. And those my gaming club used their world maps for Prestags campaigns. But we did also played the Twilight 2000 too so Gary was the influence behind that.
You also took me back to that sad time of SPI's fall and TSR's undoubted role in it. Yes I too lost my 3 subscriptions I had with SPI. I had just renewed my S&T just before the fall. Never again has S&T seen the level of subscribers it had when under the SPI banner-something like 36,000.

I had posted on another blog that Gary Gygax will be missed more by me for his wargame designs he had made-Alexander the Great(Guidon/AH) Alexanders Other Battles and Little Big Horn.
Others were taken far away in the dungeons and halls of murky castles and dark forest. were men ,orcs and other mythical creatures fought it out. But for me Gary took me to the battlefield of Arbela with Alexander fighting the Persian horde which I could see in my mind everytime I played the game and still do to this day. Only has the new GBoH sereis come close for me in showing an ancient battlefield so well.

Yes TSR and Gary caused a rip in the wargaming hobby that I do believe has now come back stonger then ever with the likes of GMT,MMP,CoA,ATO & Decision. plus all the other companies out there. I haven't seen an explosion of companies or game titles these past few years since the heyday of the hobby. Where once D&D ruled Euros then became the talk of the land. I guess our hobby does cycles with it's members and prodjects but at least we can claim all three as our very own.Wargames,Euros and D&D

But it's sad to see some from the Old Guard pass away from us. first Redmond and now Gary. At least they left us all with memories from our youth and their games still on out playing tables that can never be taken away.
Comment by Brian Blad on March 5, 2008 at 12:42pm
Gary was one of the major influences in my life. It was D&D and TSR that really led me into gaming! We have suffered a great loss!

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