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Remembering Gary

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I was wondering how I’d go about writing my tribute to Gary Gygax when it suddenly dawned on me: it’s already done. 40 Years Of Gen Con, especially its early chapters, are in large part a testament to his legacy. Gary founded Gen Con, and then designed the game that transformed the show from a tiny meet-up to the beacon of the hobby that it eventually became. That I got to write this tribute while he was still with us, and able to see it, can only be regarded as a rare blessing. I’m grateful to have had the chance to talk to him and include his recollections in the book*.

A man of sure opinions, Gary could occasionally come off in print or via email as imposing or irascible. In person you got the real guy: unfailingly genial, welcoming—and a wee bit reserved. This essentially Midwestern quality came through in our phone interview for the book. The anecdotes you see there are in fact artfully woven from what were mostly exceedingly modest, brief replies to my battery of questions. He seemed bemused by the fuss. A gamer’s gamer, his energy sparked when recounting a particularly vivid hit sequence from a naval miniatures outing at the very first Gen Con. When I asked him to describe the layout of Lake Geneva’s Horticultural Center, home to those first events, he laid it out for me with the GM’s precision, as if ready for the graph paper.

I’m also grateful that Peter Adkison got Gary out to the most recent Gen Con, his first in a fair while. Gary took part in a panel we did on the history of the show, along with Peter, and longtime TSR stalwart Harold Johnson. In front of a packed seminar audience, Gary went into storyteller mode and began to spin his memories of the show in full anecdotal form. He also unfurled a tale or two I hadn't gotten from him on the phone, and had me wishing I'd gotten those on tape and in the book.

Other tributes have well covered his importance to the hobby and industry, so I’d like to focus on one small aspect of his creative work: the individuality of his written voice. In a field where the standard is all too often of a dry technical manual, Gary’s writing was vivid, idiosyncratic, and inimitable. You felt not so much that you were learning a set of rules, as hanging out at a table strewn with minis and polyhedrals, having him talk you through the game. AD&D1 was a game, and an act of personal expression.

Thanks for the great game, Gary.

*Even before this news I’d been thinking that the timing of the 40th anniversary had been ideal for the book. 2008 would not have offered as clean or upbeat an endpoint. There would have to be some reference (or an ominous lack thereof) to the Chapter 11 filing. The arc of connection between D&D and Gen Con would have been slightly obscured by 4th edition's late spring debut. But to have to reconstruct Gary’s stories second hand? That would have been catastrophic.


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