Martinis with Gary Gygax


The death of Steve Job’s has me thinking about the impact we can have on others lives when we do something that goes beyond the norm.  In this case I am not going to talk about the death of Mr. Jobs, a task to which a million pens have given serious effort.

I am going to talk about Gary Gygax.  Now those of you with Apple tattoos might get all frothy at the mouth at the insinuate that there is some equity between the two subjects.  I am not making any comparison beyond the fact that they were both men who changed the world in their own ways.

I met Gary in the mid to late 90s at a convention in Texas.  I helped contact him, negotiate his terms and then at the convention I was his guest host.  I had no idea what exactly I was signing up for at the time.

What I knew about Gary up until that moment was the droll facts, that he was one of  a handful of creative person behind the creation of role-playing games.   Wikipedia provides a pretty decent run down on him.


Ernest Gary Gygax (play /ˈɡɡæks/ gy-gaks; July 27, 1938 – March 4, 2008)[2] was an American writer andgame designer best known for co-creating the pioneering role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) with Dave Arneson. Gygax is generally acknowledged as the father of role-playing games.[3]

In the 1960s, Gygax created an organization of wargaming clubs and founded the Gen Con gaming convention. In 1971, he helped develop Chainmail, a miniatures wargame based on medieval warfare. He co-founded the company Tactical Studies Rules (TSR, Inc.) with childhood friend Don Kaye in 1973. The following year, he and Dave Arneson created Dungeons & Dragons, which expanded on his work on Chainmail and included elements of the fantasy stories he loved as a child. In the same year, he founded The Dragon, a magazine based around the new game. In 1977, Gygax began work on a more comprehensive version of the game, called Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Gygax designed numerous manuals for the game system, as well as several pre-packaged adventures called “modules” that gave a person running a D&D game (the “Dungeon Master“) a rough script and ideas on how to run a particular gaming scenario. In 1983, he worked to license the D&D product line into the successfulDungeons & Dragons cartoon series.


Here is a guy who helped found Gen-con, Dungeons and Dragons, who was a fairly prolific fantasy writer. Most of us in our middle years grew up with his creative works as a center point of our nerdy childhoods.

Gary was someone who in his own way changed the world.  If you look at pop culture as it exists today it owes a huge debt of gratitude to these creators.

But being a great person still means you are human and that is what I found so interesting about Gary.

I spent four days with him from waking until going to sleep each night.  Here is what is learned about Gary.

Gary liked martinis.  I mean he REALLY liked them.  We started drinking them at 10 or 11 am every day.  I spent those four days essentially pissed as newt most of the time.  Gary never slowed down.  He was in his late fifties at the time and he was drinking and walking circles around me.  Which was something else I found interesting.  Gary did not drive.  Had no interest in it.  So I spent a lot of time behind the wheel.  At times probably when I should not have driven, but I was a little intimidated to not keep up.

Gary was a guys-guy in many ways.  You think of nerd culture and the kind of average male, (if there’s such a thing).  That was not Gary.  Gary was tremendously well read and loved the subject of war. He liked women. He had a Hemingwayesque quality to him. We spent some time every day playing chess.  He beat me like a taiko drum every time, but he stopped to instruct me in my failings along the way.  Always with a smile.

Gary loved to watch people and talk.

I knew him for four days and I will never forget him.  I am sure I did not even scratch the surface of who he was. Do you know what is funny.  We did not talk, play or engage in any kind of gaming in those four days.  It simply was not a center interest to him at that point.  We covered it during the convention in panels and the like. But when it was just us hanging out, it was life, women, war, chess, places we had been.  Life.

It is one of the precious experiences that you cannot ever replace.

We look at great men and women, people like Gary and Steve and we see the sum of their accomplishments as what makes them great, but the reality is that there is always more to them. They have full lives full of vices and virtues.  The accomplishments are what they wanted to do, but it is not always who they are. I would have loved to have those four days with Steve too.

I wonder what he would have been like?


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