Saturday, March 08, 2008


Someone who had a great influence on my life died this week.

I didn’t know him. I never met him.

I think it’s safe to say that we probably were never even in the same state at the same time.

But my life has been changed because of his life and career.

He was about 40 years old. Nearly the age I am now. Five years earlier he had co-created a game that was about to take the country by storm. His name was Gary Gygax.

As part of my parents’ attempt at “improving my character” and “teaching me responsibility” they would sign me up for school fund-raising projects, sending me around our neighborhood and to other family members selling things. Gift cards. Wrapping paper. Yeah . . . a nine-year-old boy selling wrapping paper and gift cards.

Anyway, you probably remember these projects: as you sold more product you were eligible for better and better prizes from which you could choose. Most of the prizes were the cheap kind of crap you would find at a carnival, but every so often there was a nugget of wonderfulness mixed in with the turds. I got my first telescope this way--a telescope I had and used until just before I got married.

And then there was a little red box.

I still remember coming home from school and finding the package waiting for me.

I can still remember sitting in the basement, in front of our giant console television (remember: this was the Seventies, so EVERYBODY’S televisions were giant consoles). Opening the box and seeing the red box inside, the fierce dragon snarling from the box cover, where it lay across its hoarded gold. The red of the box contrasted with the dark green-and-blue shag carpeting on the floor.

Like so many others of that age, and many, many others since, an early introduction to Tolkein had instilled in me a fascination for dragons and dwarves, orcs and warriors.

I can still remember opening the box and finding the book, a map, some odd plastic dice, and a crayon. You were supposed to rub the crayon over the dice to fill in the numbers. I never did--and I still have the dice to prove it.

I was nine and about to embark on a journey that would change my life.

Thank you, Gary.

Soon after that came the lead figures. Yes, lead. Every box had huge warnings not to eat the little warriors and monsters. Like I ever would, but even then, Lawyers Reigned Supreme. Even dragons couldn’t slay their Timely Advice. DO NOT EAT THE LEAD, they decreed. I would sit in the basement, in my older brother’s old room, and slapped dabs of old oil-based model paint (Testors, I believe) all over these models. Gargoyles. Genies. Centaurs, pegasi, and unicorns. A few warriors, especially dwarves. I liked dwarves. I even had a monster called a Drider: picture a centaur, but instead of a horse’s body, it had the body of a giant tarantula.

I still have those figures. The tarantula body is painted gold. One of the gargoyles wields a bloody sword.


One of my closest childhood friends joined me in the journey. I met him at school. He cracked wise and I punched him in the back of the head.


He still claims he has neck and back trouble because of my punch. I doubt that.

But still, we became instant friends.

He wove some tales and took me on some adventures that I will never forget.

Thank you, Gary.

From that red box, we soon moved to a generic sci-fi game, quickly remodeling it and creating new rules so that our characters could wield “laser swords” and use power eerily similar to the Force. From there we migrated to super-powered characters, destroying whole city blocks with our Battles Versus Evil.

From there, we went to building automobiles with machine guns and tank weapons built into their frames. We were installing electric power plants in cars before the Prius was even a sparkle in some demented auto-worker’s eye.

We fell out of touch after that, but I still played --by myself, when necessary-- and then with a small group of friends in High School. We advanced to building and commanding starships for Star Fleet and journeying through Time and Space in our own versions of the Tardis.

Then Graduation happened, and I put these games away for a while as I started college; they stayed put away because I never found anyone on campus to play with me.

My parents were never too approving of the games. They were happy to see the games put away. There were too many rumored news stories about how evil these games were, how they would adversely affect a growing child’s mind, psyche, emotions, social skills, etc.

Well, I think I’m pretty well-adjusted right now, thank you.

(As well-adjusted as ANYONE can be after law school, that is.)

I learned how to spar verbally, how to express myself, and developed my imagination, reasoning skills, logic skills, and how to channel my emotions.

You don’t think that helped me in college? In law school? In Practice?

Dang straight.

The point is this: that little red box helped spawn an idea, that little red box helped a newly-birthed industry take hold and grow. Without that little red box, all of those other journeys may never have taken place.

And where would I be? I honestly don’t know.

A few years ago, several years out of law school as I left my last clerkship and was trapped in a lousy, dead-end job with a little pissant general practice firm. A married friend of ours came up one day and asked if I’d ever gamed. If I’d ever had that little red box.

And my life changed again.

Thank you, Gary.

I was able to stand up, leave the firm, and walk into a better position. I gained a host of new, good friends. Several of whom are like brothers. I started painting figures again, to relax and blow off steam. I dare say, I’m a pretty fair painter now, although I still like looking at the sloppy, messy attempts from nearly thirty years ago. They’re a bit of nostalgia. I've got a large collection of painted figures now and an even larger collection of unpainted figures. Lots of dwarves. I still like dwarves.

Just don’t eat the lead.

But they're not lead anymore.

I'd still say not to eat them, though.

I’ve met several others in my profession who are gamers, either present or past. Friendships have been strengthened through the common experience. It’s a bond that has significantly helped some negotiations, to be honest. And thereby helped my clients.

Thank you, Gary.

I’ve started writing again, something I haven’t done since I started law school. I have several novels in the works right now, something else that helps me blow off steam after a long hellish day at the office.

Thank you, Gary.

A few years ago, we moved my mother-in-law out of her house. In doing so, I found numerous boxes with my LW’s stuff in them, stuff we’d never moved out after the wedding.

In one of those boxes, I found a little red box. The same little red box.

The numbers on her dice were colored in, though.

The miniatures were unpainted.

Even a dwarf.


I learned something about my LW: she was (or had been) one of "US." Something we had in common that we’d never realized. Something else that we can talk about and enjoy. I’ve even gamed with her since then, until the Horde grew too large and unmanageable from the gaming table.

Someday I may introduce the Horde to the modern version of the little red box.

Thank you, Gary.

I told you I was a geek.

Thank you, Gary.


Excuse me now, I've failed my Will Save, and I'm tearing up a bit.

So I'll just kneel here for a while, leaning on my warhammer, and contemplete the unseen bier in front of me. Much like the film version of Gimli kneeling before Balin's tomb, but without the wailing.

Thank you, Gary.

I never knew him, but I owe a lot of who I am to him.

Thank you, Gary.

And rest well.

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