Saturday, March 08, 2008

Bring on the Gelatinous Cubes!

As just about everybody with a blog already knows, Gary Gygax, one of the inventors of Dungeons and Dragons, died last week. I've been too busy to post about it until now, and I also didn't want to make the same obvious joke that everybody else did about Gygax failing his last saving throw. (A favorite geek humor joke of mine is: "Jesus saves! The rest of you take full damage.") I, of course, choose to envision God as the ultimate Dungeon Master, and with regard to Gygax, he did the old DM trick of dropping a bunch of dice on the table behind his screen and then shaking his head and saying, "Ooooh, bummer, dude."

But of course, leave it to xkcd to come up with the best Gygax tribute I've seen anywhere:

I was never a huge AD&D player, although there was a period in sixth grade when everybody in school was seemingly obsessed with it for some reason, to the point where cliques formed within our class based on whose character was a God and whose was a Demon. (What can I say? We were a bunch of dumb-assed eleven year olds.) Strange thing was, for all the D&D babble we all indulged, we did almost no actual playing of the game, which was a bummer. I didn't actually get to play the game in anything close to the manner in which it's meant to be played until college, when I was a part of two separate campaigns, the first in our freshman year and the next when we were juniors and seniors.

The DM of our first campaign was hard core on the role-playing aspect of the game. He and his high-school mates had used AD&D campaigns partly as means of honing their improv theater chops (this guy was really into drama), so we had to make a lot of effort in his campaign to be "in character". This occasionally led to interesting results. Our second campaign, spread over the latter portion of junior year and a big chunk of senior year, was run by a guy who was a more action-oriented DM; with him, there was less emphasis on role-playing (although there was that) and more on pacing and excitement. He was really good at managing combat so that the "battle sequences" were exciting, and he was also good at managing the treasure and rewards, consistently finding the "sweet spot" between extreme stinginess ("The red dragon is dead, leaving his horde of one hundred copper pieces to be split amongst the party, after you pay these six NPCs their agreed price!") and Monty Haul ("Your party of level eight characters has slain the duo of bugbears, taking their horde of one million platinum pieces, five swords +6, and eight scrolls with one Wish spell on each!").

Both campaigns took place in the Greyhawk setting, so I never got to play in the Forgotten Realms. My own campaign, had we not petered out as a group in senior year, would have been a Forgotten Realms campaign. I also bought a lot of the "Al Qadim" materials for another campaign, in the style of the 1001 Nights, that never took place.

AD&D was, of course, lots of fun, and we usually had a blast whilst playing. I haven't played a single game since college, fifteen years ago now, and while I don't have a whole lot of desire to play again (mostly because I know that I just don't have enough time), I'm glad I got to play the games that I did, and I do wish we'd had some time to get more playing in there. So, like every geek these days, I owe a certain debt to Gary Gygax.

1 comment:

Seamus said...

I remember Saturday mornings spent holding zippo lighters until they nearly burned your hands. But do you remember the name of the mage you played?