Roll on, Gary Gygax!

I was in sixth grade. A dragon roared on the cover of a book, so I asked my mom to buy it for me. Inside I found columns of statistics and obscure notations. When I figured it all out and got some friends together, the magic happened.

The book was Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), created by Gary Gygax. He wrote the first rulebooks for the game as a college student, with a college-aged audience in mind. Like so many others, he felt moved by the world of fantasy.

He wove together mythology and fictional universes, from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings to Nordic gods and everything in between. Over the years, he penned one of the world’s first and most popular role-playing games through his publishing company, TSR.

Gygax passed away on March 4 at the age of 69 after battling health issues. He entertained people at his home, hosting dungeon crawls until a few months before his death.

D&D may look odd to outsiders, and players are often labeled as nerds or worse. Actor Vin Diesel might disagree with that description, however – he is a gamer.

“I’ve used that part of me, which was a huge fan of (D&D) as a child, in the storytelling aspect of movie making,” Diesel told “(I) wasn’t a nerd. I played with creative people. I played with potheads. There was always a bottle of whiskey on the table. One guy was a cop, and it was my night off from (work).”

Stephen Colbert rolls the dice as well. He recalled that, in seventh grade, “(D&D) allowed me to enter the world of the books I was reading. I put more effort into that game than I ever did into my schoolwork.”

Many others no doubt still live in the gamer closet.

D&D‘s popularity has inspired video games, movies and Saturday morning cartoons. Many computer role-playing games owe their existence to the gamer culture forged by D&D. Gygax even played an animated version of himself in the TV show Futurama. On the show, when someone asked him how he felt, he rolled the dice, and, after consulting them, replied, “fine.”

When D&D first became popular, some people fought it. Accusations flew about devil worship and cultish magical practices supposedly connected to the game.

If someone committed suicide, parents would blame D&D, saying that the death of their son’s character in game led to depression and suicide. Tom Hanks starred in a made-for-television movie called Mazes & Monsters that explored a disturbed boy’s preoccupation with a game obviously meant to represent D&D. After watching a 60 Minutes expose, even my mother asked me not to play anymore.

The game requires some books, dice and a pencil. Next you need to find yourself a group of roughly five people. One of them acts as the Dungeon Master (DM), Referee or Game Master. The other people assembled are the players. Each plays a role, or character, which is generated by rules laid out in the books. Some characters might be immensely strong or able to use magic, but these skills usually take a back seat to real-life creativity and problem-solving skills.

It amazes me how such a simple activity can while away so many hours. The fun comes from seeing how friends react to weird situations and using your smarts to think your way out of problems.

Gygax’ creation and passion will live on for years to come. For those that enjoy his masterpiece, continue to draw your swords and roll the dice!

Jason Olivero is majoring in electrical engineering.