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Maker Birthdays: Gary Gygax

Maker Birthdays: Gary Gygax


Today, in 1938, Ernest Gary Gygax was born in Chicago, IL. He would go on to create a gaming and publishing empire, built on math-driven storytelling and gem-like Platonic solids dice (co-creating the pioneering role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons).

Anybody who’s ever played Dungeons & Dragons will know why Gary Gygax is suited to be celebrated in a Maker Birthday shout out. When I first got into the hobby, and oh did I ever get into the hobby, I was penniless, just out of high school. My gaming group and I could barely afford the essential game components. Everything else we made ourselves. We fashioned our own miniatures and dungeon furniture from clay, learning basic ceramics in the process, built our own gaming tables and scenery, learning carpentry and all the basic miniature modeling and scenery-making skills. And, of course, we spent countless hours sketching and mapping out worlds, characters, and epic adventures within those worlds. And that was all before actually playing the game!

It’s staggering to me to consider the impact that Gary Gygax, D&D, and RPG have had on popular culture, the ethos of imagining and modeling whatever world you want, and in the acculturation of generations of nerds who got to experiment with social interactions (from within an accepting tribe) to help them negotiate the wider world of Muggles.

So thanks, Mr. Gygax. You were instrumental in giving us geeks “permission to play,” and in showing us how we could combine our intellects and our interest in math, science, history, and technology, with our imaginations and our ability to render the multiverses inside our heads. Happy Birthday.

In celebration of Gary’s birthday (who, BTW, died in 2008), why not share some of your D&D/RPG stories, and especially, how these games might have inspired you as a maker.

8 thoughts on “Maker Birthdays: Gary Gygax

  1. tigerzero says:

    I just started playing D&D last year, and I’ve been having an absolute blast. I had a good friend in HS who had all of the books, but we could never seem to get enough people together to play an actual campaign, so we usually just sat around and rolled up really interesting characters… always trying to figure out exactly where they fit in our own increasingly-complex world.

    Now that I’ve actually played a little bit (with a super-awesome DM) I am totally hooked. I’ve even started working on my own campaign! On the maker side of things, I have a few very ambitious projects currently in the works, namely: using a combination of a DIY 3d scanner, 3d/CAD/CAM software, and my homemade CNC to edit/create new miniatures and props (such as a full 3d multi-level airship with stained-glass observation deck). You know you’re a maker when you give a small shout of joy (at work) when you see that the green line laser, arduino kit, and stepper motors you ordered have just been delivered. Happy birthday Mr. Gygax, and thank you.

  2. thynk says:

    We started way back with the “basic” rules, one of our group even had the original mini boxed set. We moved on to “expert” and finally had to get a job to support buying the Advanced D&D rule books. We moved on to many other gaming systems over the years. Now I’m teaching the next generation of gamer geeks to use their minds instead of the A button.

  3. Gareth Branwyn says:

    I tried to find my clay dwarf fighter minfig to photograph for this piece. I still have him, I just can’t find him. If you think you get invested in a character you rolled up, painted, and then played through a whole bunch on campaigns, imagine a little dude you made with your own hands from a ball of clay.

    I still also have my original red box classic D&D set (the one where you had to use a crayon to add color to the dice numbers). I also have, and cherish, the original GBC-bound Chainmail rules. The book’s in pretty good shape, too.

  4. Gareth Branwyn says:

    I met Gary Gygax, back in 1982(?), at Gen Con. Just a handshake and a howdy-do, but it was still cool. But weird, too. He drove up in a fancy sports car, silver, if I recall. And he had a gorgeous woman with him in an impossibly short skirt. It was like he was the Hugh Hefner of geekdom.

    I got pretty high up in a Gamma World tourney that year, thanks to my gaming partner, who was an amazing player. I played a mutant kangaroo. My friend went on to win and got (I think) $250 to spend in the vendors area. He and I got to go nuts snatching up gaming gear, it was awesome.

    That was such an amazingly fun time. We’d game all day at the Con, then go back to our dome tent at the camp grounds, fire up the Coleman lantern, drink lots of beer, and game all night with the other gamers there. Geek heaven.

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

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