The GM’s Day Story
I tell this story, as best I can remember it, nearly every GM’s Day.
I met Gary Gygax once, at a Gen Con in the late 1990s. He was running a D&D game in-or-near the TSR Castle. (For those who don’t know, TSR was a company that used to own D&D, and they used to have a big prop castle they set up as their booth at Gen Con. It was impressive as heck.)
I don’t know what edition the game was. It didn’t matter.
A crowd of us were watching a small group get to play with a titan of rpgs. Mr.Gygax was mesmerizing. I’m sure some part of that was me being googly-eyed over actually seeing one of the icons of my favorite hobby, in person. I twas like going to a concert, but the music was tales of vague shapes in the darkness and surprisingly tactile descriptions of damp soil and thing wisps of fog. He was evocative and earnest in a way that made this casual pastime seem extremely important. I don’t remember what anyone else playing looked like, but I remember that the imaginary setting Mr.Gygax described was night, at a camp in a clearing, with only one fire to provide light.
The details about the reality of that moment are vague, but I remember the fictional setting clearly. If his skills as a GM could have been packaged in every Red Box, video games never would have caught on.
Someone died (killed mysteriously in the darkness, having walked away from the campfire without a light). That player had to get up, and Mr.Gygax pointed at me and boomed “You want to play!?”
Of course I did.
A character sheet was slapped in front of me. My turn came soon enough. THINGS were circling our camp. And I felt possessive of it. It was OUR camp… even though I didn’t even know the names of any other player or their character. This place was ours, and we had to defend it. Fictional jingoism, I suppose.
I was a warrior of some type – I think a ranger, but I didn’t last long enough to get acquainted with my character. As my one action, I grabbed a burning log from our campfire and hurled it out at the multiple sets of red eyes stalking us. “Good!” Mr.Gygax shouted approvingly, and had me roll a d20. I have no idea what I rolled. Mr.Gygax had approved of my action. At that moment, my life was complete.
It wasn’t good enough to hit any of the red-eyed threats, but it was enough to illuminate them. Massive black wolves, snarling and, we realized talking.
“Kill that one!” Mr. Gygax had the biggest wolf growled to the pack.
And they did.
I lasted exactly one round.
Mr. Gygax smiled, told me I was dead, and I should let someone else play,
I got up, smiled back, and said “Thank you.”
I know my favorite hobby was built by many more people over many more moments that just Mr.Gygax or just that day. But he was a big part of it, too. I like to believe he understood I didn’t just mean “Thank you for this one game, this one time.”
I meant “Thank you for ALL the games, forever.”