Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Game Over

Gary Gygax, co-inventor of Dungeons & Dragons, and thus the concept of the role-playing game, has died. I was introduced to D&D in 1980, although I never became a big fan of the game. Its rules were torturous and overly complicated, and its background was little more than a mix and match of high fantasy clich├ęs.

I was a big fan of role-playing games, however, throughout my teens and twenties. But the science fiction ones - especially GDW's Traveller. And later their Space: 1889 and 2300AD. I still own a substantial collection of rulebooks for those three games - including all of Traveller's incarnations.

During my late-twenties, I was a member of a role-playing games club in my home town. We'd meet every Sunday in a room belonging to a parish council's community centre. Usually, a number of campaigns in different RPG systems were being played on any one Sunday - Runequest, Pendragon, AD&D, Tunnels & Trolls, Champions, Traveller... But we didn't always play RPGs.

One Sunday, most of us actually playing a WWI aerial dogfighting game, using model biplanes on sticks on a table-tennis table. Two blokes walked into the community centre, and asked by name for the organiser of the club. They then told him that they believed role-playing games were "bad for our spiritual well-being" and they were planning on asking the parish council to refuse us the use of the community centre. We tried to explain that they were wrong, but they wouldn't listen. It was clear they'd been expecting to find a bunch of sixteen-year-olds worshipping Satan, instead of a group with an average age of twenty-six playing with aeroplanes on sticks. But even that didn't change their minds.

The two bigots - there's no other word for them - did as they'd promised. The club was banned from the community centre, and subsequently split up.

Soon after, I stopped playing RPGs. And years after that, I learnt that GDW, the games company whose products I'd liked the most, had gone bust. Killed, ironically, by a game invented by Gary Gygax.

This was Dangerous Journeys. Which, to tell the truth, was actually pretty good. I have the six rulebooks published for it. I also have the six issues of Journeys, the GDW-published magazine dedicated to it. The game was intended to take place in a multiverse, covering multiple genres, but GDW went under after only the fantasy mileu had been published.

Gygax also wrote a trilogy of novels set in the game's world - The Anubis Murders, The Samarkand Solution and Death in Delhi. Gygax's prose is barely serviceable, but I found the background quite interesting. PlanetStories have now republished these, plus a previously-unpublished fourth novel in the series, Infernal Sorceress. One of these days, I'll see what it's like - I owe that much to the inventor of the hobby that kept me entertained throughout my teens and twenties...

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