Friday, March 4, 2011

Memories: Greyhawk (Supplement I)

I had something  else planned today, but I was reminded by reading a couple of posts in the Old School Blogosphere ™ that today is the third anniversary of Gary Gygax's passing.  

I still can't believe that it's been three years since Gary passed away.  I guess, for me, Gary's death sort of affected me the way that my mom must have felt when John Lennon died.  Gary's artistic output had a significant affect on my childhood, and although I don't worship the guy like a lot of old-schoolers do, I still have to acknowledge that I wouldn't be the person I am today without that little game that Gary and Dave created some 38 years ago.  

By the time I entered the hobby, around 1982 or 1983, the game had already hit a somewhat "polished" phase.  As I have mentioned before, I really got started with the Moldvay Basic Set, and of course by this time the core AD&D hardbacks were already out as well.  So, I didn't grow up with all of the quirky imperfections of the Three Little Brown Books (3 LBBs) that a lot of other people did.  My exposure to Gary's... let's call it "unique" way of writing was really limited to his columns in Dragon magazine, and to what I could read in the Player's Handbook I borrowed time to time from my friend.  I didn't get to see or read the Dungeon Master's Guide, where Gary's unique writing style is really at his finest, until years later.  My friend wouldn't let me borrow, and made me promise not to even buy or look at, the DMG because it contained "secrets that players shouldn't know."  

My first exposure to pre-AD&D and pre-B/X D&D came at an overnight stay at a friend's house, complete with the mandatory all-night D&D gaming session.  There were three of us there, my friends Hugh and Rob, whom honestly I didn't know all that well at the time, but I had been trying to make some new friends and expand my gaming circle.  We went over to Hugh's house on Friday after dinner and went down to the basement to play some D&D because: a) We were playing D&D and really that's where you should play it when you're about 15, and b) We were in Utah and every house in Utah has a game-room in the basement.  

As the night waned on, we started to get tired and I began looking through Hugh's rather meager collection of gaming stuff when I came across this small, brown book called Greyhawk: Supplement I by Gary Gygax.  I knew of Greyhawk, and of course knew of Gary, but I'd never seen or even heard of this book before.  And the fact that it was called Supplement I really intrigued me.  Was it a supplement for AD&D?  But it didn't say AD&D on the cover.  It specifically said D&D, but it didn't appear to be part of the Basic system.  I flipped through the book and began to figure out what I was looking at some kind of lost, golden treasure of the D&D universe.  I felt special - like people must not know this thing existed.  I had a very similar feeling about 15 years later when my buddy Jeff and I ended up at a showing of "Blade Runner" at the Cineramadome in Hollywood that was billed as the "Director's Cut" but about halfway through the credits we realized that we were watching a completely different version which we later came to find out was actually the "Dallas & San Diego Sneaks" version.  We felt like we were the coolest kids on the block for having stumbled across this cinematic treasure.  

So... back to Greyhawk.  I was really intrigued by this little book.  It was in horrible shape - my friend had tried to three-hole punch it, but two of the three holes were completely off-center and basically ruined the binding of the book.  So, he had this one sad little "C-ring" threaded through the uppermost hole.  And let me tell you, those hastily punched holes did not help with trying to read the book, since most of them excised portions of text.  But what I could read was simply fantastic.  This was my first exposure to things like the "proto-paladin", and then I saw that it was the first appearance of thieves in the game!  I really felt like this was some kind of holy grail of D&D treasure.  

I think my favorite part of the book, though, was at the end where Gary had a whole section for "monster tricks and combinations" - basically, having encounters with different types of monsters who worked together, or monsters that were something else than what they appeared to be.  Some of them were pretty basic, but ole' Gary got pretty creative.  "A troll armed with a magic spear riding a purple worm."  "A snake which is actually a grey ooze."  And my personal favorite, "Mars mounted upon Talos' shoulders."  I had no idea what that last one even meant back then when I first read it, but I was totally and completely intrigued. 

That one little section really open my eyes to the vast possibilities of D&D.  I started to realize that not everything in D&D needed to be as "serious" as what I'd read in the A&D Player's Handbook, and also that our campaigns didn't need to try to hew so closely to the elaborate fantasy series we were all reading at the time.  It could be fun, creative, even a little silly.  And above all, I started to think more about using my own imagination to come up with stuff, versus trying to mimic what I'd seen in other game products or books.  

So, thanks, Gary.  Tonight when I meet my friend for a drink at the local pub around the corner, I'll raise a glass to you.  Cheers.

Hanging: At my desk in my home-office
Listening: "I Loves You Porgy", by Miles Davis
Drinking: H2O - Pasadena's finest, with no ice

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