Sunday, February 24, 2013

Dungeon Master: The Life and Legacy of Gary Gygax - David Kushner

"You arrive at a small town by a large lake. Down a road, there is a yellow Victorian house with an American flag. There are revelers here. They stand on the front lawn swilling ale and eating from bountiful plates of ham and beans. They invite you to join their assembly. As you approach, however, something catches your attention: a strange buzzing sound in the air. It's coming from the tiny winged beasts that are hanging from the trees, crawling along the ground, and crashing clumsily against you. "Cicadas," explains your host, a heavyset man with a gray ponytail and thick glasses that magnify his eyes. "It's a good thing they don't have mandibles." Then, quite cordially, he invites you inside his house to play a game. The host is Gary Gygax, and the occasion is a game convention in his hometown of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, this past June. Gygax, 68. is a cocreator and popularizer of the most influential game ever made. Dungeons & Dragons — D&D to fans — isn't a straightforward board game like Monopoly or Clue. It's more like an operating system, an elaborate framework on which players can build their own scenarios: Anyone with creativity and imagination can become a game designer. D&D players create an alter ego and guide it through a virtual world, gradually upgrading abilities as they battle monsters and gather loot. The game allows teenage misfits to become mythic superheroes and face epic adventures and harrowing challenges. "It's written in every man's heart — we want to feel like warriors," Gygax's grandson tells me inside the family home. "That's what Gramps let people do." Gygax was around 5 when he began taking an interest in strategy games like chess and pinochle. Photo: Courtesy of Gail Gygax Most aspects of the game can be expressed numerically, from attributes like strength and health and intelligence to the power of a weapon and the probability that it will successfully connect with an enemy and the amount of damage it would inflict. But one player has to paint a picture with words: That person assumes the role of the dungeon master and describes for other players what they see and hear in this imaginary world, and what effects their actions have. The game is played primarily in your head, using graph paper maps to represent environments, figurines to represent your character, a die to determine probability, and a few rulebooks for reference." 4.5 out of 5