The Birth of Dungeons & Dragons

On the pop-culture Richter scale, Gary Gygax deserves a place alongside Walt Disney and Steve Jobs, says Michael Witwer, author of Empire of Imagination: Gary Gygax and the Birth of Dungeons and Dragons. In other words, Gygax was a 12th-level genius.

In a 10-minute conversation with The Bookmonger, Witwer explains the significance of D&D (as players call it). He also describes what Gygax was like as a man: a high-school dropout who read voraciously but was not prepared to run a business. Finally, Witwer says a word about the politics of his subject: Gygax was a fervent Republican who become increasingly libertarian as he grew older.

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  1. Seawriter Contributor

    Boy that brings back memories. I grew up in Ann Arbor and was a big wargamer. (Witwer is wrong about minis players and board wargamers being separate. I – and a lot of my friends – did both.)

    Remember discovering D&D in 1972 – when it was still emerging from being the Chainmail fantasy extension. I was still in high school. It combined board wargaming and miniature wargaming.

    Met Gygax and Arneson on many occasions in the 1970s. Liked Arneson. Gygax? De mortuis nihil nisi bonum. Arneson was more responsible for developing D&D, but it would not have taken off the way it did without Gygax.


    • #1
    • November 12, 2015, at 7:31 PM PST
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  2. Kevin Creighton Contributor

    I spent far, far too much time in my youth playing D&D and related games, and while nothing can top it as a playground for the imagination, one thing I’ve noticed (now that I’m older and more detached from the scene) is how poorly D&D adventures translate outside of the gaming table. I gamed with professional gamers: People who designed role-playing games for a living, and yet none of us could talk about what we did in the game in a way that was interesting to people who weren’t there at the time. Yes, playing D&D was tremendously enjoyable and creative as it was happening, but once it happened, there really is/was no way to translate the experience to people who weren’t involved in the game. The intensely personal nature D&D (and other role-playing games) are what make them greenhouse for growing imaginations, but as is the case with horticulture, what’s raised in a hothouse tends to die when it’s transplanted to the real world.

    • #2
    • November 13, 2015, at 9:46 AM PST
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