Gary Gygax

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Greyhawk Author
Ernest Gary Gygax
Nationality United States
Born July 27, 1938
Birthplace Chicago, Illinois
Died March 4, 2008 (aged 69)

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, U.S.A

First Greyhawk work Creator, 1972.
Alias(es) EGG, Col_Pladoh

Ernest Gary Gygax (born July 27, 1938 in Chicago, Illinois) is best known as the author of the well known fantasy roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), co-created with Dave Arneson and co-published with Don Kaye in 1974 under the company Tactical Studies Rules (AKA TSR). Although not alone in contributing to the origins of the industry, Gygax is sometimes described as the father of the roleplaying game.[1]


Gygax is the son of a Swiss immigrant father and an American mother. His gaming experiences began at the age of five and six with playing pinochle and chess as well as the usual pretend games of any child that could be likened to live action roleplaying together with Jim Rasch as referee/game master, and John Rasch and Don Kaye as fellow participants. At about the same time Gary began educating himself in science fiction novels with Ray Bradbury's The Veldt in Bluebook and Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Conqueror.

"I've been reading fantasy since 1950." [2]

It was in 1953 that Gary Gygax first started playing miniature war games with Don Kaye. The game Gettysburg from the Avalon Hill company captured Gygax's attention. It was from the same company that he placed an order for the first blank hexagon mapping sheets that were available. He was also looking for new ways to generate random numbers. To that end, he used not only the usual cubical (six-sided) dice, but dice of all five platonic solid shapes.

In 1966, the International Federation of Wargamers (IFW) was created by Gary Gygax and others.[3]

In 1967, a 20-person gaming get-together was organized by Gary Gygax at his home, including the basement sand table. This was later called "Gen Con 0" as it led to the start of the annual Gen Con gaming convention the following year, which is now the world's largest and longest-running annual hobby-game gathering. Gen Con is also where Gary Gygax would meet Brian Blume and Dave Arneson. Blume would later enter into TSR as partner with Don Kaye and Gary.

"I'm very fond of the Medieval period, the Dark Ages in particular. We started playing in the period because I had found appropriate miniatures. I started devising rules where what the plastic figure was wearing was what he had. If he had a shield and no armor, then he just has a shield. Shields and half-armor = half-armor rules; full-armor figure = full armor rules. I did rules for weapons as well."[4]

Together with Don Kaye, Mike Reese, and Leon Tucker, a military miniatures society would be created under the name Lake Geneva Tactical Studies Association (LGTSA) which at the time also met in Gary's basement.

Gygax and Jeff Perren wrote Chainmail, a miniatures wargame from which D&D was developed, in 1971.[5]. According to Gygax, he was inspired by some earlier modifications made to the rules by Dave Arneson, but felt those changes didn’t really fit into the game’s framework. Therefore, building onto Arneson’s rules, Gygax began developing both Dungeons & Dragons and the Greyhawk campaign.. Much of the activity in Gygax’s campaign initially took place in or near the Free City of Greyhawk, which would lend its name to the entire setting.

Gygax and Kaye then founded the publishing company Tactical Studies Rules (TSR) and published the first version of D&D in 1974. For the spell systems, Gygax would be inspired by Jack Vance, but also draw upon such renowned fantasy authors as Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp and Fritz Leiber. The hand-assembled print run of 1000 copies sold out in nine months. In the same year, Gygax hired Tim Kask to help make the transition of The Strategic Review to the fantasy periodical today known as Dragon with Gygax as author and later as columnist.

After the death of Kaye in 1976, his widow sold her shares to Gygax. Gygax then owned a controlling share of the whole partnership Tactical Studies Rules, and created TSR Hobbies, Inc. He sold it soon after to Brian Blume and his brother Kevin because of money problems. The Blume family owned roughly two-thirds of TSR Hobbies by late 1976.

Tactical Studies Rules published the two first printings of the original D&D and TSR Hobbies, Inc. went on with the game.

A few years later a new version of D&D was created, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) (1977–9).[6] The Monster Manual would be the first rule book of the new system. The new rules were not compatible with Original D&D. As a result, D&D and AD&D had distinct product lines and expansions.

Gygax left TSR in 1985 during changes in TSR's management. Problems arose while Gary was preoccupied with making the CBS cartoon series Dungeons and Dragons.

"I was pretty much boxed out of the running of the company because the two guys, who between them had a controlling interest, thought they could run the company better than I could. I was set up because I could manage. In 1982 nobody on the West Coast would deal with TSR, but they had me start a new corporation called "Dungeons and Dragons Entertainment." It took a long time and a lot of hard work to get to be recognized as someone who was for real and not just a civilian, shall we say, in entertainment. Eventually, though, we got the cartoon show going (on CBS) and I had a number of other projects in the works. While I was out there, though, I heard that the company was in severe financial difficulties and one of the guys, the one I was partnered with, was shopping it on the street in New York. I came back and discovered a number of gross mismanagements in all areas of the company. The bank was foreclosing and we were a million and a half in debt. We eventually got that straightened out, but I kind of got one of my partners kicked out of office. (Kevin Blume, who was removed as TSR CEO in 1984 - ed.). Then my partners, in retribution for that, sold his shares to someone else (Lorraine Williams - ed.). I tried to block it in court, but in the ensuing legal struggle the judge ruled against me. I lost control of the company, and it was then at that point I just decided to sell out."[7]

After leaving TSR Gary Gygax created Dangerous Journeys, an advanced RPG spanning multiple genres containing almost every rule that Gary could think of.[8] He began work in 1995 on a major new RPG, originally intended for a computer game, but in 1999 released as Lejendary Adventure which some consider to be his best work to date. A key part of its design was to keep the gaming rules as simple as possible, as Gygax felt that role playing games were becoming too complex and discouraged new users.

Gygax died the morning of March 4, 2008, at his home in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, aged 69. He was in semi-retirement, having almost suffered a heart attack after receiving incorrect medication to prevent further strokes after those on April 1 and May 4, 2004. He was diagnosed with an inoperable abdominal aortic aneurysm. Even while his health failed, gaming remained very much a part of his life. Gygax was still active in the gaming community and had active Q & A forums on gaming websites such as Dragonsfoot and EN World.

I would like the world to remember me as the guy who really enjoyed playing games and sharing his knowledge and his fun pastimes with everybody else.


Gary Gygax has received several awards related to gaming:

  • Strategists Club's, "Outstanding Designer & Writer" — for creating D&D
  • Origin Game Convention's, "Adventure Gaming Hall of Fame"
  • Origins Award, "Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design Hall of Fame Honors" (2004)
  • Four time winner of Games Day's, "Best Games Inventor" (1979–82).

Gary Gygax was tied with J. R. R. Tolkien for #18 on "GameSpy's 30 Most Influential People in Gaming" (Gamespy Magazine, March 2002).

As of March 13, 2003, Gygax is listed under the entry Dungeons and Dragons in the Oxford English Dictionary.

A strain of bacteria has been named in honor of Gary Gygax, namely "Arthronema gygaxiana sp nov UTCC393" (Journal of Phycology, 2005).

Sync Magazine named Gary Gygax #1 on the list of "The 50 Biggest Nerds of All Time" (Sync Magazine, December/January 2004/05).

SFX Magazine listed him as #37 on the list of the "50 Greatest SF Pioneers" (SFX Magazine March #128, 2005).

Gary Gygax in popular culture

Gary Gygax was parodied as "Egg" in the module Castle Greyhawk.

Gary Gygax appeared on a Futurama episode, "Anthology of Interest I" (aired in 2000), during which he rolled dice to decide on what greeting to give when introduced to Fry ("It's a... *roll* ...pleasure to meet you"). Later, he gives his "+1 mace" to Fry to fight off the inhabitants of the future. The episode ends with Gary dungeon mastering a Dungeons & Dragons game with Fry, Al Gore, Nichelle Nichols, Stephen Hawking, and Deep Blue.

He had a cameo appearance in the April 13, 2004 strip of R. K. Milholland's on-line comic Something Positive. Gary is shown getting busted by the FBI for creating Dungeons & Dragons and causing "years and years of anti-social mayhem." The comic seems to imply that Gygax uses drugs, and includes a note from Milholland asking him "please don't sue."[9]

In an episode of Dexter's Laboratory (entitled "D&DeeDee"), where Dexter and his friends are playing a game which clearly is Dungeons & Dragons (although never mentioned on screen), Dexter attempts to play a super-powerful character named Gygax with a soul-stealing sword, but ends up with Hodo the Furry-Footed Burrower instead.

His name has twice been an answer in the board game Trivial Pursuit.

The now-defunct Washington, DC-based art punk band Pitchblende named their final album, Gygax!, in his honor.

In the MMORPG version of Dungeons and Dragons, Dungeons & Dragons Online, Gygax serves as Dungeon Master for the "Delera's Tomb" quest chain.

In the arcade beat-'em-up Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom, "Gygax" is the highest scoring name on the ranking list by default.

Gygax has appeared twice in the comic Nodwick, both times as an antagonist of the title character and his employers, seeking revenge for the parodization of his Dungeons and Dragons modules.

Gygax has also appeared as himself in an episode of the G4TV cartoon series Code Monkeys.

Job titles

  • 1970-73 – Editor-in-Chief, Guidon Games (publisher of Wargaming rules and wargames)
  • 1973-83 – Partner of TSR and then President of TSR Hobbies, Inc.
  • 1983-85 – President, DUNGEONS & DRAGONS Entertainment Corporation
Co-Producer, DUNGEONS & DRAGONS Animated Television Show
  • 1983-85 – Chairman of the Board of Directors and President (1985 only) of TSR, Inc.
  • 1986-88 – Chairman of the Board of Directors, New Infinities Productions, Inc.
  • 1988-94 – Creator/author under contract to Omega Helios Limited
  • 1995-... – Creator/author under contract to Trigee Enterprises Corporation
  • 1999-... – Partner, Hekaforge Productions

Greyhawk-related works

Dungeons & Dragons

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

  • Rule books:
    • Player's Handbook
    • Dungeon Master's Guide
    • Monster Manual
    • Monster Manual II
  • Supplements:
    • Unearthed Arcana
    • Oriental Adventures (with Dave Cook & Francois Froideval)
  • Accessories:
    • Dungeon Geomorphs (3 sets)
    • Outdoor Geomorphs
    • Monster & Treasure Assortments (3 sets)

Castles & Crusades

For Castles & Crusades, the Castle Zagyg series was a planned series of seven sourcebooks/modules based on the Castle Greyhawk from Gygax's original campaign. Only one volume, detailing the upper works of the Castle and the first level of the dungeon (and a number of supplements by Gygax and Jeffrey Talanian detailing the nearby City of Yggsburgh and the adventure Dark Chateau by Rob Kuntz which slotted into eventually unpublished portions of Castle Zagyg proper) was published shortly before Gygax' death in 2008, and very quickly fell out of print thereafter. Further publication has been mentioned as a possibility by Gygax Games, a company set up in the wake of Gygax' death by his widow, but as of 2012, no further action on publishing the rest of Castle Zagyg has been taken.

For trademark reasons the module was not actually published under the name of Greyhawk, nor used Greyhawk elements openly, though numerous veiled references to Greyhawk elements were made, such as mentions of "the Crimson Monks" and to the City of Dunfalcon, itself an ovewr-the-shoulder reference to The Free City of Greyhawk.

  • Castle Zagyg, Vol. 1: Yggsburgh Troll Lord Games, 2005 (ISBN 1-931275-68-8)

Fantasy novels

Miscellaneous books & short stories

  • "At Moonset Blackcat Comes" (Fantasy short story featuring Gord the Rogue appearing in Dragon #100).
  • "Evening Odds" (Fantasy short story with Gord the Rogue sharing Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champions universe) -- White Wolf, Inc., 1997.
  • "The Return of Gord" (with K.R. Bourgoine). Another Gord the Rogue story appearing in Dragon #344 (Paizo Publishing, 2006).


  • Acaeum. "Chainmail." The Acaeum. Available online:[10]
  • Casamatta, Dale A., Jeffrey R. Johansen, Morgan L. Vis, and Sharon T. Broadwater. "Molecular and Morphological Characterization of Ten Polar and Near-Polar Strains within the Oscillatoriales (Cyanobacteria)". Journal of Phycology 2005.
  • Gygax, Gary. "Designers Forum: Gary Gygax on Dungeons & Dragons: Origins of the Game." Dragon #7 (1977): 7.
  • -----. "From the Sorcerer's Scroll: Greyhawk: the Shape of the World." Dragon #37 (1980): 10-11, 30.
  • -----. "On the influence of J.R.R. Tolkien on the D&D and AD&D games." Dragon #95. Lake geneva, WI: TSR, 1985.
  • -----(posting as "Col_Pladoh"). "Q&A With Gary Gygax, Part V." Dragonsfoot Forums. Available online:[11]
  • Rausch, Allen. "Gary Gygax Interview." Gamespy. 2004. Available online:[12]
  • Wizards of the Coast. "The History of TSR." Wizards of the Coast. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast, 2003. Available online:[13]

External links

  • Gygax at Troll Lord Games is a listing of the Gary Gygax branded products sold by them.