Game Master Gygax History
Stretching the Imagination
The Role Playing Games Industry (Dungeons and Dragons) emerged from war gaming and the discipline and imagination of Gary Gygax (1938-2008) of Lake Geneva Wisconsin. Born in 1938, Gary grew up fascinated with fantasy books. In 1958 he discovered Avalon Hill (AH) war games, and when they introduced a fanzine in 1964, the Avalon Hill General, Gary dominated the early writers and contributors to that monthly magazine. In 1966, Gygax founded the International Federation of Wargaming (IFW), and encouraged fellow legend of wargaming Robert Reuschlein (later nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016) to join that group that became the largest wargaming group of its time. Reuschlein (age 16), and Gygax (age 28), became fascinated with each other as each developed local groups in the two Wisconsin cities of Madison and Lake Geneva. They played an epic “play by mail” game of “Battle of the Bulge” in the Fall of 1966 which Reuschlein won, and in 2017 Gary’s son Luke said he hated to lose. “Battle of the Bulge” was the favorite game of Reuschlein and also sixties leading journalist CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite. Together with the likes of Len Lakofka, Bill Hoyer, and John Bobek, these five dominated the new club from the greater Chicago area. Gary Gygax developed the first successful wargaming convention in 1968, GenCon, starting with 100 wargamers, now featuring 50,000 attendees in Indianapolis each year. Reuschlein’s smaller Madison Wargaming Convention started with 24 in 1969 including Gary Gygax, peaked in 1972 at 98, and then crashed the next year to 24 under new management. Reuschlein was a math and rules wizard with a record of 19-1 as top rated player in the IFW but he stuck narrowly with the AH games genre, while Gary was involved in all things wargaming spending twice as much time per week as Reuschlein and may have written ten times as many articles. Gary stretched his imagination with land and naval miniatures and eventually castles in a sandbox. While both Reuschlein and Gygax developed their own games, again Gary was many times more prolific in that as well. The Reuschlein Gygax bond ended in 1974 as Reuschlein gave up wargaming after winning the first two GenCon AH tournaments and moving to the West Coast after college graduation. Gary offered to put my games collection up for sale at GenCon as he went on that year to develop “Dungeons and Dragons” and Reuschlein later entered politics 1978 to 1993 in the State of Oregon. Reuschlein invests in convertible bonds completely unaware his friend Gary Gygax needs money to start the D & D business. Gary’s interest in miniatures, fantasy, and the development of rules for individual combat in the game “Chainmail” lead directly into the development of “Dungeons and Dragons”. Stretching the imagination with fantasy history and wargaming, detailing the rules with the precision of a claims adjuster, and endless writing experience, lead to the first popular role playing game.
Business of Dungeons and Dragons
In December 1973 Gary forms a partnership named Tactical Studies Rules (TSR) to produce “Dungeons and Dragons”. One thousand games were purchased in January 1974 and sold that first year. Doubling every year, within a few years sales were 2 or 3 million a year by 1978-79 and the game became a national obsession. Gary faced several common issues of entrepreneurs almost immediately. Starting out he is undercapitalized. Having lost his day job as an insurance underwriter in Chicago in October 1970, he is forced to turn to shoe repair for a living in 1971. Still in December 1973 he has $1000 of his own, another $1000 from his best gaming friend Don Kaye, and another guy in town, Brian Blume, who is not a gamer. Starting out with just one third ownership is a big red flag in the small business world. When you do not have a majority ownership it’s easy to lose control of your company. The second red flag is the absence of an agreement to buy out owners who want out. Sometimes this is combined with insurance on the partners so that if one dies, the insurance pays off the spouse of the deceased. Unfortunately for Gary Gygax both of these issues come back to haunt him. He is in fairly good shape with his best friend and himself owning a majority. Then tragedy strikes, as his best friend partner dies in January of the second year, 1975. Then Don Kaye’s widow sells to Brian Blume’s father Melvin as he outbids Gary. Now Gary is in the precarious position of minority ownership to the Blumes. In the summer of 1983, Kevin Blume, Brian’s brother assumes control of the company after Gary’s divorce and Gary is relegated to an entertainment subsidiary and goes to Hollywood. In late 1984 Gary comes home to oust Kevin for poor performance and seize control of the company in March 1985 using long held stock options. Then he hires a professional manager Lorraine Williams to run the company who seizes control ousting Gygax after seven months on October 22, 1985. For a second time he makes the mistake of trusting strangers as his chosen business manager Lorraine Williams buys majority control from the Blumes.
After Tactical Studies Rules
When Gary Gygax took his talents elsewhere, he went on to develop other role playing games, but the spark of imagination that lead to Dungeons and Dragons opened up a whole new field of role playing games with levels of achievement, and eventually much of today’s $100 billion video games industry owes him for this development. Where would “Grand Theft Auto” and the many war fighting video games be without the basic structure of applied imagination individual role playing games begun by Gary Gygax in 1974? All these subsequent developments come from the rich imagination of the medieval ages of Western Civilization. Anthropology and fantasy like JRR Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”, combined with things like “Star Trek” left the door wide open for Gary Gygax to earn the label #1 Nerd of all time in Sync magazine’s 2002 poll. A lifetime Camels smoker, Gary Gygax died at the early age of 69 in 2008. Steven Colbert paid tribute to him on his passing.
Had I known my friend Gary Gygax needed money in December 1973 I might have invested in his business. Had that happened, I would probably have ended up rich, but as a second fiddle. I would not have blazed my own path in Oregon politics that lead to the inventions of my macroeconomics and global warming theories that lead to my recent nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. The world does not always beat a path to the door of the person who develops a better mousetrap, it takes marketing. My work is only gradually getting recognized thanks to my doctorate in 2009, one year after Gary died. I regret not seeing him in those last years, especially after I moved back to Wisconsin in 1993. I had experience with others becoming rich and famous around me, such as “Clan of the Cave Bear” author Jean Auel, who I met and shared campground experiences with in Longbow Campground. That was the annual retreat place of the Oregon Mensa group in the Oregon Cascades just East of Salem. So although recognition is slow so far, at least it is not posthumous as in the case of Copernicus. I do not regret blazing my own path and creating two theories each of which is about an order of magnitude improvement on the fields of macroeconomics long term accuracy and global warming temperature forecasting. That would not have happened in the shadow of Gary Gygax, much as I love him. His oldest son told me how he would talk about me a lot, so I underestimated his friendship and esteem for me. I feared he would think of me as another high school classmate that tries to get in with the rich man, rather than an old friend. One of many mistakes I have made in life.
More on the Reuschlein Gygax story is here in these past releases and findings on the internet: