Gary Gygax

Ernest Gary Gygax (July 27, 1938March 4, 2008) (IPA: [ˈgaj.gæks]) was an American writer and game designer, best known for co-creating the pioneering role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) with Dave Arneson in 1974, and co-founding the company Tactical Studies Rules (TSR, Inc.) with Don Kaye in 1973. After leaving TSR, Gygax continued to author role-playing game titles independently, including another gaming system called Lejendary Adventure. Gygax is generally acknowledged as one of the fathers of the tabletop role-playing game.


Early life and inspiration

Born in 1938 in the city of Chicago, Gygax was the son of Swiss immigrant and Chicago Symphony Orchestra violinist Ernst Gygax, and Almina Emelie Burdick. His family moved to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin when Gygax was eight years old, where he lived until his death in 2008. Although Gygax dropped out of high school, he later attended anthropology classes at the University of Chicago. His father introduced him to pulp novels, and Gygax stated that became "hooked" on science fiction and fantasy stories with Ray Bradbury's "The Veldt", Robert E. Howard's Conan stories and the Startling Stories magazine.

His love of gaming began when Gygax was five, playing games such as pinochle and chess, and this, in combination with his interest in history, led him to begin playing miniature war games. The game Gettysburg from the Avalon Hill company had captured Gygax's attention. It was from Avalon Hill that he ordered the first blank hexagon mapping sheets that were available, and he began looking for innovative ways to generate random numbers, and used not only common dice (with six sides), but dice of all five platonic solid shapes.

Gaming career

In 1966, the International Federation of Wargamers (IFW) was created with the assistance of Gygax.

Gygax organized a 20-person gaming meet in 1967. It was held in the basement of his home and later became known as "Gen Con 0" as this meet birthed the annual Gen Con gaming convention in 1968. Gen Con is now North America's largest annual hobby-game gathering. Gen Con is also where Gary Gygax would meet Brian Blume and Dave Arneson. Blume later partnered with Gygax and Kaye in the TSR enterprise.

"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."

Together with Don Kaye, Mike Reese and Leon Tucker, Gygax created a military miniatures society, Lake Geneva Tactical Studies Association (LGTSA), with its first headquarters in Gygax's basement.

In 1971, Gygax and Jeff Perren wrote Chainmail, a miniatures wargame from which the role-playing game (RPG) Dungeons & Dragons (aka D&D) was developed.


Gygax and Kaye founded the publishing company Tactical Studies Rules in 1973 and published the first version of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) in 1974. Gygax was inspired by Jack Vance while developing the spell systems and also drew upon the work of 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 within nine months. In the same year, Gygax hired Tim Kask to assist in the transition of the magazine The Strategic Review into the fantasy periodical, The Dragon, with Gygax as author and later as columnist.

After the death of Kaye in 1976, his widow sold her shares to Gygax. Gygax, now controlling the whole of Tactical Studies Rules, created TSR Hobbies, Inc. Gygax, coming into financial troubles soon after, sold TSR Hobbies to Brian Blume and his brother Kevin. The Blume family would own 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. continued on with the game.

Beginning in 1977, a new version of D&D was created, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D). The Monster Manual would be the first rule book of the new system, with many books to follow. The AD&D rules were not compatible with those of D&D and as a result, D&D and AD&D would have distinct product lines and expansions.

Gary Gygax left TSR in 1985 during changes in TSR's management. This development arose while Gygax was involved in the making of CBS cartoon series Dungeons & 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."

Late career

After leaving TSR, Gygax created Dangerous Journeys, an RPG spanning multiple genres. He began work in 1995 on a new RPG, originally intended for a computer game; however, it was released in 1999 as Lejendary Adventure. A key goal of its design was to keep the gaming rules as simple as possible, as Gygax felt that role playing games were becoming discouragingly complex to new users.

In 2005, Gygax returned to the Dungeons & Dragons RPG with his involvement in the creation of the Castles & Crusades system with Troll Lord Games. Troll Lord Games has published Castle Zagyg, the previously unreleased, original version of Gygax's Castle Greyhawk with the original dungeon setting for D&D.

Television appearances

In 2007, Gygax had a special guest appearance as himself on the G4TV show Code Monkeys, when Todd sought him out and offered actress Molly Ringwald as a "virgin sacrifice" to Gygax to restore Todd's Charisma, Strength, Dexterity, and Sexual Stamina points.

He also lent his voice to his cartoon self in the episode "Anthology of Interest I" of the TV show Futurama.

Other appearances

Gygax performed voiceover narration as a guest dungeon master in the massively multiplayer online role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach. He narrates "Dead Girl's Spellbook" in Valak's Mausoleum as well as all of the dungeons in the "Mystery of Delera's Tomb" quest chain.

Personal life

Gygax married Gail Carpenter on August 15 1987, the same day as his parents' 50th anniversary. As of 2005, he was father to six children and grandfather to seven. His first five children are from his first marriage to Mary Jo Gygax, and the last child is from his second marriage. Gygax resided in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. He described his studio in his typical narrative fashion as
A small but sunny upper room — cluttered with books, magazines, papers, and who-knows-what else. Right now, pending the redecorating of that room, I am lodged in the downstairs dining room at a long table that holds two computers and a scanner, with the printer hiding to one side below it. The radio there in the studio was usually tuned to a classical music station, but the station was sold, programming changed, so now I work sans music, or now and then with a CD playing through the computer. While there are bookcases in the upper studio, elsewhere on the second floor, and on the first floor, the main repository of printed lore (other than that piled here and there) is my basement library which includes thousands of reference works, maps, magazines, and works of fiction.

Illness and death

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.

Knowledge, logic, reason, and common sense serve better than a dozen rule books.

Awards and honors

Gary Gygax received several awards related to gaming:

  • Strategists Club's "Outstanding Designer & Writer" for the creation of D&D
  • Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design Origins Award Hall of Fame 1980
  • Four time winner of Games Day's "Best Games Inventor" (1979–82)
  • GenCon 2007 (40th Anniversary), Premiere Guest of Honor

Gary Gygax was tied with J. R. R. Tolkien for #18 on GameSpy's 30 Most Influential People in Gaming.

A strain of bacteria was named in honor of Gary Gygax, namely "Arthronema gygaxiana sp nov UTCC393".

Sync Magazine named Gary Gygax #1 on the list of "The 50 Biggest Nerds of All Time". SFX Magazine listed him as #37 on the list of the "50 Greatest SF Pioneers". In 1999 Pyramid magazine named Gary Gygax as one of The Millennium's Most Influential Persons "in the realm of adventure gaming.


Gary Gygax was commemorated in a number of webcomics, including xkcd's comic #393 "Ultimate Game, Penny Arcade's "Bordering On The Semi-Tasteful", Dork Tower's "Thanks for the Worldbuilding Rules", Order of the Stick #536, and GU Comics' "The Journey's End".

Blizzard Entertainment dedicated the 2.4.0 patch to World of Warcraft, "Fury of the Sunwell", to Gary Gygax. Electronic Arts dedicated Publish 51 in Ultima Online to Gary Gygax. This included a new room in the dungeon Doom containing a special encounter and unique decorations. Turbine, Inc. included two tributes in the Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach Module 7, released June 3 2008: A new area in Delera's Graveyard containing a memorial marker and text, and a new unique item, Voice of the Master, that improves the wearer's experience awards.Stephen Colbert, an avid D&D gamer in his youth, dedicated the last part of the March 5th Colbert Report to Gygax.

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 of TSR, Inc.; also President (1985)
  • 1986–88 – Chairman of the Board of Directors, New Infinities Productions, Inc.
  • 1988–94 – Creator/author under contract to Omega Helios Limited
  • 1995–2008 – Creator/author under contract to Trigee Enterprises Corporation
  • 1999–2008 – Partner, Hekaforge Productions


Role-playing games

TSR, Inc.

Gygax's first role-playing game work with the Dungeons & Dragons game was the original Dungeons & Dragons boxed set in 1974, with Dave Arneson. With Brian Blume he designed Boot Hill, a role-playing game with elements of the Wild West, in 1975. He also wrote the supplements Greyhawk (with Robert J. Kuntz), Eldritch Wizardry (with Brian Blume), and Swords & Spells for the original D&D game. The Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, edited by J. Eric Holmes in 1977, was based largely on his work on the original boxed set.

Gygax authored the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons hardcovers Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, Monster Manual, Monster Manual II, Unearthed Arcana, and Oriental Adventures (with Dave Cook & Francois Froideval). Gygax authored numerous AD&D & basic D&D adventure modules, including B2 The Keep on the Borderlands, D1 Descent Into the Depths of the Earth, D2 Shrine of the Kuo-Toa (These two later reprinted in 1981 as D1-2 Descent into the Depths of the Earth), D3 Vault of the Drow, EX1 Dungeonland, EX2 The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror, G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King (These three later reprinted in 1981 as G1-2-3 Against the Giants), Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits (with Dave Sutherland), S1 Tomb of Horrors, S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, T1 The Village of Hommlet, T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil (with Frank Mentzer), WG4 Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun, WG5 Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure, and WG6 Isle of the Ape. Gygax was also involved in several D&D accessories, including The Book of Marvelous Magic (with Frank Mentzer), Dungeon Geomorphs (3 sets, ISBN 0-935696-37-7), Outdoor Geomorphs, and the Monster & Treasure Assortments (3 sets, ISBN-10: 0935696369).

Though he mostly worked on Dungeons & Dragons products while with TSR, Gygax occasionally branched out with other product lines. He provided assistance on the Gamma World science fantasy role-playing game in 1981, and authored the Gamma World adventure GW1, Legion of Gold in 1981, with Luke Gygax and Paul Reiche III (ISBN 0-935696-61-X).

In 1983, Gygax's long-time campaign setting of Greyhawk was finally published in the form of the World of Greyhawk folio.

In 1999, after a long estrangement with TSR, Gygax designed the adventure Against the Giants: The Liberation of Geoff (1999) with Sean K. Reynolds.

Cyborg Commando

Gygax's first role-playing game work after leaving TSR was the science fiction RPG Cyborg Commando, published by New Infinities, Inc in 1987, with Kim Mohan and Frank Mentzer.

Dangerous Journeys

Gygax next began working for Game Designers' Workshop (GDW) on his Dangerous Journeys role-playing game. He authored all of the products for this line, including Mythus (with Dave Newton, 1992, ISBN 1-55878-131-5), Mythus Magick Book II of the Mythus Game (with Dave Newton, 1992, ISBN 1-55878-133-1), Epic of Ærth companion volume to the Mythus Game (1992, ISBN 1-55878-132-3), Necropolis adventure scenario (1993, ISBN 1-58846-116-5), Mythus Bestiary, Ærth Animalia (with Dave & Michele Newton, 1993, ISBN 1-55878-153-6), Changeling weird science fantasy Role-Playing Game, published in part in Mythic Masters Magazine (see Periodicals), and the unpublished manuscript Unhallowed supernatural horror role-playing game (with Mike McCulley, 1992).

Lejendary Adventures

Gygax next produced the Lejendary Adventure role-playing game for Hekaforge Productions, beginning with the rule books Lejendary Rules for All Players (1999, ISBN-10: 1930377029), Lejend Master's Lore (2000, ISBN-10: 193037707X), and Beasts of Lejend (2000, ISBN 1930377061). Gygax also produced the world setting sourcebooks Lejendary Earth Gazetteer - Part 1 in 2002, Noble Kings & Dark Lands - Part 2, (with Chris Clark) in 2003 and The Mysterious Realms of Hazgar – Part 3, (with Chris Clark) in 2005.

Gygax produced additional adventures for the Lejendary Adventure system for Troll Lord Games, including Living the Lejend - campaign setting & expansion for the Lejendary Adventure Essentials Boxed Set (2005, ISBN 1-931275-51-3), Forlorn Corners - included serially as a part of the Author’s and Collector’s Editions of the three core rules noted above (1999–2000), Hall of Many Panes (with Jon Creffield) – Module Boxed Set with D20 stats included (2005, ISBN 1-931275-33-5), and Lejendary Adventure Essentials - primer boxed set for the Lejendary Adventure RPG (2005, ISBN-10: 193127567X).

Generic d20 System

Gygax worked on a number of releases with the d20 System under the Open Game License. These included: A Challenge of Arms (1999) generic adventure module, and Ritual of the Golden Eyes generic adventure module (2000), both with Chris Clark for Inner City Game Designs; The Weyland Smith & Company Giant Fun Catalog ("Joke" Magic Items), short version, for Hekaforge Productions (1999); and The Slayer's Guide to Undead (2002, ISBN 1-903980-80-1) and The Slayer's Guide to Dragons (2003, ISBN-10: 1903980275) sourcebooks, both with Jon Creffield for Mongoose Publishing.

Gygax also worked on the Gygaxian Fantasy Worlds Series from Troll Lord Games, editing volumes IV, V, VI, VII. This series included: Volume I Gary Gygax's The Canting Crew, explores the underworld of city life (2002, ISBN-10: 1931275084); "Gygaxian Fantasy Worlds, Volume II"; Volume II Gary Gygax's World Builder, a collection of organized definitions, lists, tables and charts, (with Dan Cross) – (2003, ISBN-10: 193127522X); Volume III Gary Gygax's Living Fantasy, Everyday Life (2003, ISBN-10: 193127522X); Volume IV Gary Gygax's Book of Names by Malcolm Bowers (2004, ISBN-10: 1931275564); Volume V Gary Gygax's Insidiae by Dan Cross (2004, ISBN-10: 193127553X); Volume VI Gary Gygax's Nation Builder, by Michael J. Varhola (2005, ISBN-10: 1931275807); and Volume VII Gary Gygax's Cosmos Builder, by Richard T. Balsley (2006, ISBN-10: 1931275084).

Castles & Crusades

For Castles & Crusades, the Castle Zagyg series is a planned series of seven sourcebooks based on the Castle Greyhawk from Gygax's original campaign. For trademark reasons they are not actually published under the name of Greyhawk. Volumes released so far include Gary Gygax's Castle Zagyg: Yggsburgh Troll Lord Games, 2005 (ISBN 1-931275-68-8), Gary Gygax's Castle Zagyg: Dark Chateau (by Robert J. Kuntz) Troll Lord Games, 2005 (ISBN 1-931275-69-6), Gary Gygax's Castle Zagyg: The East Mark Gazeteer (with Jeffrey P. Talanian) Troll Lord Games, 2007 (ISBN 978-1-929474-98-1), and Gary Gygax's Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works (with Jeffrey P. Talanian) Troll Lord Games, 2008 (978-1-929474-93-6).

Non-RPG games

Gygax was most prolific with role-playing games, but began with other types of table top games and continued to produce them. His work on rules for miniatures and table top battle games includes Cavaliers and Roundheads (English Civil War, with Jeff Perren), Chainmail (Medieval and Fantasy, with Jeff Perren), Classic Warfare (Ancient Period: 1500 BC to 500 AD), Don't Give Up The Ship! (Sailing Ship Battles c. 1700 to 1815, with Dave Arneson and Mike Carr), and Tractics (WWII to c. 1965, with Mike Reese & Leon Tucker). He wrote the foreword to the 2004 Skirmisher Publishing LLC edition of H.G. Wells' Little Wars.

Gygax developed several board games, including: Alexander the Great (Ancient, the Battle of Arbela) by Guidon Games and reprinted by Avalon Hill, and a Supplementary Kit called Alexander's Other Battles by Panzerfaust Publishing (1972); Baku (WW II, Extension of Avalon Hill's Stalingrad board wargame), Panzerfaust Publicationsl Crusader (Medieval, Battle of Ascalon) – Panzerfaust Publications; Dunkirk (World War II) – Guidon Games; Little Big Horn (Western) – TSR Hobbies, Inc.; and Dungeon! - TSR Hobbies, Inc.

Another of Gary Gygax's creations was Dragonchess, a three-dimensional fantasy chess variant, published in Dragon Magazine #100 (August 1985). It is played on three 8x12 boards stacked on top of each other - the top board represents the sky, the middle is the ground, and the bottom is the underworld. The pieces are characters and monsters inspired by the Dungeons and Dragons setting: King, Mage, Paladin, Cleric, Dragon, Griffin, Oliphant, Hero, Thief, Elemental, Basilisk, Unicorn, Dwarf, Sylph and Warrior.

Gary also worked on Fidchell, not to be confused with the historic board game of fidchell (various spellings) from Ireland.


Gygax authored several fantasy novels, beginning with two novels for TSR's Greyhawk Adventures series, featuring Gord the Rogue, Saga of Old City (1985, ISBN 0-88038-257-0) and Artifact of Evil (1986, ISBN 0-88038-257-0). Subsequent Gord the Rogue Adventures from New Infinities Productions, Inc. (also published in Italian) included Sea of Death (1987, ISBN 0-44175-676-X), Night Arrant (1987) – a collection of short stories, City of Hawks (1987, ISBN 0-44110-636-6), Come Endless Darkness (1988, ISBN 0-44111-446-6), and Dance of Demons (1988, ISBN 0-42511-342-6).

Gygax wrote three more novels, released under publisher Penguin/Roc: The Anubis Murders (1992, ISBN 0-451-45255-0), The Samarkand Solution (1993, ISBN 0-451-45240-2), and Death in Delhi (1993, ISBN 0-451-45244-5).

Gygax worked on the Sagard the Barbarian Books (HEROES CHALLENGE Gamebook Series, co-author Flint Dille (with assistance from Ernie Gygax) - from Archway/Pocket books): The Ice Dragon (1985, ISBN 0-67155-487-5), The Green Hydra (1985, ISBN 0-67155-488-3), The Crimson Sea (1985, ISBN 0-67155-489-1), and The Fire Demon (1986, ISBN 0-67155-490-5). His other books work includes Role-Playing Mastery - instructional book, Perigee/Putnam (trade paperback bestseller, 1987, ISBN 0-39951-293-4); Master of the Game - sequel to Role-Playing Mastery from Perigee/Putnam (1989, ISBN 0-39951-293-4). Gygax also wrote a number of published short stories, including "At Moonset Blackcat Comes" (Fantasy short story featuring Gord the Rogue appearing in Dragon #100); "Pay Tribute" (Science Fiction short story in The Fleet anthology)l "Battle off Deadstar" (Science Fiction short story in Fleet Breakthrough anthology); "Celebration of Celene" (Fantasy short story published in Michael Moorcock’s Elric, Tales of the White Wolf anthology) - White Wolf, Inc., 1994; "Duty" (Fantasy short story in Excalibur, anthology) – Warner Books, 1995; "Get on Board the D Train" (Horror short story in Dante’s Disciples anthology) – White Wolf, Inc., 1996; and Evening Odds" (Fantasy short story with Gord the Rogue sharing Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champions universe) – White Wolf, Inc., 1997.


Gygax's magazine work began with The Strategic Review (Tactical Studies Rules) newsletter, in which he was the primary author of entire magazine for each of the initial four issues, and a major contributor to the balance of all issues until Dragon came into print. He appeared in La Vivandiere (Palikar Publications), a defunct wargaming magazine, as a contributing author in 1974; his significant contributions include "Fantasy Wargaming and the Influence of J.R.R. Tolkien", in which he defends D&D's inclusion of non-Tolkien fantasy into the game. Gygax produced much work for Dragon Magazine, as an author from 1976 to 1985, the publisher from 1978 to 1981, and returning as a columnist from 1999 to 2004. Gygax also appeared in Journeys Journal (GDW) as a contributor in each of six issues published through 1993, Mythic Masters (Trigee) magazine, as the primary author of the entire 64-page magazine for each of six issues published through 1994, Lejends (Total Reality Studios) magazine, as a major contributor from 2001 to 2003, and The Crusader magazine, with a column on the creation of the D&D game beginning in 2005.

Notes and references

External links

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