James M Ward: Meeting Gary Gygax and Learning D&D

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Apr 11, 2019, 5:56:29 AM4/11/19
Thank you all for the very kind welcome onto the EN World pages. A
writer always glories in the kind words of his readers. Also I want you
to know I will be very responsive to the interests of the EN World
group. From the notes already left for me [in the first article, Who In
The World is James M, Ward?] I can see you want to hear about the
design of Deities & Demigods and Gamma World. I promise that will
happen in the months to come.

The time is July of 1974 and I am fresh out of college with a teaching
degree in History and English. Every Tuesday I would go to the Lake
Geneva Smoke Shop because they would get in new novels. In those days
they charged $.95 so even on a substitute teacher's salary I could
afford a few.

On that Tuesday the store had quite a few new books from different
series I liked to read. There was an L. Sprague DeCamp Conan novel; a
Michael Moorcock Elric book; I think there was a Robert Heinlein in the
batch. Anyway, as I picked up the seventh novel, a rough looking dude
was grabbing books as well. As I selected the last book of the seven he
took a copy of the same book.

We looked at each other and smiled. He had sort of a biker air about
him. He was wearing an old pair of jeans and a ratty blue-jean jacket.
As we looked at each other's stack of books we realized we had picked
the exact same novels. We got quite a laugh out of that.

Then we got into a discussion on the merits of Robert E. Howard or L.
Sprague DeCamp's version of Conan. During that discussion he hit me
with the fact that he had a game where I could play Conan fighting
against the priests of Set. Gary had set the hook and I was being
pulled in like a ten pound trout. He gave me his phone number and told
me the game was every Saturday.

I came to Gary's house and was introduced to the family. They were
extremely friendly. I'm embarrassed to say that I thought Mary, Gary's
wife, was his daughter she looked so young and fresh. On his side porch
were a few young folks including Ernie, his son in eighth grade. Brian
Blume was his business partner who had given him the $5,000.00 dollars
to make the first 1,000 brown box sets. Brian offered to sell me a box
for $10.00 but I didn't have any cash on me at the time. It wasn't
until a few months later that I could scrape together the ten to own my

All of the other player's on the porch were third and fourth level as
they had been playing for months. Brian helped me roll up a character.
With a 17 in intelligence and a 16 in wisdom I was told the natural
choice was to be a wizard, which was fine by me.

I'm ashamed, 45 years later, to admit that it took me literally months
to figure out the dice and when to roll them. In those days you rolled
a six-sider and on a four, five, or six you added ten points to a
twenty sided die with two sets of 1-10 for numbers. I kept reading the
wrong side of the four-sider. I was never sure when to roll the eight
or twelve-sided dice. I was a dice rolling mess. However, Gary and his
group were always very supportive. Eventually I figured things out.

I am a person who lives by the written word, but there are no words for
the amazing skill of Gary Gygax as he wove the story for the group that
day, or any other game day. He brought all five senses into his story
telling and I had no problem imagining myself walking from Greyhawk
city into Greyhawk dungeon with the rest of the crew.

That first game I had the choice between a light spell or a sleep spell
and I took the light spell. I brought my equipment from the merchant's
quarter of Greyhawk city. I bought lots of throwing daggers and several
quarts of lamp oil. I was thinking flaming bottles of oil, even in that
stage of my development. The adventure was magical.

Into the dungeon we boldly walked. The others were old hands and had
hand drawn maps of several levels. Mapping looked like a lot of fun.
Brian Blume taught me how to trail map so I was recording our turnings
as Gary called out the distances. We went into a new section of the
dungeon and suddenly everyone in the group was tense and I had no idea

“You come upon three doors and each one is a bit strange,” Gary
described. “The left one has the picture of an island in the middle of
the door (it was the Isle of the Ape in playtest). The middle door has
the picture of a walrus on a beach. The right one has a picture of an
odd looking humanoid with a strange cap and in its hand is a strange
crossbow pistol.”

I wasn't about to say anything. The group chose the door with the
island image. We walked through and found ourselves at night with an
ocean breeze coming from the west. We moved by moon light and decided
not to mark our presence with a torch or lantern. Gary perfectly
described the hilly area. We came to a village with no one moving
about. I couldn't see anything in the window of the large hut I was
looking at so I cast my light spell into the hut. BIG MISTAKE! It seems
I woke up ten warrior natives. The magic spooked them and they grabbed
their spears and ran for the door.

My group made nasty grunts about the new guy and throwing spells, and
we ran into the night for our lives. In seconds spears were hurtling
past us. Before I could even think about ducking or diving, Gary
informed me that two spears pierced by back and killed me. My D&D
career was cut brutally short. Others were cut down in the night and
each of the other players looked daggers at me as their characters were

I went home extremely happy, even in death. I couldn't wait to get back
the next Saturday and roll up a new character. When I got over there
next week I was over joyed to hear that Ernie had used the last wish on
a three wish ring to bring the dead of our group back alive and safe
and sound. Lidabmob, the Wizard, was back in business.

James M. Ward

Trump: A president so great that Democrats who said they would leave
America if he won decided to stay!

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