D&D Creator and Gamer Gary Gygax

Michael O. Varhola

The following interview originally appeared in d-Infinity Volume #2: Lost Treasure

I met Gary Gygax for the first time at the short-lived but ambitious Alti-Egos Con in Virginia Beach, Virginia, on Easter weekend of 2000, eight years before he died  and when he was 61 years old. During that weekend, I had the pleasure of chatting with him a number of times and learning about some of the things that motivated him to create Dungeons & Dragons, the first, debatably the greatest, and certainly the most well-known role-playing game in the world. 

Gary was the son of a Swiss immigrant with the surname Gygax (which Gary emphasized to me was properly pronounced “Zhee-gax”), a violinist who had come to the United States in the 1880s and was 57 when Gary was born in 1938. Through his mother he was descended from the early Colonial Burdick family, which came from Europe to Rhode Island in the 1640s. His maternal ancestors eventually migrated to upstate New York and then Wisconsin, where they settled in 1836. Many of them fought thereafter for the Union in the Civil War. Gary was born in Chicago, grew up during World War II, and was the seventh generation of the family to live in the vicinity of Lake Geneva, namesake of the Gen Con game convention.

In the time I spent with Gary both during the weekend and over the quick years that followed, I found him not just to be as creative, imaginative, and quirky as one might expect, but to also be both very generous of spirit on the one hand and strangely irascible on the other. He was Gary Gygax. I will let him tell you more about himself in his own words. 

d-Infinity: When did you start playing games and which of them influenced you in your ultimate decision to create the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game?

Gary Gygax: Well, I learned to play cards when I was five. And I played chess — badly, as I do now — at age six. I was just fascinated with games.

And fantasy is something that I was quite taken with also as a little boy. My father started telling me bedtime stories; many of them he would make up, about a magic ring, a wish ring, a magic cloak of invisibility. He was an excellent storyteller. And I have some cousins, older