Between doing work on the Real Ultimate Showdown and the newfound pressures of grad school, my regular columns have fallen by the wayside. It’s a shame because we’ve been getting an influx of new readers lately, between all the great RPG blogs that seem to be springing up (check out our featured sites for a few) and the added traffic of our first contest.
Anyway, I realized lately that there’s a story that I haven’t shared on Critical Hits, but I think would be of some interest to those who haven’t heard it. I shared the story on ENWorld recently when the moderators talked about how they received a private game of OD&D run by the founder of D&D himself, Gary Gygax. (On his anniversary no less!) And I also enjoyed reading the story on StupidRanger about meeting Gygax at GenCon.
So here’s my story of meeting Gygax, getting (basically) my own private panel with him, and getting to play in an RPG run by him and his son. If it sounds like I’m bragging… yeah, I am.
It was years back at a con near Indianapolis called JanCon that was having its first (and from what I understand, only) year. Guests of honor included Gary and my dad. I was living nearby at the time for college, and so my dad called me up and asked if I wanted to come. Partly it was to keep him company, and partly because he remembered years ago at another convention where he casually talked about hanging out with Gary- to which I exclaimed “You never told me you were friends with Gary Gygax!” to which my dad responded, “You never asked!”
So anyway, I eagerly agreed to go to the con. The first day was pretty uneventful, except for some registration snafus and poorly run opening ceremonies. On Day 2, there was a panel where the guests were Gary and my dad… and I was the only one who showed up for the panel. I still think that’s crazy: the con was just so poorly run, they couldn’t get anyone to attend a panel with Gary Gygax and Jack Chalker!
But it was lucky for me, because I got to listen in on an hour long talk between the two, telling stories about sneaking into graveyards during science fiction conventions to the real origin of D&D (Gary and his friends were playing a game with a neighbor who had rheumatic fever when they were young.)
Right there would have been an awesome story to tell for years to come, but it got better. Gary’s son Alex came to remind him of the game of Lejendary Adventures he was scheduled to run. Gary said, “Well Jack, thanks for entertaining me. How about I entertain your son?”
I probably sat there for a few minutes with my mouth open.
The game had been scheduled in advance, and Gary was gracious enough to add me into what turned out to be an already overbooked game. Unfortunately, because of the sheer number of people, not a whole lot ended up getting done in the adventure, which started out in a very detailed town (mapped out on graph paper… how classic is that?) and eventually moved to some mysterious caves outside of town. We got through one fight in the caves before having to call it quits for time (and we were being chased by a wild boar.)
One thing that has stuck in my mind was embarrassing myself: I was talking to Gary’s son in character, and I said something like “This place is boring, let’s kick up some trouble.” Gary overheard that and seemed to take it as me complaining, and said “Bored, eh? More of a hack and slash guy? We’ll get to that.” I felt like a huge ass, and tried to say that I wasn’t bored with the game, but he already was moving onto other people in the (15 or so member) party.
Anyway, the whole experience other than that one moment was great, and it remains one of my favorite experiences. When I returned to my home D&D game the next Friday, we started the game up as usual. And as the DM was starting, I said, “You’re a pretty good DM, but not as good as the DM I had last weekend…”
He paused, and said, “You played with Gygax, didn’t you?” and shot me a look that I can only assume was pure jealousy.
About a year later, my father passed away, and I wrote Gary to tell him. Gary was kind enough to write back with some stories and condolences, which really helped me get through it. And after telling my story on ENWorld, Gary showed up to post and said this:
“[Jack] being at the con saved the whole from being a washout, and made it a memorable time for me.”
So hearing stories about what a great guy Gary is always makes me smile.