Fri
Jul 25 2008 4:45am

RPGs: Some RIPs

One of the unwanted features that comes from a hobby or subculture lasting long enough is that some of its participants get old, and some die. This has been a year of some significant losses within the rolegaming world. Below the fold, I take a moment to commemorate some.

In March, we lost E. Gary Gygax. It's difficult to overstate this man's influence on popular culture. A lot of people were doing similar-ish things at about the same time - the idea of adding some characterization and individual focus to various wargame styles of play is not radical, particularly not when the whole thing is as simple as the evolving games in question were. But none of them took off like Dungeons & Dragons. Gygax had just the right combination of qualities to push the work he did with Dave Arneson and others over the top into an ongoing public interest. Then a whole lot of other people took inspiration from what they saw in that work and ran hither and thither. An amazing fraction of contemporary entertainment traces its intellectual roots back to that early work of the '70s. Directly and indirectly, he helped make very many people's lives happier, and that's one of the finest legacies there is.

In April, we lost Robert E. Bledsaw, founder of Judges Guild. A lot of us - including me - didn't know or remember the man's name, but Judges Guild was a significant influence in shaping the development of tabletop rolegaming in the '70s. The Wikipedia entry on the company history seems correct and fair to me. A very great many referees of the '70s drew a lot on Judges Guild adventures, settings, and utility books. I personally still have some happy vivid memories of the book of blank hexagonal graph paper sheets that came with tables for generating random wilderness features at scales from dozens of miles per hex down to a few hundred yards. Minor streams, ore nodes, herb patches, it was all there. It added a welcome sense of depth to my games for the rest of the school year I got that. JG made some mark in recent years, too, cooperating with other companies to get support for its neat ideas for various rules systems. I hope that Mr. Bledsaw got some smiles out of watching current gamers ooh and ahh in very much the way some of us old-timers did back when.

In June, we lost Erick Wujcik, one of the most deeply innovative minds in rolegaming history so far. He helped found Palladium Games, a remarkable success story of the triumph of hodge-podgery of just the right sort, and I mean nothing at all bad by that. The folks at Palladium have had an amazingly long run based on throwing just the right elements into just the right huge vat and simmering it all for just the right time. I'm told by knowledgeable friends that this is in part a clear reflection of Wujcik's creative processes. In the latter 1980s, he and his players and collaborators built up what was published in 1991 as Amber Diceless Roleplaying. This is one of those games whose impact is hard to describe to people outside rolegaming, but basically he created a sort of alternate gamer subculture. To this day, whenever anyone within rolegaming talks about design that reexamines common assumptions and takes risks in replacing them, the Amber DRPG is going to come up. And it should. The game is, besides being thoroughly playable (and thoroughly played, with its own convention circuit and a thriving community of players), something of a textbook in how to rethink your work and present your vision well. This last decade he'd been working in computer games, and I know that he's missed and mourned there - he was, along with other good qualities, a fine mentor and encouragement to others trying to do new things.

This week (end of July 2008, for those of you reading via archives in the future), we lost N. Robin Crossby. He was the creator of Hârn, one of the quiet mega-success stories in rolegaming worldbuilding. It's a truly astoundingly detailed fantasy world, built up in meticulous detail that all hung together well, thanks to some very smart and careful guidelines for supplement making right from the outset. Crossby's vision was reminiscent in some ways of Glen Cook's in the Black Company series, in which there are glorious conflicts and high politics side by side with an awareness of the toil, discomfort, and downright unfairness of routine life. Hârn characters just don't ever get to Easy Street, as the friend who introduced me to it said. I know very little about Crossby the man, but I've respected his work as long as I've known about it. And it's worth noting, as John H. Kim did, that Hârn avoided all the pitfalls I enumerated for detailed worlds some posts back. Anything can be done, if you do it right, in this sort of enterprise. I wish Hârn fandom well in settling on good steps from here.

Losing the people who've been bringing us the good stuff is not one of life's great joys. But having good memories of shared fun is, and I'm glad to learn and remember the people behind the good stuff.

13 comments
Stanislav Zuzic
1. winterstark
A nice tribute to Gygax: http://www.giantitp.com/comics/oots0536.html
Dave Robinson
2. DaveRobinson
I didn't know about N. Robin Crossby going. I still consider Harn to be the finest FRPG world in existence.
Denyse Loeb
3. domynoe
I remember when Gygax went. I was stunned.

A founder of Palladium and the creator of Hârn? Wow. I didn't play them, but I'd heard of them, particularly since my ex got quite caught up on Hârn. There must be a gaming convention going on and all the big gamers down here are being called to attend.

Just wow.
Daniel Roy
4. triseult
I'm glad you mentioned Erick Wujcik. I had the immense honor of getting to know him when he worked for Ubisoft Shanghai, and I miss him dearly.
Paul Weimer
5. PrinceJvstin
A good roundup, even if it is sad that is one is needed, Bruce.

Indeed, my world, my life would be very different, and much poorer, if not for the existence and influence of Gygax, Wujcik, and the others. I fondly remember Hârn and it has influenced the way I perceive fantasy RPG worlds.

Hey, I still run a 12 years and still going strong Amber Diceless RPG game by email.
aphrael
6. aphrael
My favorite Gygax tribute was at http://xkcd.com/393/.

A sure sign of how much the world has changed because of Gary Gygax could be found in the fact that the Economist printed his obituary. (http://www.economist.com/obituary/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10838120).
aphrael
7. aphrael
Also, the url bbCode doesn't seem to work.
Eric Tolle
8. ErictheTolle
These were some of the people who completely distorted my life path, along with Andre Norton and Robert Heinlein. It's a pity I never got a chance to thank them.
aphrael
9. PeggyL
I am Erick Wujciks sister..thank you everyone,
for teaching me about his life in gaming!I had no idea how respected he was. What a huge loss.
Ryan Span
10. Winter
I guess it has to happen sometime, but it's sad when it does.

Hopefully Greg Stafford will be with us for a couple more years. I don't want Glorantha to lose its shine just yet . . .
aphrael
11. Kiley Crossby
The trail on this blog post has gone cold, and no one has posted since August. But I've just stumbled upon this post and felt the need to say something.

My name is Kiley, and N. Robin Crossby was my Dad. Every so often, I'll type only "Crossby" into Google, and many of the results are him. After his death much of this first page of results became obituaries, and tributes from fansites, but never in all my surfing have I ever encountered such a rousing review as this one.

I was nineteen when he died last summer, and because I am so young, I never had a whole lot to do with his work, and even now I don't really understand it. But to know that there are people who consider his life's work to be among the finest of its kind. It's of great comfort to me, that he had an effect on so many people, most of whom I'm never met. Thank you.
Bruce Baugh
12. BruceB
Wow. Thank you, Kiley. I'm glad to have been some help.
Amy Letts
13. amuletts
Great article. I've had so many hours of enjoyment from playing old-school D&D which in my opinion is better than the WotC stuff. As an artist and writer this has led me to create an online comic called 'Epic Fail' which I am having even more fun with. I'm a new user so haven't quite got to grips with this blog thingy yet, but I'm actually looking for someone to review it right now. It's at www.comicofepicfail.com

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