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History Check: Gary Gygax High School Yearbook

December 17, 2017 Comments off

A facebook group I frequent auctions numerous gaming items, sometimes common and sometimes very rare.  Several of the members are known gaming industry talents, and others are just collectors like myself.   At the end of November, Garrett Ratini put up an item that was a rare gem from his collection. It wasn’t a game book, but books containing a surprisingly rare set of photos that made up a part of gaming history. And how the auction ended is where the real surprise happened.

The items auctioned were the 1953 and 1954 years of the Geneva Log, the Lake Geneva High School yearbook.  It was during these years that Gary Gygax, Don Kaye and Mary Powell were all in attendance.  A treasure for the gamer who wants to own a piece of history, but especially for the rarity of the photos inside.  To appreciate just how rare, you have to know a little something about the history of these three individuals.

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Gary Gygax, for one, did not finish high school, though did finish his degree years later.  A few months after his father passed, he dropped out of high school in his junior year.  These volumes then contained rare pictures of him as a student.

Secondly, Don Kaye is depicted in the book as well.  Don Kaye, a close childhood friend of Gygax from age 6, co-founded Tactical Studies Rules (TSR) with Gygax and made one of the first Dungeons & Dragons characters, the infamous Murlynd.  While the depiction of these two legends in one book might not appear to be noteworthy in itself, it is one of the few rare pictures of Don Kaye.

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TSR was founded in 1973 by Gygax and Kaye.  Later, Brian Blume bought in and supplied the capital to allow the publication of Dungeons and Dragons.  However, Kaye suffered from a heart condition and needed surgery.  He never disclosed this to his partners, and died of a heart attack before the scheduled surgery could take place, dying at age 36 just as Dungeons and Dragons was beginning to gain momentum.  As a result, few public pictures of Don Kaye exist.

Mary Jo Powell was a friend of Kaye and Gygax, and was wooed by Kaye for some time.  However, Gygax was also smitten, and proposed marriage at 19 years old.  Kaye was upset enough to not attend the wedding, though they later reconciled. Ernie Gygax recently posted a picture of Mary Jo the day after the proposal, shown below:

Powell

Mary Jo once suspected Gary of having an affair while she was pregnant with her second child, but going to confront him in a friend’s basement, found him sitting with friends around a map covered table.  She may have been the first of what my wife calls “Gaming Widows” (being spouses left by the wayside for the husband that games too much).


Garrett Ratini put these items up for auction, and the true collectors of gaming history began to come out to bid.  The buyout price for the books was $1,200.00 and likely that number would have been met, I suspect, knowing the habits of this community of bidders.  But an unexpected bidder placed a bid at somewhere around the $400 mark, and that was Luke Gygax himself, founder of Gary Con and Gary Gygax’s son.

With the permission of all involved, Garrett terminated the auction and gifted the books to Luke.  Now, these books and images of his mother and father are with him, where they truly belong.

Pre-digital history like this is easily lost, and is not on the radar of many historians, with the exception of Michael Witwer and Shannon Appelcline. Hopefully books like this will make it into the archives like the one held at GenCon 50 this past year.  Fortunately, I believe we can anticipate  these books being treasured by the Gygax family, both for themselves and for posterity.

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Wandering Monster High School – Kickstarter RPG

November 14, 2011 2 comments

Taylor Made - Iron Golem Cheerleader

Wandering Monster High School is a creative kickstarter that allows players to take on the role of a monster in high school. If the new revised and updated version is anything like the version the author created for 24 Hour RPG, expect some light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek character creation and game play.

It brings to mind the old MTV show Clone High, in which DNA was harvested from famous people throughout history and secret government agencies made clones of them. This allowed for situations in which the clone of Joan of Arc loves Abraham Lincoln who tries to date Cleopatra who keeps breaking up and getting back together with JFK, and they’re all high school age. Its a hilarious show!

Instead of historical figures, in this RPG you pick a monster as your “student,” the game master is the Headmaster, and your group is your homeroom! Where normally you would have stats for your attributes, in WMHS you’ll have grades on your “report card” which is your character sheet. According to the kickstarter, the new version will feature a better dice mechanic, new student goals, new art, a campus map, and expanded rules.

Just imagine classes full of goblins, kobolds, bugbears, ogres and orcs. It looks like the system could adapt for just about any monster you could come up with! I really like the idea of playing as monsters. I imagine the homecoming game vs. the Adventures Guild Academy would be an awesome hook to a hilarious night of gaming.

Taking a look at the previous version, Caoimhe Ora Snow has done a great job at combining elements that are typical to high school life with those that would be important to a growing monster such as grades, a class schedule, and extra-curricular activities, Lair Economics, Magic, Occult, Defense Against the Forces of Light, and Advanced Looting.

Unlike previous kickstarters that Skyland Games has reviewed, this one is still actively seeking supporters. I can’t wait to see the final version and get a homeroom going to start exploring campus. The goal is modest, but the time frame is pretty short. Act fast to get in on what is sure to be a fun break from your average dungeon delve. See you in homeroom!

Categories: Books, kickstarter, News Tags: , , ,

NaGa DeMon – National Game Design Month

November 1, 2011 6 comments

Nathan Russell put forth the challenge on his site to make November National Game Design Month, or NaGa DeMon. Similar to NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, the idea behind NaGa DeMon is to design and play a new game during the month. Unlike NaNoWriMo, there is no specific length or scope to the projects. Furthermore, the projects can be of a variety of genres including “board game, RPG, flash computer game, choose-your-own-adventure book, war game, card game or other distracting novelty.”

courtesy of NathanRussell.net

My wife has participated in NaNoWriMo the last few years, with varying degrees of success. I tried it once, and failed utterly. We both agree that it is a really valuable creative exercise and that no matter how close you got to 50,000 words, it was fun to be part of a community all striving in creative endeavors.

I think the concept behind NaGa DeMon is brilliant! I plan on convening the high council of Skyland Games (we have one of those, right?), and determining a good candidate for a November prototype. Recently, we have tested a few mini-games within our regular 4e DnD campaign for both a naval battle system, and a large-scale battle system, and they may be able to stand on their own. We have a pirate campaign on the horizon, so taking a closer look at naval battle mechanics could be time well spent. The large-scale battle system was really fun, because our PCs all became generals of different units as we battled to repel an undead horde. I’m sure we’ll have something put together by the end of the month, with a few play test reports.

Do you plan on participating? I can’t wait to see what folks come up with!

Categories: 4e, NaGa DeMon, News, RPGs Tags: , ,