Some Memories of the Early Days of D&D
1973 - My Introduction to the LGTSA and Gary Gygax

I  was saddened by the recent death of Gary Gygax.   I was acquainted with him just before and during the initial D&D phenomenon.  He was a good leader and had respect of most people who knew him.  In return, he always treated my friends and I in a most respectful and friendly fashion.  Gary was a good businessman.  He was very creative and could design a great game.  He had partners that also had talent and the money which was needed to finance the projects.  Gary and his friends were uniquely positioned to take advantage of the D&D phenomenon and did.  I give him and his associates, all the credit in the world for their remarkable success.

Here are a few memories related to my association with Gary and the other wargamers from the  Lake Geneva, who founded TSR. I hope that someone may find these recollections interesting.

GENCON announcement

GENCON announcement in May-June 1973 issue of Avalon Hill's "General" magazine

may-june 1973 General cover

In the early 70's, Gary and a friend bought out a publisher of rules for the tiny historical miniature gaming hobby called Guidion Games.  Guidion Games had published some of the rules that Gary and others in the area had developed.  Gary and his associates, quickly established their new company as leading miniature wargame rules publisher in the US.  There were good reasons for their leadership.  They produced the most new titles.  Most of the titles were high quality.  They also ran one of the top wargame convention's in the country.  This convention was known as GENCON.

I first met Gary at the first GENCON wargame convention that I attended.   Up to that time, I had only played Avalon Hill's  wargames.   I lived in a  town close to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and had found out about the convention there, via Avalon Hill's General magazine.  This was in 1973,  just before Dungeons and Dragons was first published.  The convention was held in Horticulture Hall, in Lake Geneva.

As my friends and I, first entered the building, I was captivated by the spectacle that greeted me.  There were hundreds of small soldiers charging and counter-charging through a miniature world of roads, woods and villages on the various gaming tables.  Gamers were plotting their strategies.  Others were expressing disappointment with their failures or glee from their successes.  At the convention, the two friends that accompanied me, spent a lot of time watching a Chainmail fantasy game that was played out that afternoon.   Dragons, ogres, wizards and superheros dominated the game. I was awed by a large Napoleonic miniatures battle that took place near by.     I was hooked on miniature wargaming on that day.  We chatted with Gary Gygax, who was manning the LGTSA booth.   LGTSA stood for Lake Geneva Tactical Studies Association.   This were the club that put on this convention.  Gary invited my two buddies and I down to Lake Geneva for a wargame with the LGTSA.

A month or two later, we returned to Lake Geneva to play a game of Chainmail, which included some fantasy characters.   The game took place on a large sand table crowded into an unheated garage.  I can't remember who's home it was behind.  We played with nice 40mm Elastolin and Starlux  figures.  After that game, we were invited back to play this new fantasy game that was supposed to be a lot of fun.  It was called Dungeons and Dragons.

A month or two later, the three of us, returned to Lake Geneva in order to try this new game.  We first met up with a couple of the local club members, one of whom was Brian Blume.  Together, we drove over to Gary's house.  We then had to wait for a while in front of Gary's house in the car.  We had arrived a bit too early and the local gamers explained that Gary didn't appreciate early arrivals.  Like I said, Gary had the respect of those around him.    To this day, this waiting in the car, always struck me as somewhat unusual.   At this time, Gary lived with his wife and six kids in an unpretentious wood frame house not far from the center of Lake Geneva.  His livelihood was that of a cobbler.  His business was located in his basement.  It was clear that the Gygax family had limited income.  

We didn't enter the house proper, but entered directly into the basement, which had an outside entrance.  The basement held Gary's shoe repair shop.  Gary was set up behind the shop's counter, with his dice, rules and maps.  The rest of us were crowded into a small  open area in front of the counter, next to his machines.  Gary had us roll dice to determine the initial strengths of our characters and had us choose our role, either Wizard, Cleric or Fighter.  Gary's oldest son, also  known as Ernie, the Barbarian, participated, along with us.  In the game itself, I think three or four of our characters, out the 16 or so that originally entered the dungeon, survived.   I think that Ernie was one of the survivors.  A fun time was had by all.  One of the participants, who's name I can't recall,  had a huge fur covered winter coat.  I was told that he was the inspiration for the bug bear creature that had became part of the game.  After the game, Brian Blume offered to sell my friends and I, copies of the game for $10.00.  The first printing of 1000 copies had just come from the printers.  The labels for the box cover, were loose, inside the box.  We stuck them on, ourselves.

On to 1974...

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