Gary Gygax (officially he
goes by E. Gary Gygax) was born in Chicago
in 1938. Gygax dropped out of high school and spent not much more than a year
In the late '60s Gygax belonged to a Wisconsin war
gamer group called the Lake Geneva Tactical Studies Association. Gygax and
Jeff Perrin co-authored Chainmail for the group. A small company called
Guidon Games published their rules. Gygax created a supplement to Chainmail
that included fantasy creatures like elves and orcs. In 1973, Gygax and Don
Kaye formed Tactical Studies Rules to sell their fantasy role playing
expansion to Chainmail. Gygax had originally approached Avalon Hill but they
turned him down. Gygax was confident of his game's success. He figured they
would sell 50,000 copies of his fantasy role playing game.
Tactical Studies Rules was set up as an equal partnership between Gygax and
Kaye. In 1974, Brian Blume joined Tactical Studies Rules. TSR's equity was
divided evenly between the three. The first print run of Dungeons &
Dragons was on January 1974 and it took roughly a year to sell the inventory.
The second print run took 3 months.
writing D&D, Gygax was investigating methods of generating different
ranges of random numbers. One day he was looking at a catalog for school
supplies and saw a set of Platonic Solids for sale. He immediately knew they
would make good dice.
Dave Arneson, a gaming buddy of Gygax, is legally credited with the
development of D&D although Gygax disputes his contributions. Gygax
claims he wrote the vast majority of D&D's rules while Dave Arneson
contributed to the game's initial campaign settings (namely, Blackmoor, which
was the first true role playing campaign).
In 1976 Kaye died of a
heart attack and Gygax bought his shares from Kaye's widow. Tactical Studies
Rules incorporated as TSR Hobbies Inc. Unfortunately, Gygax over extended
himself in purchasing Kaye's shares and he was forced to sell nearly half his
holdings to Brian Blume and Blame's father Kevin. Near the end of 1976, Gygax
held 30% of TSR's shares. Brian and Kevin Blume controlled 60%. TSR, under
Gygax, had its best year ever. In 1981, the company posted sales of $16.5
million dollars, with a profit of $4.25 million. Gygax was a big believer in
acquiring only short-term debt. His rule of thumb was debt should be no
higher than a single month of sales.
In 1983 Gygax set up the California based Dungeons & Dragons
Entertainment Corp, which created the D&D Cartoon Show and licensed the
name Amazing Stories to Speilberg for his own TV production. In 1985, the
Blumes used their majority to reorganize the company. Gygax was nominally
president but the Blumes controlled the actual operations. Under the Blumes,
primarily Kevin Blume, TSR ran up larger and larger debts (amounting to $15
million). Gygax managed to get the entire TSR board to oust Kevin Blume for
mismanagement. The Blumes eventually sold their shares to board member
Lorraine Williams. In doing so, she acquired majority control of TSR.
Previous to TSR Williams owned the licensing rights to the Buck Rogers name.
She inherited the rights from her grandfather Flint Dille, a newspaper man
who controlled the original rights. Gygax, judging Lorraine Williams incapable
of running a gaming company, sold his shares in TSR and left the company in
Williams had made no secret of her general hatred for her customers (ie
gamers). She didn't feel they were her social equal. Williams, despite claims
she would show the gaming industry how it was done, only managed to doubled
the company's debt to $30 million. Facing bankruptcy, she sold out to Wizards
of the Coast in 1997. There's a rumor that Planescape's Lady of Pain is
patterned after Williams. There's also another rumor that Gygax lost control
of TSR via divorce: his wife got half his shares and sold them to Williams.
This, however, was not the case.
After TSR, Gygax published a new RPG called Dangerous Journeys for Game
Designers Workshop. The game was originally called Dangerous Dimensions
(compare DD vs D&D). TSR quickly sued. After a court battle, TSR
eventually agreed to acquire the rights to Gygax's game and pay legal costs.
One interesting outcome of that trial was Gygax was allowed to write further
novels in his Greyhawk universe. However, Gygax was not allowed to use the
names of D&D character or monsters unless they appeared in the original
two Greyhawk books he had written. In a neato case of what goes around comes
around, Wizards of the Coast was eventually taken over by Hasbro which also
controls Avalon Hill, the company that originally passed on D&D.
These days Gygax is back writing a new paper RPG game called Lejendary.