Gary Gygax Biography - Top 25 Interesting Facts

Where would we be without Gary?

Known affectionately as the “father of role-playing games”, Gart Gygax is a true revolutionary in the gaming industry. Below are the 25 most interesting facts about the man behind Dungeons and Dragons.


25) Young Gary

  Gary is in fact Gygax’s middle name. Born Ernest Gary Gygax, his mother gave him the middle name after actor Gary Cooper

24) Shared Birthday

  Gygax shares a birthday - March 24th - with some interesting figures. Among them are WWE legend The Undertaker and escape artist Harry Houdini. Now there’s 3 names that’ll make Catholics squirm.

23) The Affair

  Gygax was a big fan of board games from a very young age. This continued into his adult life; when his wife was pregnant with their second child, she was so convinced that Gygax was having an affair, but eventually found out all of his time AWOL was in fact dedicated to gaming with friends.

22) Ex-Gang Member

  Way back when Gary was 7, he became a member of a small gang named the Kenmore Pirates. After a fight with another local gang, Gygax’s dad decided to move the family out to Wisconsin.

21) Firecrackers

  Back when Gygax would play what we now know as live action RPGs with friend Don Kaye, they would use real firecrackers to simulate the in game explosions. Strangely enough, there’s no support for this in any D&D manuals.

20) Pulp Fiction Buff

  From a young age, Gygax’s father got his son hooked on pulp fiction. Writers such as Robert Howard, Jack Vance, H. P. Lovecraft and Edgar Rice Burroughs were amongst his favourites.

19) Sold Out

  Due to its demands on the audience - namely, a familiarity with war games and a big imagination - Gygax and co. didn’t expect the game to be much of a hit. However, in the year of its release - 1974 - over 1,000 copies were sold. There had to be multiple printings, which came as a surprise.

18) Drop Out

  Gygax dropped out of high school in his junior year. He was described as a mediocre student, but obviously held a type of intellect that wasn’t appreciated by traditional academic standards.

17) Discharge

  After dropping out of high school, Gygax tried his hand in the marines. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with atypical pneumonia. Although it is only a mild form of the condition, he still had to be discharged as a precaution. A blessing in disguise?

16) Return to Academia

  On his return to Chicago with then wife Mary Jo Powell, Gygax enrolled at The University of Chicago to enroll in anthropology classes. This can be seen as a formative time in the development of D&D.

15) Nearly Lost a Childhood Friend

  Gygax wasn’t the only one out for Mary’s affection. No, his childhood friend Don Kaye also had feelings for her. When Mary agreed to marry Gygax, who was then just 19, Kaye is said to have been so distraught that he refused to attend the ceremony. Luckily, they would later reconcile.

14) Early Birth of D&D

  All the way back in 1969, Gygax met fellow wargame enthusiast Dave Anderson at a Gen Con convention. They agreed to work on putting some game rules together. Gygax initially used these rules in Chainmail, This was the catalyst for D&D as we know it today.

13) Celebrity Fans

  Although not the primary fanbase, D&D has a strong list of celebrity endorsements. These include the likes of Vin Diesel, Matt Groening and Robin Williams, just to name a few.

12) Early Departure

  Although Gygax’s game is synonymous with D&D, he actually walked away from the company only 11 years after its official launch. This was due to a dispute about the ownership of TSR (Tactical Studies Rules).

11) Jehovah Witness

  Gygax was a religious man. So much so, in fact, that he often went from door to door, spreading the word  as a Jehovah's witness. Many wonder to what extent Gygax’s religion influenced the traditional imagery from Dungeons and Dragons.

10) Media Accusations

  Following on from the fact above, the early versions of D&D created no end of moral panic; the use of devil names, on top of themes such as witchraft, sucide, and murder, led many Christian groups to ostracise creators and players alike. Maybe Gygax’s birthday makes sense now...

9) Benefits of Dungeons and Dragons

  Although the game has been considered problematic, benefits of playing have also been suggested. For example, it has been argued that D&D can improve social skills, as well as help us make moral decisions in real life.

8) Movie

  In 1984, Gygax somehow talked Orson Welles into starring in a D&D movie. Sadly, aforementioned complications with TSR were ongoing, meaning the project never saw the light of day.

7) High Acclaim in The New York Times

  D&D had truly taken over the world by the 1980s. So much so, that the game was described by The New York Times as “the game of the 80’s”, emblematic of the epoch. They went on to compare it to Monopoly in terms of its cultural significance.

6) Moving away from Wargames

  One key difference between D&D and the wargames that influenced them is scale; the latter involved entire armies fighting, whereas D&D put more focus on individuals. Thus, the game achieved a much more personal experience.

5) Original D&D

  What exactly did you get when buying Dungeons and Dragons back in 1974? Well, 3 booklets of rules and lore. The game is, primarily, in the imagination of the players.

4) Origins of the Name

  Supposedly, the series gets its name from Gygax’s daughter, who chose D&D out of a list of other potential titles. This was when she was just 2 years old! I wonder if she still gets royalties...

3) Distancing from Jehovah’s Witnesses

  Due to the bad rap D&D was getting in the media - namely the satanic associations - as well as his smoking and drinking, Gygax was obliged to dissociate himself from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. 

2) TV Work

  Gygax was the co-producer of the D&D Cartoon series for CBS. This series lasted 3 seasons, and although the script was found for a conclusive episode, it was cancelled before it could be released. Lucky for fans though, the script is available online, as well as a fan made episode using said script.

1) Substance Abuse

  Sadly, Gygax battled with addiction throughout his life. Notably, he was addicted to cocaine, which contributed to the breakdown and eventual ending of his marriage to Mary in 1983.

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As a Philosophy graduate and published creative writer, I write about gaming from a fresh and original perspective. I like browsing bookstores and reading when I can get away from Hyrule.
Gamer Since: 2002
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Currently Playing: Zelda: Breath of the Wild
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