the awesomeness of Stranger Things – and recommended reading

header-stranger-things-80s-movies
dunt dunna dunt dunt … my Winona

I loved the NetFlix original series Stranger Things. It’s only 8 episodes long, but never feels rushed. The Duffer Brothers did a great job, giving us characters we care about and a monster that truly terrified me. It’s set in the early ’80s and begins with four young kids playing a Dungeons & Dragons game. After the game ends one never makes it home. The cast is excellent, the police are not jerks or incompetent, and even the bullies have depth. It’s not perfect but it’s very close. And it doesn’t have a smarmy facade of nostalgia, the early ’80s were good and bad. A little anachronistic in behavior, but that’s expected.

strangerthangs copy

I recently read a list of “you might like…” books and wasn’t satisfied. It had the usual literary-friendly pre-genre picks like Arthur Machen and some other great books like Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, but … they really aren’t anything like the show. Stranger Things owes a lot to the following sources: Firestarter by Stephen King, also It and  Carrie and its clone The Fury, and Stand by Me. The works of H.P. Lovecraft. PoltergeistAkira, and the video game Silent Hill. There are nods to Aliens and the nerdy kids who all ring perfectly true reference things they love like The Hobbit and the Star Wars movies. And their favorite teacher is a clueless science nerd, who shows his date The Thing on VHS.

Here are some books I’ve read that reminded me of Stranger Things in a good way:

Summer of Night by Dan Simmons. There are scenes in this novel that still haunt me. It’s similar to It, but so much more concise and darker. Four young kids growing up in a town haunted by the evil of its past, which they must confront to save their lives.

Edge of Dark Water by Joe R. Lansdale. Not quite as perfect as his masterpiece The Bottoms, but when a local girl goes missing, her oddball friends go on a Huck Finn-like adventure to find her, while avoiding the evil Skunk who haunts the swamps of the Sabine River. The Bottoms has young Harry witnessing a murder and trying to save a black friend from being lynched for it, and is possibly Lansdale’s best.

In the Woods, by Tana French. The first one by the master crime writer is darker and more haunting. Before Rob Ryan was police, as a young boy he was found tied to a tree in the woods near an ancient altar. The other two boys were never found. Now the land is about to be razed for developments and he goes seeking answers, as he remembers nothing of that night.

The stories of Laird Barron. The Children of Old Leech are even worse than the otherworldly Thing in Stranger Things and they also love to hide in the boles of trees. Start with The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All.

The Loney, by Andrew Michael Hurley. Another creepy childhood tale of a family’s yearly visit to an old Christian shrine in the hopes of healing their learning disabled youngest boy. The miracle occurs, but the source is something far more sinister.

My own short novella The Summer of Blind Joe Death is a weird tale set in ’20s Appalachia, where two young boys face the greatest evil there is.

And if you want to read a Megan Abbott novel about a missing child that will haunt you, it’s The End of Everything you want. One of my favorites.

Have you watched the series? What did you think? And what books or series would you recommend, to those who loved it?

 

 

 

Conan: The Musical

Thanks to my friend, my dungeon master, Peter V. Dell’Orto for sharing this link. © 2012 Thomas Pluck

80s Trash of the Week: Knightriders

Holy shit, a 2 1/2 hour movie about people jousting on motorcycles. It’s Renn Fest meets Side Hackers. Ed Harris plays Billy, the “king” of a small band of LARPers, essentially- SCA types, but they use dirt bikes instead of horses. This is the kind of thing that could only spring from the early 80s- with that lingering anti-establishment attitude and idealism from the 70s, and something wacky, like Camelot meets Easy Rider. They even trademarked “Knightriders” as if this would become the next big thing. As you can tell, this did not occur- otherwise you’d see hogs parked outside Medieval Times, and bikers wearing plate armor on the highway. Admittedly it is a pleasing image, mixing modern and old, but after 150 minutes, you’ll want to knock them off their bikes and pour fire ants into their helmets.
Ed Harris does his best with a strange role- Billy has firm principles, and wants to live his own way, without the fetters and hang-ups of modern society. Tom Savini plays his rival Morgan, who sees no problem with write-ups in motorcycle magazines, and the perils of fame interfering with their merry little caravan; he’s young, strong and ambitious; in one of the first scenes we see him wielding a humongous fuck-off mace that he plans to use in competition. It looks more like a sledgehammer than a real medieval weapon, but who cares? They’re on motorcycles. This isn’t exactly a period piece; in fact the movie reminded me more of postapocalyptic ’80s fare like Rollerball and The Blood of Heroes– aka Salute to the Jugger– where Rutger Hauer, Joan Chen, Delroy Lindo and Vincent D’Onofrio play murder football in a future desert wasteland.


Knightriders has some exciting, silly action scenes- jousting on motorcycles is ridiculous, but definitely dangerous- but mostly it deals with a small group of people trying to live how they want to, in the midst of modern society. The enduring myth of American pioneer spirit and its ability to overcome the crushing onslaught of civilization is what’s in focus here; done better in revisionist Westerns like Lonely are the Brave, and classics like Easy Rider.

The story deals with aging Billy defending his status as “King” from Morgan, all the while trying to keep the group’s principles true. A corrupt local cop wants a bribe not to shut down their show, and Ed refuses; this leads to a pot raid and jail for one of the group, and Ed gets himself thrown in along with him, for support. They take a beating, but finally a lawyer steps in. Of course, at the end of the film, this sloppy symbol of authority gets his ass kicked by Ed Harris in plate armor at a burger joint, and we all rejoice; but like Brian Wilson, Billy “just wasn’t made for these times.”

A shorter film would have been a lot more tolerable, but Knightriders is the epitome of excess; George A. Romero, famous for the groundbreaking Night of the Living Dead and its excellent sequel Dawn of the Dead, indulges himself deeply here. While those films were solid survival horror stories with a heaping spoonful of social commentary, this is a much more personal film and a lot harder to swallow. I can imagine it being held dear to the hearts of a lot of people who like dressing up like King Arthur and playing with swords. But for the rest of us, it might make a good double feature with Monster Camp.

Monster Camp: Attack of the Living Nerds

“Oh boy, sleep! that’s where I’m a Viking!”
–Ralph Wiggum

If you want to jump around in the woods with a toy sword and whack people dressed up as lizard men, have I got the film for you. Or if you want to laugh at the people who spend weekends doing this, you will also be entertained beyond belief. The true story of that Cheeto-encrusted World of Warcraft player from South Park and his descend into madness, and the life-affirming tale of a young girl who escapes the event horizon of a life of nerdery.

“Careful! He has obviously eaten someone already!”

If you’re not familiar with the Geek Hierarchy, please click the link and take a gander. LARPers, which stands for Live Action Role Players, are people who dress up in costumes and play RPGs, role-playing games. The most famous is Dungeons & Dragons, but take any nerdy genre like science fiction, horror, or zombie hunting and you’ll find a LARP for it. I first heard about them from a ‘net friend back in the day, who acted in a mystery-style one at a hotel during a science fiction convention. In fact, it’s not much different than one of those “Murder Mystery Dinners” except the dinner will be cheetos and Mountain Dew, and your ‘actors’ will be pimply, pasty fat nerds straight from momma’s basement. For the record, I have never played or even observed one. I consign my nerdery to occasional die-rolling drinkathons with a small group of high school friends for fun and nostalgia’s sake.

The old arrow through the eyebrows gag

Monster Camp is a documentary about a group in Seattle who run frequent games of a fantasy LARP called Nero, and the players who flock to live the Dungeons & Dragons dream. Much like my preamble to the Chiller Theatre Expo invasion, if you ever feel like you live a wasted life, this documentary will cheer you up better than a handful of happy pills. While Cullen Hoback’s film does focus on the unapologetic nerditude of its subjects, by the end there is a glimmer of hope, and even some sympathy.

What, you’ve never seen a guy with scales before?

We’re introduced to the concept when a gaggle of guys dressed in shabby costumes cavorts out of the woods to harass a small group of people dressed in ramshackle Rennaissance Fest gear. Cowboy drover coats and frilly pirate shirts a la Seinfeld mingle to create the fashion of an imaginary fantasy land culled from their imaginations. A state park becomes peopled with Lesser Fin Folk, or merman type critters, darklings and other creatures from fantasy classics with new names, to appease the copyright laws. Our intrepid heroes put up a good fight, swinging their padded toy swords and calling out “4 normal!” or “2 magic!” as they mimic casting spells by throwing little tied-up bundles of birdseed at their targets. LARPing in Seattle is biodegradable, at least. If they miss any “spell bags” during cleanup, a squirrel will feast on their playthings.

Attack of the Dream Moth

The group sadly does look like a Hogan’s Alley of nerd stereotypes. There’s a corpulent, bushy-bearded fellow who, like most of the LARP gang, is obsessed with the World of Warcraft online video game when he’s at home. There’s a fellow who has no job and plays video games all day in Mom’s Basement. There’s a lonely, homely girl without many friends. And the long-haired guy who looks in shape and out of place here, but who’s just so into fantasy that he’s still an outsider. If you took a Renn Faire and shook it, this is what would fall out, minus the odd Ye Olde Turkey Legge and Dixie cup of mead. Their social skills are lacking, but only a few incite that bully gene to cock your fist and inflame the desire to inflict a swirlie. They are no more obsessed than the pet lovers of Erroll Morris’s Gates of Heaven, or the film make in Chris Smith’s American Movie, and they’re a lot less dangerous to themselves than Timothy Treadwell in Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man.

The real lord of the rings

Those are all better documentaries than this, but this is a solid effort from Cullen Hoback. I hope he continues making films. He manages to engender empathy for these outcasts, even as they bicker over rules or other ephemera. Each of the players gets a small cameo interview, where we learn some of their background. One woman is wheelchair bound and loves that when roleplaying in this way, no one sees her as just another handicapped person. She also craves the human contact, for otherwise she has one good friend and a dog for company. While home alone, she can escape in fantasy novels, but at “Monster Camp” she meets new people with common interests. And gets some fresh air.

Together we will rule the forest as father and son

This particular Seattle LARP costs $60 per play for a weekend. The “story” must be written; people must be recruited to dress in monster costumes, for the players to whack with nerf swords; and I’m sure they have to pay the state park to reserve it. The game itself is sold in book form, but that is the rules; the “Dungeon Master” as they’ve been called since D&D days, does the story-writing. And it takes its toll; this game seems to involve well over a dozen people, and they’re all depending on him for their enjoyment. The looks of shock and disappointment on the players’ faces when the folks who run the game say they want to give it up are real. In the end, our WoW-obsessed redbeard ends up buying the storyline for an undisclosed amount, so the game can go on.

The true fate of Violet from Willy Wonka.

So the story has a happy ending; what touched me most was the afterword, when one of the socially crippled young women says she finally is going out, with friends she met here, to do something as mundane as bowling. That was a huge accomplishment for her, and if you imagine how sheltered your life must be to be so excited about bowling with a few friends, you can feel a glimpse of the loneliness in these people’s lives. Having grown up a bit extroverted but also interested in some classic nerdy pastimes, I’ve always wondered if the socially maladroit are more easily lured toward escapism, or if obsessing on escapism is what makes us socially inept. I think it can be either or a bit of both. So whether you’re a nerd or not, Monster Camp can be entertaining; either to mock and laugh at those who take fantasy and escapism one step beyond, or to relate to the strange things they do to escape lonely reality. When the one girl escapes the obsession and makes that one small step for man, but a giant step for nerd-kind- in going out with friends to go bowling- it’s hard not to crack a smile, and hope that she won’t be that crazy lady upstairs who dies alone with 40 cats feasting on her corpse someday.

80’s Trash of the Week: Mazes and Monsters

In which Tom Hanks models for the cover of Led Zeppelin IV.

I’ve been trying to get a hold of this since Gary Gygax’s death, and finally found a decent copy. This is the infamous “Dungeons & Dragons melts your brain” movie starring Tom Hanks. Written by Rona Jaffe and based on the true story of a suicidal college kid who was thought to be lost in the steam tunnels beneath Michigan state while playing a “live version” of Dungeons & Dragons, when he was actually hiding at a friend’s place. Known as the “Steam Tunnel Incident,” private investigator William Dear concocted the D&D theory and wrote a book about it.

You know it’s a movie when he meets a girl through D&D who isn’t crazy.

The movie begins awkwardly with a flash-forward to a reporter asking the cops what’s going on. The cop tells him they heard someone went overboard while playing “Mazes and Monsters,” and asks him if he knows about it. Chillingly, the reporter says yes… my kids play it. Do yours???

Then we segue to the college, with a sappy song played over. The film’s greatest crime is this godawful theme song, “Friends in this World,” and if you find a copy of this movie I defy you to listen to it more than once. It’s likem “Gentle Ben,” the heartfelt song about a murderous rat, except it’s about remembering your batshit insane friends before they lost their minds.

We are then introduced to three kids with rich, annoying parents. Jay Jay walks into school wearing a Prussian helmet with a chin strap, which is an accurate portrayal of a D&D player in the 80’s I guess. His mother is a decorator and just gave him an institutional room covered in white tile, so this is a boy in need of some escapism.

This is where you end up if you play D&D.

Jay Jay (Chris Makepeace, Rudy from Meatballs) also has a myna bird named Merlin that spouts things like “birds can’t talk!” and is generally annoying. Robbie, played by Tom Hanks (from “Bosom Buddies“), is being driven to college by his hostile father and alcoholic mom, and has had trouble with “Mazes and Monsters” before. When he gets to school, he instantly sees a messily scrawled note looking for players of the game. Jay Jay put it there, and asks him if he plays, but he demurs and says he doesn’t anymore.

Then he meets Kate Finch (Wendy Crewson, Spies, Lies & Naked Thighs) at a party and lets slip that he used to play. She’s also a huge Mazes & Monsters nerd, and they bond instantly like Krazy-Glue because they both play 9th level characters. She lures him back into playing, and soon the group is playing obsessively, all night, in a room lit only by candles. Daniel is the “Maze Controller,” and begins the game this way, in this cultish fashion:

I am the maze controller. The god of this universe I have created. The absolute authority! Only I know the perilous course you are about to take. Your fate is in my hands!

Evil dice of fate!

There we are introduced to the players and their characters, which will be a special treat for anyone who’s played role-playing games.
Kate: “I am Glacia the Fighter. I have great strength and courage, strong armor and weapons, and I have won the mighty Talking Sword of Lothia.”
Jay Jay: “I am Frelik the Frenetic of Blossomere. The cleverest of all sprites. Not so strong, but with enough tricks and powers to take me far and keep me safe.”
Robbie: “I am Pardeux. A holy man. By reaching the 9th level I have acquired many magic spells and charms the greatest of which is the Graven Eye of Timur. But I also have a sword which I only use should my magic fail me.”

See, Robbie needs a sword so he can hurt someone in the name of his wacky game later. Though it would be much funnier if he tried using spells and got his ass kicked, it wouldn’t scare parents. Jay Jay seems the likelier candidate for going wacko, since he sits in his dorm room talking about suicide to his myna bird, so he’ll be remembered forever by his fellow students. The game is pretty innocuous until Jay Jay’s character gets killed in a pit trap “filled with gem encrusted spikes.” Apparently it’s a Tiffany pit trap.

Evil skeleton with the heart of a volleyball.

Jay Jay wants to bring the game to the next level, so he starts a new game in the local Pequod caverns, using props from the drama and science department. For those blissful enough to not know about it, this is called LARPing, short for Live Action Role Playing, and LARPers are made fun of by other nerds in the geek hierarchy. They all don spooky cloaks and carry lanterns and wander around the caves while Jay Jay dangles skeletons from the science department. But Robbie gets lost and hallucinates a demon, which he dispatches with his sword letter opener.

Robbie meets a demon in the cave and freaks the hell out.
See, Robbie’s brother Hall ran away from home (with those crazy parents who can blame him) and Robbie has always blamed himself for it. Now when he dreams, he sees a mystical figure named The Great Hall who tells him he must be a holy man and forgo Kate and her feminine wiles, if he is to meet the Great Hall at the Two Towers. Despite calling himself Pardeux from this point on, and blessing people in the hallways, his friends don’t notice anything wrong. Even when he breaks up with Kate and holes himself up in his room, they only notice a problem when he disappears one afternoon.

If I dreamt this shit I’d go poo-flinging insane too.

Eventually they get the police involved, and Murray Hamilton (The mayor of Amity in Jaws) already knows all about Mazes and Monsters. “Mazes and Monsters is a far out game. Swords, poison, spells, battles, maiming, killing.”

It’s only imagination!
Is it?

They search the caves, but Robbie has gone to seek the Two Towers in New York, of course. Befitting NYC in the early 80’s, upon arrival he is immediately set upon by muggers. Of course, he sees them as demons, or whatever this green costume is supposed to be:

Gimme yo wallet, motherfucker!

They chase him blocks and blocks through the city, to typical scary 80’s music, and have a West Side Story knife fight, but luckily Robbie is victorious:

The most memorable scene for me was when he calls them after stabbing the mugger, crying “There’s blood on my knife!” Who’d believe this man would go on to win multiple Oscars? For me, he’ll always be remembered in drag in “Bosom Buddies,” with Peter Scolari. Sort of like how George Clooney will always be remembered for Return of the Killer Tomatoes. This was the scene that we mocked when me and my high school pals would play D&D in the basement. When we weren’t spelunking in capes with battle-axes.

There’s blood on my knife!

Now they know where he is, so they head into the fearsome clutches of old New York, before Giuliani turned the Deuce into Disneyland and the Lower East Side became the trendy place to drink. Like The Dictators say in “Avenue A

When every memory is gone
and everything you know is wrong
Takin’ the edge off on a beautiful day
with a Frappuccino and a créme brulee
yeah, you know it’s all over
when you see a Range Rover

But enough nostalgic musing about New York in the 80’s, it’s much more fun to think about Tom Hanks talking to homeless people in the subway, asking about the Great Dragon above them. Yeah, Robbie, that’s the C train you goof. He finds his way to the World Trade Center, if you hadn’t guessed. Makes me wonder if Rona Jaffe found references to Tolkien in the back of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, saw The Two Towers, and was inspired by the muses to make the connection to the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.

Never Forget!

When they finally track him down on the observation deck, he looks like he’s about to jump. They stop him by saying the word “Game” which snaps him out of his fantasy world. He suddenly remembers it’s all just a game, and breaks down crying, since he can’t remember how he got up there.

Oscar gold.

The film, shamed by Hanks’ terrific performance, abruptly cuts to the future, where three of the kids are driving back to college. Robbie is conspicuously absent. We soon learn that they are going to visit him. Since his caper, Kate has become a writer, and plans to write a story about how Mazes and Monsters helped them, but turned tragic for their friend; Jay Jay of the skeletons with a flashlight has found a new outlet for his mania, the theater department. And Daniel is learning to be a computer programmer, which means he’s still playing Ultima Online somewhere.

When they find Robbie, his mother says he is under a doctor’s care, and he sits by a lake dressed all in white. Sort of like Gandalf after the Balrog, to up the nerd quotient of this post. Once again, Robbie is talking about being Pardeux the holy man. You might think like I did, that he is just messing with them and it will all be happy ever after. But no, he’s finally lost his mind, or as Elwood P. Dowd would put it, he wrestled with reality, and finally won out over it. Instead of telling him it’s just a game again, they decide to play along, and go for a walk in the forest, trying to remember when he was a nice boy and not a crazy dragon-slaying wackadoo.

fig. 1, Dragon-slaying wackadoo.

This film holds a special place in my heart in the nostalgia section, despite being so awful. For a TV movie in the early 80’s, it’s surprisingly well made. The director knows how to work with a shitty effects budget, and keeps things shrouded in fog and darkness. He also lucked out in getting some decent actors, and some memorable faces like the mayor from Jaws and the cop from Strange Brew (Tom Harvey, if you were wondering). It makes RPG playing look like a séance, and shows the players as maladjusted weirdos with troublesome emotional lives. So at least it got that right. Anyone might show up at someone’s house wearing a cape, or a Prussian war helmet for that matter. In the 80’s, it could happen.

fig.2, Fat, dragon-slaying wackadoo.

The funniest thing is that this was released on DVD with an older Tom Hanks on the cover in front of a huge maze and a castle. “Danger lurks between fantasy and reality.” Yeah, the fantasy that the cover of the DVD sells and the reality of the movie not having a maze in it. Imagine the poor bastard picking this up and thinking it was a modern horror film. Like Kate says, “the most frightening monsters are the ones that exist in our minds.” I’d still want a refund.

Sean makes page 75

I didn’t even think Gary Gygax’s death would make the major papers, but it’s been all over the place. Even the Star-Ledger. I guess there were a lot of us D&D geeks back in the day. Pals Don Wagner and Sean Nealy got interviewed for an article discussing Gygax’s legacy.

Excerpted from the Star-Ledger:

In the 34 years since “D&D” was created, personal computers have become ubiquitous; video gaming has reached remarkable levels of complexity and interactivity, and multi-player online games such as “World of Warcraft,’ with 8 million players and counting, have rendered “chart and die” games like “D&D” quaint relics from a pre-digital era.

Still, “Dungeons & Dragons” maintains a loyal cadre of players. For some, the game was a social balm during an otherwise turbulent adolescence. For others, “D&D” was the gateway to the more elaborate interactive online games.

When Don Wagner, who teaches history at Malcolm X Shabazz High School in Newark, started playing “D&D” in 1977, the game culled its devotees from two poles of the social spectrum, he recalled.

“You either got kids who were kind of geeky outcasts,” Wagner remembered, “or the kids who were on the rougher edge of things — the ones out in the parking lot during school smoking pot and drinking beer.”

They were united by their interest in the elaborate fantasy worlds of science fiction novels — “D&D” draws heavily from J. R. R. Tolkien’s book “The Hobbit,” among others — and the music of proto heavy metal groups such as Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull, whose florid lyrics inspired a variety of quest-like imaginings.

In the game, players choose their race and class, a combination that could be anything from a dwarf wizard to a human fighter. Rolls of the game’s distinctive many-faced dice determine a character’s strengths and weaknesses, moral constitution and temperament — all of which define how that character will react to specific challenges within the game.

The leader is called a Dungeon Master. He or she literally invents the game, writing the storyline in much the same way an author would devise a plot, and inventing scenarios into which the other players will be thrust.

Wagner gave an example of a simple plot line: “You’re in a town meeting your friends at a local tavern. Suddenly, there’s a commotion outside: A man rides up on a horse. He’s dying — but before he dies, he hands you a map. You have to decide: ‘What are we going to do? Are we going to see whom the map belongs to and try to return it? Are we going to follow the map? Are we going to find out who killed this man?’

“You put a lot of time and effort into your character,” Wagner said. “You’ll say ‘He would never let someone drown; he’d jump into the river and save him,’ even if you yourself can’t swim.”

Jersey City resident Sean Nealy, 26, started playing “D&D” 15 years ago. “When I was a teenager, ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ was an excuse to socialize — to take on different personas and to play together,” Nealy said. “It can be hard otherwise to find a comfort level with new people and to explore fantasies.”

People who want to pursue theater and drama, and who are also interested in science fiction, look for something they can participate in, instead of “being on the outside looking in,” he said.

Nealy said online games such as “World of Warcraft” share only superficial similarities with “D&D.”

“You don’t create any of the stories yourself,” he said. “You’re paying a software designer to create the world and characters for you, and that takes the place of the dungeon master. It takes a lot of the creativity out of it. It creates a closed system and a little world for you to go explore, but the similarity ends there.”

It wasn’t the best role-playing game, but it was one of the first. I’m still amazed at how much press this is getting. For example, this silly article on slate:

Orc Holocaust: The reprehensible moral universe of Gary Gygax’s Dungeons & Dragons.

If you have moral qualms with heroes slaying orcs you can take it up with Beowulf and the Western heroic tradition. RPGs have since moved on.

Gary Gygax Misses His Last Saving Throw Against Death


Sad news, the true king of all gamer geeks has passed away at a mere 69 years old. The man responsible for thousands of teenagers (self included) huddling in basements rolling dice and poring over dog-eared hardcovers of books such as the “Dungeon Master’s Guide” and “The Temple of Elemental Evil” has moved into another plane. It spawned a cottage industry, though I imagine people carved their own 12-sided dice at one point. I bet they’re on ebay, too.

MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin (AP) — Gary Gygax, who co-created the fantasy game Dungeons & Dragons and helped start the role-playing phenomenon, died Tuesday morning at his home in Lake Geneva. He was 69.

He had been suffering from health problems for several years, including an abdominal aneurysm, said his wife, Gail Gygax.

Gygax and Dave Arneson developed Dungeons & Dragons in 1974 using medieval characters and mythical creatures. The game known for its oddly shaped dice became a hit, particularly among teenage boys, and eventually was turned into video games, books and movies.

Gygax always enjoyed hearing from the game’s legion of devoted fans, many of whom would stop by the family’s home in Lake Geneva, about 55 miles southwest of Milwaukee, his wife said. Despite his declining health, he hosted weekly games of Dungeons & Dragons as recently as January, she said.

“It really meant a lot to him to hear from people from over the years about how he helped them become a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman, what he gave them,” Gygax said. “He really enjoyed that.”

Dungeons & Dragons players create fictional characters and carry out their adventures with the help of complicated rules. The quintessential geek pastime, it spawned a wealth of copycat games and later inspired a whole genre of computer games that’s still growing in popularity.

Funeral arrangements are pending. Besides his wife, Gygax is survived by six children.

I think I’m going to rent “Mazes and Monsters” starring Tom Hanks and laugh, remembering the look of horror on my mom’s face when she thought that I’d grow up to be someone with swords all over his apartment. Oh, wait.

Maybe I’ll just put on “In the Garage” by Weezer and reminisce. RIP Gary, thanks for giving millions of nerds an outlet for rage, lest we follow Renaissance Fairs like Grateful Dead groupies, or worse yet, join the Society for Creative Anachronism or become a Gorean.