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An homage to the man behind 'Dungeons & Dragons'

Let's take a moment to thank Gary Gygax for the game that kept a generation of geeky kids entertained before everyone had home computers.

Gary Gygax helped keep me out of trouble when I was in junior high school.

I was saddened earlier Tuesday to hear that Gygax, the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons and the father of modern role-playing games, has died. He was 69 years old. My CNET Reviews colleague Will Greenwald has already written about Gygax's role in the gaming community.

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For many of us who grew up before PCs became ubiquitous and long before it was cool to be a geek, Gygax's creation meant Friday nights spent playing games with your friends, not wishing you were someone else. Instead of finding creative ways to break the law, we were busy rolling 20-sided dice and doing battle with Orcs and other evil beasts.

It was a fantastical world for adolescents. Gygax managed to mix The Lord of the Rings and mythology with comic book adventures. Naturally, there were absurd D&D-related scares in the early-1980s regarding kids delving into Satanism and disastrous episodes of real-life sword fighting. (I always thought if kids were dumb enough to fight with real swords, they had bigger issues than the influence of a role-playing game).

My own memories: Before moving on to the decidedly autocratic role of Dungeon Master, my favorite D&D role was a long-sword-wielding ranger named Toranaga (I think the miniseries Shogun was big at the time and that's where I got the Japanese name). He had a magic girdle of strength and ran a speakeasy on the side. For the record, Toranaga was Chaotic Good, had a 17 strength (that's non-magic girdle-enhanced), had a sturdy constitution of 14, but was a bit clumsy due to his 9 dexterity. For those of you who never played the game, well, sorry, this probably doesn't mean much to you. Let's just say 17 is good (18 is the highest you can get); 9--not so good.

I also seem to recall my ranger/barkeep met his untimely demise at the hands of an Ochre Jelly monster that made a home in his bar. It was an ignominious death for a guy named after a mighty Japanese warrior.

Times have changed, of course. Like most kids, I moved on from D&D and hadn't even looked at a D&D book in decades, until a former colleague of mine brought his son's old gaming books into the office. While we may have been oddball hobbyists 25 years ago, role-playing games are now mainstream, thanks to gaming consoles and the Internet. World of Warcraft is a billion-dollar enterprise, and D&D lives on in various forms. But without D&D paving the way, it's hard to imagine WoW would even exist.

So let's pay our respects: You have to wonder how many of today's writers, computer programmers, video game creators, and other creative sorts wiled away their winter nights playing D&D. Thanks, Mr. Gygax. You allowed us to use our brains.