My first gaming book ever was the Monster Manual. Very first edition, when 'Advanced' Dungeons and Dragons was still new.
I don't even remember how I got it these days. Maybe I saved up enough allowance or something, maybe it was a gift. Either way, I still have what's left of it. The spine is mostly gone, the cover art is faded and spotty, and when I flip through it these days, I have to chuckle at the bad coloring jobs I did on some of the illustrations... not to mention the illustrations I put in there to fill in the gaps.
When I got the book, it was just a strange book to me. It was a source of wonderment, a guidebook to an unearthly world written in a code of numbers and strange words that I did not yet understand. Not knowing the game then, I made up meanings for these numbers and words, and made my own stories for why these creatures existed, what they did, and how they acted. In some ways, it was a choose-your-own-adventure book for me.
Of course, I did understand there were other such books, somehow connected, and later, I got these as well. I kept a lot of my old ideas, and squeezed the game I had just learned to fit the frame of the painting the Monster Manual had already begun. In these early days, interpreting, reinterpreting and improvising around the keys I had been given would provide the foundations of the world-building I do today, and not just strictly in the sense of gaming.
I still have my first copy of the Dungeon Master's Guide, too, and it has fared much better than the Monster Manual. On occasion, I pick it up just to read a section or two, for inspiration and a return to the flourishing roots of my creative history.
I have Gary Gygax to thank for these things. Whatever people might say about his writing (and I'm sorry, Gary, but your novels weren't great), whatever people might say about his attitude, he was a pioneer, and for me, he was the author that showed me best that my dreams and visions could be not only accessible to others, but shared. They could be protagonists in stories so grand no one author could possibly pen them.
Further, there was a flavor to Gygax's work that I enjoyed. In particular, I had the distinct feeling that when Gary was writing a rulebook or discussing the game, he simply expected that if you were bothering to read what he was writing, you knew what he was talking about. He didn't make any concessions, and I respect that. Also, the slapdash creative energy behind Gygax and his peers was wonderful. Oh, sure, some of those early dungeons were silly... but only if you didn't think about why they -could- be possible.
Coming up with plausible explanations as to 'why'... well, that was one of the best creative exercises I have ever involved myself with. Many a spark of inspiration began in just such a way.
Today, the gaming world is a vastly different place. If you read the earliest Dragon or White Dwarf magazines, they are a cozy, almost scholarly read (actually, quite scholarly at times). The authors were writing to peers and associates. Today, gaming publications have to be far more generalist, particularly in the cases of those with corporate pressure for profit margins. Though this is quite understandable, let's face it... creativity tends to suffer when you have to take too much bean-counting into consideration. Thankfully, there are still some wonderfully flavorful and innovative people out there (Paizo, I'm looking at you guys), and though I see a smaller future for gaming, I believe it will be a very vivid one.
In some ways, I'm glad to know Gary had a chance to see things grow as they have. I do hope that he had pride in playing his part in all this. For my part, whenever I feel my inspiration clogged, I'll pull down my tired copy of the Monster Manual, and let the older dreams sift back in through my hands.
That's where I'll thank Gygax for following his own dream.
ps Rob Kuntz, you aren't allowed to leave this mortal coil without revealing at least 2 more sections of Castle Maure. Period. I will hire a necromancer, I swear it.