While He Created Dungeons & Dragons, Gary Gygax's Wife Thought He Was Cheating

Culture | July 28, 2019

Left: Cover of the first Dungeons & Dragons Player's Manyal. Right: Gary Gygax. Sources: Amazon.com; Pinterest

In 1974, wizard Gary Gygax brought Dungeons & Dragons to the masses, and role-playing games have been a massive phenomenon in the decades since. Gygax (and his TSR partner Dave Arneson) created a world of kobolds, beholders, mind flayers, owlbears, driders and other fearsome monsters. But Gygax's story is a quest in itself, with twists, turns, and a snooping wife who thought her man was running around behind her back when he was really just playing with dice.

Before he created the board game that completely revolutionized the world of tabletop gaming, Gary Gygax was just a guy living in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and playing war games with his friends while working for an insurance company. On his way to designing the immensely popular Dungeons & Dragons, Gygax had an entire life. He married and had children, never thinking that he was destined to create of one of the most beloved games in the world.

The hero’s journey that Gygax went on to create Dungeons & Dragons is the classic tale of a boy who’s destined for great things but doesn’t know it until he’s staring destiny in the face. 

Gary Gygax Met His Publishing Partner When He Was Only Eight Years Old

Source: (pinterest.com)

Gygax was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1938, and at the age of seven he joined up with a group of young toughs called the Kenmore Pirates who got into a dust-up with another group of boys. To keep his son out of trouble, Gygax’s father moved the family to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. After moving to Lake Geneva Gygax met Don Kaye, a local boy who would be connected to Gygax for the rest of his life.

In 1972, Gygax and Kaye formed Tactical Studies Rules, the company that distributed the initial copies of Dungeons & Dragons. They worked together until Kaye's death in 1975.

A Young Gary Gygax Roamed The Tunnels Beneath His Town

Source: (pinterest.com)

Dungeons & Dragons players know that one of the major parts of tabletop gameplay is moving around a hex square map. Games can be as detailed or simple as possible, and lovers of mazes and tunnels will relish the chance to build their own. As a child, Gygax was obsessed with going on journeys through the tunnels beneath the Oak Hill Sanitarium in Lake Geneva.

Rather than go to school like every other kid in his grade, Gygax skipped school as often as possible and went on his own private journeys. He was a bright child, and even though today we’d report a kid to child services if we saw him running around beneath a sanitarium, in 1950 this was just a good way to spend the day.

He Loved To Play Miniature War Games

Source: (pinterest.com)

While Gygax enjoyed playing chess and card games, his real love was miniature war games, an early kind of tabletop game pastime that replayed famous battles from history. One of the most popular was Gettysburg, but there was a game for every great battle. Gygax and Kaye got into making their own miniatures for the games out of toy soldiers and even creating small explosions.

As fun as Gygax found these games, he also felt that they could be improved. He often sought out ways to increase the random chance in the game, first by having players pull out between 1 and 20 poker chips before he decided to try out a 20-sided die

A young Gygax Read A Lot Of Pulp Horror And Fantasy

The evil being Cthulhu, created by H.P. Lovecraft. Source: villains.fandom.com

Aside from the intense love of structured gameplay that went into the creation of Dungeons & Dragons, Gygax’s deep love of pulpy horror and fantasy novels by authors like H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard inspired him to create some of the more fantastic content in the game.

Much of the work of Lovecraft and Howard involves eternal creatures born of unfathomable evil and heroes who travel great distances to save the world. At the time it must have seemed like he was the only person who liked these books (remember, this is before the internet), but by using these influences in his work, Gygax was inadvertently appealing to every tabletop and horror misfit in America. 

He Played So Many Games His Wife Thought He Was Cheating On Her

Source: (pinterest.com)

One of the most fascinating stories from Gygax’s early life was how dedicated he was to tabletop games. Even though he was working a full-time job, raising a growing family, working as a political volunteer, and taking some college classes, he was still finding time to play wargames nearly every night of the week.

His wife, Mary Jo, believed that Gygax had to be spending his time in the arms of another woman, or maybe even with an all-new family. One night she followed him to the basement where he was spending the evening and found him sitting around a map covered table with a bunch of other grown men. 

His Insurance Job Inspired Him To Emphasize The Role Of Chance In D&D

Source: (pinterest.com)

While speaking with Wired shortly before his death, Gygax said, “Random chance plays a huge part in everybody's life.” The ultimate game master learned this while working as an insurance underwriter at Fireman's Fund Insurance Company, a place where he learned that no matter what kind of plans people made, there’s always a random chance of bad luck. 

One of the most important parts of D&D is the variants that can occur in every edition, whether you’re rolling for luck or simply dealing with something strange that your dungeon master placed in the dungeon, it’s likely that this wouldn’t be as present if Gygax hadn’t spent so much time working in the insurance field. 

Tags: Dungeons And Dragons | games

Like it? Share with your friends!

Share On Facebook

Jacob Shelton


Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.