Thursday, July 27, 2017

Bob Bledsaw Jr. on Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson and his Father: "These were good men."

Gary Gygax, 1969

Last month on Save for Half, "DM Jim" Wampler posted an audio recording of Bob Bledsaw Jr.'s recent North Texas RPG Con seminar on the history and future plans for Judges Guild - the groundbreaking game company originally co-founded and run by his father.

I highly recommend listening to it, and listening to the Save for Half podcast, in general.

For this Dungeons & Dragons history buff, it was an utterly fascinating hour-and-a-half, with many interesting and fun anecdotes about Judges Guild and the early years of the hobby. Bledsaw Jr. also spends a fair amount of time talking about the personalities, and personal relationships between his father, Gygax and Dave Arneson.

All three men passed away within the space of thirteen months in 2008 and 2009.

As Bledsaw Jr. narrates it, Gygax and his father had had an earlier falling out, but later reconciled, partly based on their shared understanding that they had both experienced similar emotional crises in their careers and family lives. And after Bledsaw Sr.'s death, Arneson would form a sort of protective friendship with Bledsaw Jr., initially not telling him that he, too, was ill.

According to Bledsaw Jr., the only time he ever heard Arneson use the F-word was when Arneson told him he should ignore then TSR's stricture that licensed products should only be compatible with its new 4th edition.
Dave said: "F__ em. Print what you want and tell them I gave you permission. I'm the one who created role-playing games, and I'm telling you, you can print what you want."
Dave Arneson

Bledsaw Jr. narrates an earlier phone call that Gygax made to his father. Gygax had lost his company, and Bledsaw's company had failed. It seems that Gygax called Bledsaw to buck him up, but also to repair their friendship.
These two men hadn't really spoken to each other in years ... From what I gathered, Gary oscillated between being hurt and angry, and then, kind of, he reached out to my dad because he knew that my Dad had been on the ropes. And he actually apologized to my Dad, saying, "there was no reason why we couldn't have been better partners to each other." And my Dad said to him, "the industry just outgrew us."
After the call, Bledsaw told his son, "I really feel sorry for that man."

Bledsaw was bed-ridden and dying when he learned of Gygax's passing. "Gary's upstaged me again," he said. "He's up to his old antics."

According to his son, the last time Bledsaw signed his name was on the card he sent to Gygax's family.

Bledsaw Jr. doesn't hold back on mentioning his father's personal weaknesses and failings, and at one remove, some of the imperfections of his father's partner, rival and friend, Gygax. There are elements of a soap opera. Or a tragedy.

But another thread also runs through the entire talk - that of the admiration and personal respect he came to have for all of them. Or as Bledsaw Jr. put it, midway through his presentation:
These were good men. These were moral men.
It's not all about paper, pencils and miniature figures.

Bob Bledsaw, Sr.

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