posted May 2, 2016, 12:08 PM by Jeremy Fowler-Lindemulder   [ updated May 5, 2016, 1:25 PM ]
I've been doing tributes at the Medieval Fair of Norman for a while. Last year I sang the Ballad of Bilbo Baggins as a tribute to Leonard Nimoy, and this year it was a combination tribute to David Bowie (1947-2016) and Gary Gygax (1938-2008). I couldn't help but put together Ziggy Stardust, Jareth, the Goblin King, and the E. G. G., the grandmaster who helped us truly personalize all modern fantasy by creating an entirely new literary genre in  Fantasy Role Playing Games.
 I wrote these lyrics specifically for the performance you see recorded here, and for the group who are in this audience.

Still don’t know what I was questing for,

my game was running wild... a million NPCs.
It started out in search of the unknown,
and that boarderlandic keep.
As the giants came to face me,
we descended to the depths.
Still our clerics thieves and fighters
would not survive the quest... without

M-M-Mages... magic missile range
M-M-Mages... never want to be much of a fighting man
M-M-Mages... I made my level gain
M-M-Mages... never was too much of a ranger fan
Oh, that D and D, Gygax designed

To Blackmoor and Greyhawk, we said good-bye,
and even the Forgotten Realms became impermanent.
Then Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis
proved Dragonlance could be the same.
And these players that you prey on,
with your ever-changing rules,
grow immune to your revisions.
They’re quite aware of what you’re trying to do.... to

M-M-Mages... spells keep changing names
M-M-Mages... oh, cast your Bigby’s Hands and be proud of it
M-M-Mages... spells or magic staves
M-M-Mages... can you make your saving throw to get you out of it?
Oh, that D and D, Gygax designed

Constant new editions, Oh, market to me
Oh, these changes continue to replace the game I knew.

M-M-Mages... Fireball engage
M-M-Mages... and watching out for all those new beholders
M-M-Mages... expect another change
M-M-Mages... as your target market’s growing older
Oh, that D and D, Gygax designed
I said, that D and D, Gygax designed
[Melody: "Changes" by David Bowie. Lyrics by Fugli]

This tribute began to David Bowie, who was a cultural icon who made it cool to be alternative. We lost him in January of 2016. His influence was incredible, though often overlooked because by the time everyone else was copying him, he was already reinvented himself. I liked hie early work the best, but there are differing opinions across the board.

I revere him most because he did it all: musician, actor, painter, designer...

Love him or hate him, you can't deny his indelible imprint on modern culture.

And, of all his songs, I like Changes the best.

Bowie noted that Changes began as a parody of a nightclub song. When I was learning the chord structure, the openly noncommittal sounds of the major 7ths and 6ths attest to this. But, like some of my own experiences, the song took a turn from its original path. Instead of remaining a musical joke, it became what seems a more introspective treatise of his ever evolving personal reinvention. Finding one's muse is one thing. Following one's muse is the seed of genius.

Of all his acting career, I appreciated his role of Jareth, the Goblin King the most.

The movie, Labyrinth, was a quirky convoluted fairy tale of a production that you really had to invest yourself in to enjoy. It had so many problems, but Bowie as Jareth was not one of them. He's evil, and we forgive him for it because he's just so oddly cool.

Which brings me to a good transition point. Bowie started this tribute, but along the way, it took a turn to the fantastic. Who do you consider to be the ultimate icon of modern fantasy? J. R. R. Tolkein? George R. R. Martin? Anne McCaffrey? Roger Zelazny? For me it's E. Gary Gygax.

E. Gary Gygax created Dungeons and Dragons, the first fantasy role playing game. Dave Arneson showed him how some rules that Gygax had previously written for miniature battles might be further adapted into a social game on a more personal level, and the two of them collaborated on the first incarnation of the game.

If you are not familiar with the role playing game genre, or the specifics... here's a breakdown of the lyrical references.

NPC's stands for Non Player Characters - those are the stock characters and creatures of any fantasy game world world. There is one person, the Dungeon Master, who plays them all.

The verse continues by listing off a bunch of early Dungeons and Dragons modules (adventures) with which most players in the late 1970's would be familiar.

Clerics, Thieves and Fighters are literary character archetypes of the game itself. Players of the game select a character "class" around which to pattern their own story. Mages are not actually an original class within the game, but M-M-Magic-Users just doesn't fit the song.

Magic Missiles are one of the staple spells of a budding young Magic-User. They don't do a lot of damage, but in the original rules, as long as the target is in range and visible, they never miss. Newer rules editions have changed the incredible accuracy aspect of the spell.

Fighting Man is the character class name from the original game, affectionately called 0e, that later became known as Fighter.

As any Dungeons and Dragons game progresses, characters are awarded experience points by the Dungeon Master. These points translate directly into character levels, allowing characters to grow in power with experience. To gain a level then means to earn enough experience to train and become more powerful.

Rangers are another class name, and a subset of fighter. The class idea is likely taken from Tolkien's character of Aragorn, son of Arathorn. There's also the Texas Rangers, and this song was originally written to be performed in Oklahoma.

(Please note the name Gygax on many of the products listed here.)

Blackmoor, Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance are all settings published for use as mythological background for the game.

Settings come and go in popularity. Greyhawk has always been my favorite. There are people who still use all of these, but most today won't remember them.

The ever changing rules refers to all the editions that have been published over the years, each incarnation making changes to the original game design. Most "old school" players stopped updating their rules at some point. Personally, I liked 2e (second edition), but I see many merits in 3e. 5e is just asking too much. Hasbro now owns the game, and they do not need any more of my money. Each time they release a new edition, they re-market updated versions of the supplementary materials, effectively selling people what they already have.

Many magical spells used by characters within the fantasy framework of the game once had names attached to them of some of the founding characters used to test the playability of the rules. Bigby, Leomund, Tenser, and Mordenkainen all lent their names to spells, which have since been removed in favor of a more generic spell name listing. Bigby is famous for an entire suite of spells mostly based around hands.
  • Bigby's Clenched Fist
  • Bigby's Crushing Hand
  • Bigby's Forceful Hand
  • Bigby's Grasping Hand
  • Bigby's Interposing Hand
  • Bigby's Disrupting Hand
  • Bigby's Helpful Hand
  • Bigby's Striking Fist
  • Bigby's Tripping Hand
  • Bigby's Warding Hand
  • Bigby's Battering Gauntlet
  • Bigby's Besieging Bolt
  • Bigby's Bookworm Bane
  • Bigby's Construction Crew
  • Bigby's Dextrous Digits
  • Bigby's Fantastic Fencers
  • Bigby's Feeling Fingers
  • Bigby's Force Sculpture
  • Bigby's Most Excellent Force Sculpture
  • Bigby's Pugnacious Pugilist
  • Bigby's Silencing Hand
  • Bigby's Slapping Hand
  • Bigby's Strangling Grip
  • Bigby's Superior Force Sculpture
The concept of a saving throw, or a saving roll, is that there is some chance that an undesirable outcome may be avoided. Perhaps a character can resist the effects of a spell, or poison will not be strong enough. Spells or Magic Staves is a specific saving throw category from the Basic D&D set.

Dungeons and Dragons is now in the 5th edition rules, or 5e. They want to sell, but I'm not buying.

Fireball is a classic spell that most Magic-Users eventually aspire to cast. Think of it as a flaming grenade. Although, a fireball might not effect a Beholder.

Of all the monsters in the D&D worlds, the most unique to the game of D&D itself is probably the Beholder, or Eye Tyrant.

The original monster has seen many variations and "Beholder Kin" over the years.

Elder Orb

Hive Mother



Eye of the Deep


You probably get the idea by now. The list goes on and on.

Over time, what we have all learned is that the game keeps changing, the marketing goes on to an ever changing market demographic... and the modern incarnation of D&D is not the same as the one that Gary Gygax designed. (Because, if it was, Hasbro would have to pay royalties to his family.) As an older gamer, Hasbro left me along the way.