R.I.P., Gary Gygax
So, Gary Gygax died today. Officially, he was merely the co-creator (with Dave Arneson) of Dungeons and Dragons, but considering that he wrote the core rulebooks and many other items for the game, co-founded the company, and has persisted as the public face of D&D even 23 years after he left TSR, there's no question that he's the one man most responsible for the existence of role-playing games as a hobby.
I played D&D and other role playing games quite heavily from 4th grade through about 9th or 10th grade; eventually I drifted away as my friends and I found other things to do on the weekend, but I look upon those days and the time I spent role-playing with great fondness. In fact, just a few weeks ago I was feeling nostalgic and started digging out my old D&D books, and I've even been using eBay to fill in gaps in my collection. Right now there's a big box full of role-playing games and several stacks of modules and rulebooks sitting on my living-room floor. (Consider that a few weeks ago Steve Gerber died when I was midway through The Essential Man-Thing, and we may consider that my interest may be some kind of a bad omen for geek icons.)
I think one of the most wonderful things about the game was its interactivity. You didn't just open up the box and play the game; there was always a lot of improvising on the parts of the players and DM, not just in order to perform their roles, but also in tweaking the rules, discarding rules that were too cumbersome (like most of the rules designed to make spellcasting more complicated), coming up with new monsters and character classes, designing dungeons, etc. A lot of the role-playing games that followed in D&D's wake had rules that were more internally consistent or otherwise made more sense, but in a sense the hodgepodge of charts and seemingly arbitrary limitations meant that adding your own new rules for things was just being faithful to the spirit of the game.
The September 2006 issue of The Believer had a good story about the history and impact of Dungeons and Dragons, all tied in to a trip by the author to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, to play D&D with Gary Gygax.