Saturday, January 18, 2014

Saturday at the Castle with Gary

The Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, Massachusetts closed its doors for good a few weeks ago, and I'm in mourning. A steel-clad Art Deco-Gothic castle, it held the largest collection of medieval arms and armor in the Americas. I'm going to miss taking my kid there -- they had a great interactive  area where you could try on helmets and armor, build giant block castles, and play dress-up. I'm stunned that they couldn't secure more public money to keep going. The only silver lining I see is that the bulk of the collection is heading down the hill to the Worcester Art Museum, but it won't be the same, of course.

I once spent a rainy April morning at the Higgins with no less a personage than Gary Gygax. It was 2003, and he had been invited to the armory to do a seminar on medieval weapons with Jeff Forgeng, one of the Higgins curators. About 30 of us waited for him in a dimly-lit chamber of the castle, with rain pelting on the windows. And waited. Finally he showed up, profusely apologetic -- he had failed his save against Worcester's spaghetti bowl of a road system. He settled into a kingly chair and the show got on the road. As the curator gently pulled answers out of him, Gary absently leafed through a century-old Bannerman's weapon catalog he'd brought along -- "Hmmm, here's a halberd, oh, they have a fauchard." He was grandfatherly and soft-spoken and candid. He said that when they were developing D&D, he used all the exotically-named pole arms to provide flavor, though he doubted that mechanically they were much different from one another in use. When someone asked him about the fundamentalist anti-D&D movement in the 80s, he grinned and said, "There's no such thing as bad publicity."

We took a stretch break and he went outside to smoke a Camel.

When he came back he did an autograph session. It was a bit like going to see The Great Oz. My wife said, "Gary, my husband is a really stingy DM. Can you do something about that?" He called for a scrap of paper and wrote "Good for 10,000 XPs — Original AD&D only!" She actually spent it on one of her characters as soon as we got home.

And here it is.


  1. Great story, and what a wonderful souvenir!

    P.S. Sorry the museum closed.

  2. This is brilliant! What a great tale. I recall the Higgins quite well, and enjoyed the wearing of the helms and armour. If you live near there have you been to Hammond Castle ever? In 1982 they held there the first little convention I ever went to—a D&D con of course. Imagine going to something like that in the great hall of a castle in the hey-day of the game. They used the castle as the basis for an adventure written just for the con. The place was packed. I was surprised that that place is still open (seasonally, of course). I hope you're not as stingy with the XP anymore, in honour of good ol' Gary.

    1. Last time I went to Hammond Castle, a couple of years ago, it seemed like the owners had filled it with all kinds of cheap props and statuary -- gargoyles, etc. Very cheesy and not at all what Hammond would have wanted. It's still a cool spot for a D&D con, though!





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