"In D&D, you don't win or lose. You survive and you learn from your mistakes and you have a good adventure. It's a lot like life."
— Gary Switzer, 1979[1]

Gary Switzer at Aero Hobbies, circa 1993.

Gary R. Switzer was a Dungeons & Dragons player credited by Gary Gygax as originating the concept of the thief character class. Switzer was the owner of the Aero Hobbies store from around 1974 to 2006.[2]

History[edit | edit source]

Gaming history[edit | edit source]

Switzer was owner of the store Aero Hobbies in Santa Monica, California, at least as far back as 1974 when Dungeons & Dragons was first released, and was an early adopter of the game.[3] According to his fellow player D. Daniel Wagner, Switzer's D&D group included Wagner, co-DM Dale Doane, Thomas R. Coveny III, Steve Sents (who went on to code the 1983 Intellivision game Tron: Deadly Discs), and a lawyer whose name Wagner cannot recall, except it started with the letter A.

The group originally held their Dungeons & Dragons games at Tom Coveny's apartment. Their packed gaming schedule at one point involved gaming at Coveny's apartment on Friday until 2am, then on Saturday at Switzer's shop Aero Hobbies until closing time, where the game moved to another player's house[4] until 3AM, followed by a trip to Arlenes to eat chili-fries and donuts. The group then played even more on Sunday.[5]

Other players in the group included SCA Knight Steve Allen, Larry Stehle, jewelry designer Aimee Karklyn, writer Jay Hartlove, Troy Hughes, Mark Bondurant, Norris Wilkins, Howard Marcus, Jill Weed, Wagner's father, and Eric Holmes, among others. Wagner notes that the group contained three female players (Troy, Aimee and Jill), a rarity in those days when roleplaying was a male-dominated hobby. Dale and Hugh later moved to Oregon, while Tom dropped out of D&D to play miniature wargaming.

The campaign world was known as Aurania, meaning "place of gold", for the large amount of treasure collected by player characters. It consisted of at least ten dungeons, and more than ten players took part. Most of the campaign took place in three dungeons, primarily one run by Dale Doane and another by D. Daniel Wagner. The world included a few towns and NPCs, and incorporated places from other sourcebooks, including Greyhawk and the City State of the Invincible Overlord (1977). It primarily used deities of real-world myth.[6]

Switzer also took part in in at least one session at the exceptionally high-level D&D game at CalTech, where he played an elf named Hlokkan Redlance. The party fought Orcus, and Redlance was slain and raised during the session.[2] D&D creator Gary Gygax was later critical of these high-level games, which used house rules to allow characters of level 30, 40, or higher.[7]

Switzer was also a skilled miniature painter.[8]

Invention of the thief[edit | edit source]

In 1974, Switzer's D&D group developed rules for a "thief" character class who was skilled at lockpicking. Aurania campaign player D. Daniel Wagner credits himself as the primary designer, but describes its creation as a group effort, with Switzer, Hugh K. Singh, and other players contributing ideas. The class was originally created for one of the players' henchmen. In 2013, Wagner recalled:[5]

"It came about like this, one group had a dwarf who wanted to try picking locks with his dagger, so I had the idea for a Burglar class, which we drew up like a Magic user but with skills (like Lock picking) instead of spells. The consensus was to call the class “Thief”."

In approximately April of 1974,[9] Gary Switzer made a long-distance call to D&D creator Gary Gygax, and described his group's thief class, which focused largely

Based on Switzer's description, Gygax developed his own set of rules for the thief, which would later enter D&D as its fourth main character class. Gygax's innovations included percentage chances of success or failure on skills, and backstab.[2]

In May 1974, a prototype of Gygax's thief rules were published in a fanzine known as Great Plains Games Players Newsletter, issue #9. These rules appeared in a four-page section consisting of two typewritten pages, with a front and back cover styled like the original D&D rulebooks, titled The Thief Addition. The issue had a circulation of only 25 copies, and a letter from Gygax in the issue dates his submission to May 10, 1974.[10]

In The Thief Addition, Gygax misspelled Switzer's name as Schweitzer, which D&D historian Jon Peterson attributes to Gygax only ever hearing the name over the phone. Copies of the fanzine were sold at TSR's booth at Gen Con VII, which took place from August 23-25, 1974. James Lurvey, editor of the newsletter, also offered reprint copies of the four-page thief pullout for 20 cents.[10]

This was the first appearance of the thief class in print. The class would later appear in TSR's first D&D add-on, Greyhawk (Supplement 1) (1975).

Response and later works[edit | edit source]

Switzer and the Aero Hobbies D&D group continued to produce their own Dungeons & Dragons rules. In the newsletter APA-L, issue #522, dated May 15, 1975, Switzer submitted a system for "critical hits" and "tripping" (fumbling).[11] Gary Gygax later criticized this type of rules in From the Sorcerer's Scroll, Dragon #16 (Jul 1978), p.16.

The Aero Hobbies group were initially unaware that Switzer had shared the group's thief rules with Gygax, and assumed Gygax had copied their rules without permission. In 1976, the group wrote The Manual of Aurania, a collection of original D&D game rules, published 1977. It sold for $3, and avoided using TSR trademarks or mentioning D&D on its cover.[12] The initial run was 200 copies, with a 1,000 copy run of a second edition that included spelling corrections and additional more art. It is notable as the first ever third-party D&D sourcebook.[5]

The Manual complains that several of the group's original concepts, including character classes, were "stolen outright and soon appeared in print". The group also intentionally self-published their book without TSR's knowledge, "to prevent this from happening again". D&D historian Jon Peterson speculates that this is referring to Gygax's appropriation of the group's thief class concept.[10]

Wagner later met Gygax at a convention. Gygax suggested that TSR might sue the Aero Hobbies group (presumably for publishing The Manual of Aurania without a license from TSR), but relented when Wagner noted that Gygax had used their thief class. TSR never sued the group, but did threaten to sue other third-party producers, including Dave Hargrave of the third-party Arduin series.[5]

A second book, Libram of Aurania, was finished but never published.

Aero Hobbies closed in October 2019.[13]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Fantasy Life in a Game Without End, L.A. Times, July 11, 1979. Article by Beth Ann Krier.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Manual of Aurania, page 2, Original D&D Discussion forum, 2013. Added to Web Archive 2014]
  3. Gygax's "The Thief Addition" (1974), Playing at the World, 2012.
  4. Wagner says "Hughes house"; uncertain if he refers to Hugh K. Singh or Troy Hughes.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Manual of Aurania, page 1, Original D&D Discussion forum, 2013. Added to Web Archive 2014. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "aurania-thread-1" defined multiple times with different content
  6. Manual of Aurania 1977, The Piazza forum.
  7. Warlock Week, Day Seven: Dungeons & Beavers And Uncle Gary, Dispatches From Kickassistan, 2014.
  8. Manual of Aurania, page 3, Original D&D Discussion forum, 2013. Added to Web Archive 2014.
  9. The call must have happened between Jan 1974, as no known copies of D&D were printed before then, and 10 May 1974, when Gygax submitted his rules to the Great Plains newsletter. The Acaceum suggests that while D&D was first printed in January 1974, it was unlikely to have been widely available until the second quarter of 1974. Original D&D Set, The Acaceum.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Playing at the World (2012), by Jon Peterson. Chapter 5.2, Selling the Story.
  11. Playing at the World (2012), by Jon Peterson. Appendix 746.
  12. Playing at the World (2012), by Jon Peterson. Chapter 5.9.2, License to Compete.
  13. Holmes' FLGS is closing, Zenopus Archives.
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