I got into D&D, as I like to say, when it consisted of "three little brown books", the orginal basic set, which is still in its tattered box on a shelf in my basement. I was introduced to it through the Madison science fiction club in 1975-76. Some of the members had started in with it, and had also begun the now de rigeur task of tinkering with the very basic rules framework. What became known as "Emersonian" D&D, after Emerson Mitchell, a UW math professor who was also a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism soon acquired an alternate experience and spell system, plus a combat system based on time-motion study of SCA combats which gave an undoubtedly accurate simulation but bogged down badly in play. (It really needed a computer to moderate, which none of us had at the time.) Nevertheless, it was wonderful fun, and I, already an SF and Fantasy fan, was hooked and still am.
As soon as I could, I and my friend Don Helley made the pilgrimage to Lake Geneva and came back armed with the D&D box, the available supplements, one of the first pre-fab dungeons, and dice--the orginal low-impact "TSR marbles" which came with a white crayon "dice marker" to fill in the numbers.
Since that time, of course, I have spent a sizable fortune on not only Dungeons and Dragons, but also Champions, GURPS, Cyberpunk and passing flirtations with other systems. I spread out into board wargames, miniatures, and card games as well, but the basic pen-and-paper RPG's are the only ones I play regularly. Ironically, mainline D&D is the one game I don't have going anywhere now, and the games I regularly run or run in have vastly simplified diceless or near-diceless mechanics. I was very glad of the "D20 System" revolution, since it temporarily revitalized gaming and generated an explosion of new source material, but I didn't actually like the new system, and have bought nothing of the "3.5" edition.
Over these years, I've had hours of enjoyment, co-creating many epic adventures, and even more epic pratfalls. I and my fellow players have sweated and sworn at some GM's machinations, but mostly we have laughed together. I cherish the memory of characters I have known: Varkus, Greyhawk, Wot, Ziroondirel and Faxnap the Foolish from the first campaign I ran; the many others I've adventured besides myself like Vito, Strong, and Tasha; the cosmic characters of my Amber campaign--Celia, Jedediah, Harold, Daffyd, and the many villains they've faced. And most of all, I cherish my own other personae, in whom I have exercised and given free reign to many facets of my personality, and enriched my life thereby. There is Curunir the Clever, Elvish thief and adventurer, my reckless side; offset by Sassa, the dutiful Samurai. There's "Crazy Harry" the rather bloody-minded ex-SAS soldier and mercenary, and there's H.G. Sells, the stiffnecked Victorian inventor. Cyberpunk "Fingers" Finnegan, Sagramor the Sorcerer, Dr. Alaric Zorba, and the Grey Ghost, science hero, to name but a few more--.
Among the cubic yards of gamebooks and supplements I have, the one I treasure most is my first edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide. Not only does the title page have Gygax's autograph, but the acknowlegements page includes my own name as a contributor, based upon a couple of articles I wrote and got published in Dragon magazine in those early years--the memorial of my own small contribution to the work.
I can't imagine life as it would have been without the gaming. There would still have been SF fandom, and reading. Perhaps I'd have put more time into chess, or models, or other things I still dabble in, but it's certain my life would not have been the same, and almost certainly not as rich.
Maybe some one else would have done it if Gygax hadn't. Indeed, the extent of his "invention" of the hobby has been debated, but he was still the one who promoted it, moved it along, and stuck with it after others left. Good luck in your transition to the upper planes, Gary. If there's D&D in the afterlife, he will be rolling the dice tonight.