My degree of separation between me and Gygax is 1. The cousin of my regular DM ran us through an OD&D game one summer in 87. He (whose name was also Gary) had played some games with Gary Gygax back in the day. He told us we were playing "just like Gary did". Outside of some email communication with Gary Gygax in the late 90s and meeting him once at what would be his last Gen Con, that is the closest I ever got.
I am a member of what I like to call the Second Generation of Gamers. I began in 1979 but did not really get into it until 1980-81. I didn't learn at the feet of Masters. I learned mostly on my own and with other kids who had done the same. We may have known someone that knew someone that had gamed with Gygax or Arneson, but none of us had.
For argument sake I call the First Generation those that were the Masters or learned directly from them. The first gen gets fuzzy when dealing with people that learned from people that learned from the Masters. These are not static categories in my mind.
Presently I am commenting of one of James' latest posts on learning to DM/GM from the pre-made modules. (for the record I give James the benefit of the doubt of being First Gen even if he is the same age as me, started about the same time and is by his own admission more of my Second Generation ). He dislikes (maybe too strong of a word) the older modules as DM/GM tools. I love them.
I love my home-brew adventures as much as the next guy/gal loves his/her own. Though there is one thing that was never discussed back then that is fairly evident now. Running or playing those old adventures has given us all shared community. My readers/players or you and your player or people I run into at Cons more than likely did not play at my game table back in 83. But we can all talk about heading to the Cave of Chaos or the Barrier Peaks. We can all share stories of how we died in the Tomb of Horrors or the Forgotten Temples or Cities or even Realms. Is has been those shared experiences that have helped shape the culture of the game we all play.
It is an extension of the social circle that guys named Gary or Dave probably never thought of.
We can all share common stories thanks to these old modules. Share what we did, how we did it. How the characters achieved greatness and how they died. When I mention the Owlbear in the cave at the Caves of Chaos in B2 I could get dozens of stories from you all. I can ask did anyone ever shout "Bree Yark!" at the goblins? I can ask did you ever defeat Strahd.
When I was at Gen Con this past August I ran my boys through Module B1 using a mix (of course!) of D&D Basic and AD&D rules. We played for about 4 hours each night. I would say only about 2.5 hours were actual play time. The other 1.5 was devoted to people walking by to tell my kids how much fun they were going to have and how awesome the adventure was. I didn't mind. Quite the opposite in fact, I loved it. They loved it. They had the feeling they were about to experience something special, something that others had gone through when they were kids. I even joked with them in the adventure that the place had looked like it had seen hundreds of people go through the corridors over the last 30 years.
One day, maybe very soon, they will be at Gen Con or Gary Con or something else and they will say "You know I almost died in the Caves of Chaos" and someone, of same age between 100 and 10 will say "yeah! Me too!".