D&D & Me part 1: The first tastes.

This is the first in a series of posts where I will meander and muse on gaming, life, and D&D.

A lot of this happened a long time ago so exact dates and ages may or may not be entirely accurate, and the exact order of things is as best I can recreate through the filter of memory hazy from years of life and mojitos.

So away we go!

As I prepare to run my first campaign of Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition (and my first RPG in well over a year) I have been thinking about my gaming career in general and my relationship with D&D in particular. It was not technically my first game, and over the years I have been far less than its most vocal supporter or biggest fan… but D&D is the foundation of the hobby by which I have largely defined myself for most of my waking life, and I am very excited to be re-entering the fray.

The beginnings:

1: Somewhere in the vicinity of 1979 somewhere near the Russian River in California. I was 9ish, my little sister was 7ish and it was summer.

We were there with our dad for a jazz festival that we had little or no interest in. I am sure we were being absolute pains in the ass, and in an attempt to shut me up for one precious moment dad took us into a game store. I fell in kid-lust with the Avalon Hill Starship Troopers, but dad vetoed what was probably a $20 or $30 game. After what was likely a horrific outburst of whining he got me Metagamings R.I.V.E.T.S. instead. A little pocket game about less than intelligent robots battling it out in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. I barely understood it and had very limited success explaining it to my little sister, but we played anyway.

2: Sometime the same year, It was third grade. My school was made of hexagonal buildings which should have been an omen.

I saw other kids playing some game with little cardboard gladiators and lots of dice. I am not entirely sure what this game was (Arena maybe?) but it was exciting even though I had no idea how it worked. These same kids started playing dungeons and dragons later that year and I remember my friend Justin and I making fun of the arcane language and jargon they used. In my memory these kids all have beards and fedoras… that is likely not entirely accurate.

3: Shortly after… maybe that year or the next. I discovered our local library had copies of Dragon Magazine. I studied every issue intently each month, and used my allowance money to photocopy articles, adventures, and the occasional Tom Wham game (who is my first game design hero).

During this period I wrote my first RPG. It was called Lab! and was a game of scientists trying to kill the horror they had just unleashed on the world before it escaped the lab. I had no dice so I used coin flips for random outcomes, and it would be very generous to say the rules were intensely vague. They filled a paragraph and a half or so with a random potion chart and a map of the lab drawn in marker inside a manilla folder.

I probably convinced a total of three people to play and none of them seemed at all to understand what I was trying to do.

4: Then a magical thing happened. My step-mom picked up a copy of Basic Dungeons & Dragons (the red box edition). She was, as I remember it, curious about this thing she had been reading about and thought it might be a fun thing to do… but after one look at the rule-book she closed the box back up and handed it to me. I finally had rules, and dice! And I barely understood them at all!

I managed to get into a couple games run by other people but in retrospect they understood the rules less than I did and they were not terribly fun or satisfying games. I might talk about them another time.

I continued reading my rules and the magazines and I put the core books for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons on my xmas list… or maybe I asked for them for my birthday. In any case, by some miracle I got them! Looking back that was something near $150 in modern earth dollars, and we were never terribly well off.

5: In the meantime. Closer friends began to discover games and my friend Elden introduced me to Car Wars by Steve Jackson (my second game design hero)… we played that game for hours and wrote giant robot rules and used them to play a simple RPG with complicated combat rules. I got into the occasional D&D game but nothing regular. During this time I wrote my next two games, Spies! and Star! (my naming conventions were complicated and subtle). Neither system was much more than a few stats and a list of weapons, but we explored role playing using those two systems for months before we started venturing again into published systems and writing our own more complicated games.

D&D was pretty much out of the picture at this point. I craved games with giant robots, laser guns, and space ships. I played Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with my friends in Fresno and mostly home made games with my friends in Marin. I was a bit of an awkward social outcast as a kid, and moving schools right when I was building a strong circle did not help at all, so my gaming was sporadic and all over the map… until High School.

Well that was me from Birth until 14 or so… I’ll fill in some bits here and there if they seem interesting enough, and enough happened in High School for me to blather on for days… but those are for another day.

6 comments

  1. David Bernstein says:

    Well yes, but how did you feel about the 5th ed rules? I personally enjoy them quite a bit over 3rd, 3.5, pathfinder, 4th.

  2. Mom says:

    Getting a picture of you I’ve never quite had before. Amazing. Interesting.

  3. UrDad says:

    That Russian River jazz festival was in the summer of 1981.

    Sarah and I remember giving you that stuff, but had no idea what any of it meant. We were just being indulgent.

    Keep right on writing; you’ve definitely got our interest.

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