Saturday, August 20, 2011

Your First Time! Playing D&D That is* What got you started?

What got you started in roleplaying? For me, it was a simple Christmas wish. Nineteen Seventy-seven came rolling in and I was listening to The Doors, Lynyrd Skynyrd, playing football and basketball with my friends, riding my bike, fishing, and generally having a typical teenage summer. Too young to (legally) drive a car, too old to want to be seen on my bike everywhere I wound up riding the new (to my county) bus when I wanted to go to Seattle.

My grandmother moved to a small but nice apartment just East of Greenwood Avenue in Seattle. It was an okay neighborhood, there was a cheap locally owned theater that played decent movies, a bowling alley just a couple of blocks east, a small mom & pop corner store not too far away and on Greenwood Avenue, American Eagles.

American Eagles was a military hobby place with plenty of fully paintable, fully toxic lead figures, paints, and obscure German influenced games that required an investment equivalent to the sovereign debt of a small Caribbean island to truly play.

I was busy completing my first set of miniatures, a set of Polish Hussars with the eagles wings and the ultra long lances, not one but two swords and leopard skin saddle covers. They were the pride of my small collection and required hours of migraine inducing squinting in the dim light and toxic fumes of our small garage to paint and prepare them. One day looking for the proper set of Cossacks, I noticed a new game based on Tolkien's work called 'The Battle of the Five Armies', it was from TSR, a company I was vaguely aware of as producing something but couldn't really put my finger on it. However, the Hobbit was without doubt one of my favorite books and playing a board game based on the climax was too much for me to resist.

I asked my parents for the game for Christmas and promptly forgot about it. Come Christmas Eve in Grand Coulee Washington looking down at the Christmas lights in town below us I opened what I thought was The Battle of the Five Armies.

To my surprise, I was holding a boxed game called, Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set. The owners of American Eagle recommended the D&D game as a better value and better game.

This proved to be true in all respects. After opening the obligatory socks, books, and weird stuff that parents think a fourteen year old boy wants, I settled into the couch with the gift from my great-grandmother (a box of homemade chocolate chip cookies) and opened up the new game.

I spent a few seconds looking over the odd dice and trying to figure out how to count the 4 sided dice then opened the book. The book was a light blue and white copy of the same artwork as on the cover.

The book was nothing short of a revelation. All the playing 'war', 'cops and robbers', 'Star Trek' and God help us, 'Dark Shadows' with the kids in the neighborhood were seen in a new light and a new light dawned. I came to an epiphany. I felt like Saul on the road to Damascus.

Seeing simple, easily explained, and better yet, sophisticated rules for the kind of imaginative roleplay I had abandon just a few years before as childish filled me with a sense of expectation I hadn't had in years.*

I spent the rest of the Christmas vacation putting together a quick adventure and running my family through it. My mother was genuinely interested as was my brother my father was a real trouper and feigned interest for my sake. The adventure went so well I was reluctant to end it. My mother was a fighter, my brother a cleric, and my father a dwarf.

I know that the adventure took more than one session to finish and by the end of the vacation I was hooked. Only girls brought the same visceral level of desire. My previous dreams for a car faded like ground mist on a sunny morning. Nothing material compared to the lure of the game. I approached the duties of GM with the same seriousness I did as my duties as an Altar boy.

Within a year I had bought my first AD&D book, the Players Manuel. By then it wasn't even a matter of saving money for a car. Money first was to be saved for the full set of AD&D books then for my car. Girls went from a full time hobby to something I tried to pursue in my free time. Fortunately most of the girls I knew were willing to try the game at least once and many became full time players. I spent far too many hours in dark windowless rooms reeking of b.o., stale Doritos, spilled soda, and the inevitable teenage flatulence, hunched over strangely shaped talismans, rolling odd dice for divination and and scrying cryptic writings to determine the outcome of titanic battles and arcane workings. No wonder so many of the outside observers thought there was something satanic about the game.

Seeing, hearing, and most of all smelling, that dim nerd-cave would have convinced the most stalwart atheist that something horrific was about to erupt from the bowels of Hell. What would any rational person do confronted with that level of adolescent fervor? As a parent and grandparent now, I see what worried some parents.

Only my dedication to martial arts kept me from becoming a total couch potato. I ceased to play football because we only played football when it was too rainy to play basketball or baseball. If it was too rainy to play basketball or baseball it became D&D time. Even at my martial arts practice I would work on D&D adventures during breaks with the other teenage boys (and a couple girls). My gaming group got thoroughly tired of me nitpicking the 'monk' character class, 'no martial arts does not teach you to fall 100' without taking damage. A hundred inches maybe, not 100'.

Within a couple years I got that car, had a succession of pretty girls watching drive-in movies in the front (and sometimes the back seat), opened my own martial arts school, and eventually got married to the prettiest girl that I ever saw.

I never forgot that Christmas Eve in Grand Coulee and opening that box, my first adventure I ran, or the friends I made along the way.

What was your first time? What are your favorite memories? Did your parents play RPGs with you? Did you play RPGs with your kids? Let me know.

*anything that did not involve girls. Girls were still pretty damn visceral!

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