Wednesday, May 9, 2018

the First Time I Played D&D

A good friend of mine had me create a character for a game I'd never heard of before. I was ... 9 maybe?

I played a fighter (simple to describe and create). I'm fairly confident I'd read The Hobbit by then, because I don't remember being phased by the presence of Orcs. What I do remember is that after killing several orcs in a semi-ruined city, I ran into one, an older orc who didn't immediately attack. I spoke with him; he asked me why I was killing his comrades.

How could I respond? I barely knew what kind of game I was playing. I have no memory at all why I was killing orcs to begin with ...

But I knew I was hooked. (Thanks, Jesse! I don't guess you know how much that little session expanded my horizons)

I pored over this friend's accumulated "monster manual", which was in the true old style of a three-ring binder filled with three-hole punched monster pages. Dozens of monster I'd never heard of. We made characters using his rules to attack our dads' dungeon (my dad and his are best friends from their college years, and played D&D together back when it was the LBBs); but we failed to do much of anything other than lather up an angry water-weird.

Back home, without any kind of actual D&D rulebook, I wrote a set of rules based on what I remembered, plus stats from the Master of Magic game that we had on the family computer. I introduced friends at school to the idea of the game; I remember I played a kind of gold dragon as a "DM character" for a little while, but ultimately abandoned that idea after fire-breathing my own enemy-creatures to death too many times.

Later on, I acquired the 2e Monstrous Manual as my first actual D&D book (I still have it; the binding is maintained with duct-tape now, and saving throw tables are written into its back pages). My only book then!--so all characters were Fighters without spells or special abilities. We still managed to make it interesting; one player was a minotaur with a Warhammer 40K-style chain-sword, one was a wererat, one was a halfling. A different game of mine with another friend had otter-people (courtesy of Redwall) and a vorpal demon-halberd emulating Ashitaka and his curse from Princess Mononoke.

Then at last, I acquired a Players Handbook--two, actually, both the first edition and the third edition versions ... I ran a short first edition game with a good friend and his ranger and cleric characters; but third edition games didn't really take off until high school ...


A response to an "old" guest-post over at Tenkar's Tavern that left me chewing on memories. Obviously, my experience in the beginning was similar to Michael Gross' experience, except I was the young referee trying to marshal players in the "wings" of the elementary school building during recess, using handwritten notes.

Which brings up another idea: D&D as a punk exercise, as articulated by the author of the Pits Perilous blog. You want to run a game? Great! Rulebooks are helpful, but they're not necessary. All you need is a gut understanding of a game that takes advantage of infinite freedom. The rules are yours to write/steal. ("Here are three chords; now go start a band," as the punk reference is made)

A seven-year-old can write a D&D scenario. Get to it!

(a further addendum: I had a friend in junior high and high school who had come up with his own "game" which started out entirely as a narrative give-and-take between him and us players. No dice, everything was his fiat; he had a world that he had imagined up, with a variety of strange creatures (most of them were reptilian something-or-others), and we explored it entirely through dialogue with him, without dice or anything. Just to point out that you don't even need the handwritten rules that some of us had; sheer imaginative force is sometimes enough. And thanks, Solomon! I really didn't appreciate your creation and originality as much as I should have back then!)

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