Roll the d20 for damage…


So I just read this book – Empire of Imagination: Gary Gygax and the Birth of Dungeons & Dragons by Michael Witwer and my initial thought was that it “Makes me long to find my dice and get a campaign up and running…”

This got me thinking about D&D and role-playing and creative endeavors and all that stuff.

The last campaign I was actively involved in was with DM’d by my friend Pete and the last time I played was a night or two before I left Los Angeles to move back to Las Vegas in June of 2003. Pete had come up with the campaign as a way of working out some plot issues he had with a story he was planning to write so me and a couple of other friends all drank some beer, ate some potato chips and walked our characters through the adventure.

Before that, it had been years since I played regularly. I’d given my books and modules away at some point, to the kid brother of a girl I had once had a crush on, and that was probably before I even left for Los Angeles back in 1987. But even in high school I hadn’t played much (there was a memorable game, on tape I believe, with Wade and Gregory and Todd, but that was after high school). No, for me it was a Jr. High pursuit. Me and AAron and Bennett and I’m sure several others whom I’ve forgotten in the intervening 30+ years (was Thom there? Kip? in High school, there was John!) would all gather at someone’s house on Friday after school and wouldn’t make it back to our own place until sometime Sunday evening, spending most of that 48 hours drinking coke, eating pizza and potato chips and running our characters through adventures (just like I would many years later – the more things change, huh?).

Back then I played one of two character types – a female half-elven thief or a lizardman called Tank (I don’t recall now, but these two may have even been the same character, the thief transformed into the lizard) and we had a great time. Half of the fun was just in the camaraderie of playing, of hanging out with friends and making up stories. We would write our own modules combining the classic rules with whatever worked for us at the time. We’d have fun creating characters from pop culture (Arthur Dent – 6th level idiot) and running them through the mazes and then having them come across monsters like the Xenomorph from Alien (although back then, we had no idea it was called a “xenomorph”).

I remember getting a copy of Dragon Magazine which had a Basic program included to randomly generate the 3d6 character states needed to start a character (pg 42 – index found here) – then spending days faithfully transcribing it in to the Basic compiler on whatever early version of a computer I had (was it a basic cartridge for the Atari 2600? Was it a TRS-80 with a cassette drive? I think it was the latter actually). Then re-typing it when the save was corrupt or I made an error somewhere along the line and had to manually debug the thing, line by line.

Ultimately, it seems like I can trace a good portion of my early creative life to this game in one way or another. My love of theatre and the dramatic arts, which started at age 6 when we lived in Albuquerque (I gathered the neighborhood kids together, taped twigs to our heads, got dad’s super 8mm camera  and filmed a revisionist version of Bambi and if I can get hold of that 3 minute piece of film history, I’ll post it below) which led directly to writing an episode of Welcome Back, Kotter when I was 8 and joining The Rainbow Company when I was 9, feeds right into my playing a game where I can take on another character.

Discovering comic books and the dragons of Anne McCaffrey didn’t hurt either, so that by the time I finally got that box with the dragon sitting atop a hoard of gold and the “Basic Set” of rule books (and introductory set of dice) sitting inside, I was ready.

For me, I think, it changed everything. It opened me up to complex ways of story-telling, which I would delve into further as my love if SF/Fantasy literature progressed. As I wrote screenplays I would imagine the characters as if they were real, the same way I would approach my D&D characters. Even today, when I’m writing, I have a tendency to act out (sometimes subtly, sometimes not so much) the dialogue and actions of the characters, inhabiting them and seeing the world through their eyes.

And yet… While I bought a set of dice not too long ago (not long before I left Vegas for Europe) to inhabit an awesome skull and crossbones bag I had purchased specifically for the purpose, they’re sitting in a box in a storage shed with the rest of my stuff. I haven’t played in almost 15 years.

And it’s not for lack of offers. I’ve had several groups of students over the years want to put campaigns together and I’ve even suggested compatible gamers and participants, but I’ve never joined in myself. “Too busy” has always been my excuse but I don’t think that’s it. I think it’s more that either I’m afraid of not recapturing the magic and excitement of those long ago games or, more likely, that I’ll feel the generational and cultural gap more than I want to. When I was going to pub quiz on a regular basis, my “team” was always a group of students and that always put me into the position of “teacher.” I was always the voice of authority and responsibility. And I don’t want to be that with D&D.

I certainly miss the game, but I think I miss more the creative flow of like-minded friends, where I can just relax and be me, where I don’t always have to have all the answers. But I think next time I’m in Vegas, I’ll grab my dice anyway… just in case.
(And look-July 27th is Gary Gygax day! Here’s some fine ways to celebrate!)

2 thoughts on “Roll the d20 for damage…

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