Last month marked the 40th anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons. It's a game that has had its share of successes and failures. It has overcome controversy to become almost mainstream. In fact, in some ways it has become trendy to play D&D. It's a worldwide phenomenon and as long as people are willing to use their imaginations it will exist in some form. So, for the anniversary I want to talk about my journey with Dungeons & Dragons, what D&D means to me, and why I will always be a D&D player.
First off, yes I am a D&D player. I think most people who read this won't be surprised, but I'm sure someone will be. I was once told by a friend that she had mentioned to a mutual friend of ours that I played D&D. To which the other friend asked, "Does he light candles and wear a cape?" The answer of course, is that the candles are optional and it's a cloak, not a cape. Cloaks have hoods. Just kidding! I've never worn a cloak to play D&D (now, RenFest is another story!) and I think the only time candles were involved was during a power outage. Let's get past the stereotypes here. D&D is not of the occult, nor is it the domain of the hopeless loser (at least I don't think I am).
I started playing in the 5th grade, this would have been 1988. This was a big year for me, new school, new baby brother, and a new best friend. Kevin was the big kid in class and I was the pipsqueak. We both didn't quite fit in and were quiet types. But, we seemed to read the same kinds of books (Choose Your Own Adventures!) when our teacher let us pick out books from the class library. We soon found that we liked the same kinds of TV shows and movies, and we both had a Nintendo. It also helped that we lived about 5 minutes apart. Soon, we were over at each other's houses playing Nintendo every weekend. Then one day, a kid in our class brought an infamous red box to school and showed it to us in free time: The Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rules. I had heard hushed whispers about this game before from grown-ups and older kids. It was up there with a Ouija board on things you don't mess with and here it was in this kid's duffle bag like it was the Ark of the Covenant at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I was sure if he opened it, spirits were going to come out and melt our faces right there in Mrs. Lawson's class! Then he did and it was horrible... it was... it was... wait, it was just a game with dice? Granted they were weird dice (20 sides, that's insane!), but just dice. We started flipping through it and the basic game was set up like the Choose Your Own Adventure books we loved. So, we played with it a little and it looked neat.
Kevin asked if we could borrow it and we played our first game that weekend. We used pre-made characters from the book and just ran through the choose your own adventure style game in the back of the book. You had health and had to roll a certain number to hit and then rolled for damage. This was like a video game without a TV! We were hooked. We made photocopies of the book on the xerox in my grandparents' print shop (sorry about all that toner, Grandma!) and then started making up our own games. We played during free time at school and on the weekends. Soon, we had a third player, another boy who lived nearby named Jeff. Jeff was a year older and always played fighters. I immediately took to rogues. Kevin was the resident wizard. We took turns at DMing. My favorite part about those early days was making the dungeon maps on graph paper. I would spend whole bus trips to and from school filling in every little box on an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper.
As we got older, we found other role-playing games to play. Sixth grade was the year of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and sure enough, there's an RPG for that. Seventh grade we got into comic books and especially Marvel comics. Yep, there's an RPG for that. (Incidentally, my box looked exactly like that picture with the corners split. Must have been a design flaw.) Eighth grade we tried Shadowrun. Ninth grade we dabbled with RIFTS. But, we always came back to D&D.
Jeff went to high school a year before us and met new friends; friends who also played D&D. He started hanging out with them more. Kevin and I found a couple of more friends our age who played D&D and the group split for a bit, but once we were in high school, we all merged into a D&D supergroup. There was Jeremy, Jeremy, Jeremy, Dave, Matt, John, Jeff, Kevin, and Than (yep, I got my nickname from my D&D group. Shocker, I know.) We had other friends who would come by and we didn't always get together as a pack, but we were over at each other's houses most every weekend in high school and pretty much always playing D&D. We even got our girlfriends to play! (Wha... D&D nerds with girlfriends?! We were the OG Geek Chic!)
We got snowed in one time at Jeremy's house and played a game all weekend long with breaks for food and sleep. One time, Kevin's wizard got trapped inside of his own staff and only the person that held the staff could talk to him. That person was my extremely hyper, talkative, rogue. I'm pretty sure I broke his brain that night. Dave liked to mess with people's dice (*gasp*) and would put them in his mouth. He stopped that when he swallowed one of the Jeremys (Jeremies?) d20s (we all kinda wished it was a d4.) We devoured the Dragonlance books and adopted it as our default campaign setting. This sowed the seeds for a fictional world backed by RPG elements into my brain.
High school was soon over and the group parted ways. We had a lot of good times and lots of fun adventures, but time moves on. Yet, I soon learned that we were not the only geeks in the world.
I found a whole new set of friends in college! Marcus, Jackson, Brett, Nate, Thomas, Jeremy, Adam, Zach and Julie. Sure enough, D&D games started up again and, as you may have read before, Chronicle was born! I was the DM and Chronicle was my campaign setting. The players became my characters and their adventures my stories. Maybe someday, they'll make an appearance again.
After college, things sped up. I worked in a comic shop and ran my own Chronicle D&D game there with a whole new set of friends (Ben, Noah, Jason, William). Later, I opened my own shop in Savannah, GA and ran another Chronicle game with a whole new set of friends there (Jamie, Zach, Megan, Tiana)! After that shop closed, I moved back home and found my old college friends (Shanon, Anna, Marcus, Sarah, Thomas, Jackson) and we ran another Chronicle game. After I got married, I started up a game with a whole new set of friends (Bob, Rick, Matt, Brian, Lacey, Amy, Thomas), who were mostly from my church (again, breaking stereotypes here!), and even got my wife, Rachel, to play!
Have you figured out the pattern yet? Have you seen the common theme? To me, D&D is about one thing. It's not about dragons and elves and magic. It's not about a particular rule set or brand names or genres. It's not about being a geek or being cool or being normal.
Dungeons & Dragons is a game about friends.
For an introverted, shy little geekling in the 5th grade it was a way I could finally make friends who were true. I could trust these friends. I could hang out with these friends. I could go on adventures with these friends.
Look at a gaming convention like Gen Con or PAX. There are thousands of people there to play games, but all of them will tell you, year after year after year, the reason why they come back is because of one thing - the friends they meet. You make a deeper bond with someone when you play games together. You cheer at success, you laugh at mistakes, and you groan at failure. What better way to get to know people, than to experience those things together?
Everyone that I have ever sat around a table with, I consider a lifelong friend. No matter where our lives have taken us, no matter how close we are now, every one of them YOU is a friend for life.
If you haven't had the chance to sit down to a game with me, then what are you waiting for? There will always be a seat open.
Happy Anniversary, Dungeons & Dragons!
Thank you, Gary and Dave, for introducing me to my friends.