21 January 2014

The OD&D Reprint Boxed Set... I has it...

  There I was a Dragon's Lair Austin.  It was the 4 January 2014 meeting of the Starship Texas/Royal Dragoon Guards gaming club.  My holidays had been wretched save the wonderful time my children had experienced.  I got bad health news about two family members, lost the fridge and the dryer, had to crunch out a term paper some of which I wrote on Christmas Day... yeah.  I was ready for something fun.  Thanks to a late gift card, I was about to do something financially unsound to contribute to that fund.  I had sitting in front of me in shrink-wrapped pristine glory the red wooden box that contained the 1974 Dungeons and Dragons rules and the four expansions and followed on until the game was rebooted as Holmes D&D and AD&D.  I had never before owned a copy of this version of the game that defined my childhood.  Sure, I'd seen bootleg PDFs, and I'd even laid hands on a copy at a convention.  Even knowing that this was a reprint, there was something compelling to me personally about opening this box.  We are just passing through history.  This... this is history.

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  Yes, I actually did queue up "Map Room - Dawn" as I opened the box.  As the players assigned to my table watched, I carefully unwrapped the cellophane and lifted the wooden lid inscribed with the distinctive dragon ampersand I had grown up with.  This moment, however unplanned, was the culmination of the last few years of my gaming hobby in some ways.  When I started back to college in 2011, I started to really seriously research the history of the hobby.  Thanks to amazing resources on the net, and books like Jon Petersen's Playing At The World and Dave Ewalt's Of Dice And Men I had started to amass a fascination with the genesis of the hobby.  I have a library at home over over a thousand boxed sets, manuals, modules, GM screens and other products - but nowhere among them was a copy of the very first RPG.  Sure, I had a Holmes set - a couple.  AD&D 1e?  Multiple copies of each core hardcover and at least one of the later supplements, original cover art AND the orange spine reprints.  I even had the commemorative reprints of AD&D 1e.  I had Traveller, Boot Hill, Gamma World... lots of Old School stuff, but never the original.

  To the strains of John Williams' classic Raiders score...  I opened the box.  My imagination actually painted a picture of the spirits of adventurers from the last forty years swirling around the box as I carefully removed the lid.  The sense of wonder was dampened just a bit by the cardboard spacer that covered the contents of the box, and then restored when flipping the lid over to set it down revealed the metallic artwork print inside the top of the wooden lid.  Here, too was a cardboard spacer that needed to be removed.  Once done, I was able to look at the booklets inside.  The books had been separately shrink-wrapped as a seven-book stack.  Underneath the books was a felt or velvet interior of the box, a well for the books to rest in lined with individual pits for the extremely intricately carved dice set that came with the box.  Attached to the box interior was a red ribbon, like the ones used to mark pages, probably to assist in getting the books out of the well in which they would be stored.

  I gently removed the shrink wrap from the books.  The covers were a heavy stock, with the prehistoric trade dress of the 1970s.  I could imagine each booklet being assembled and stapled in Don Kaye's garage by Gary and his kids.  I opened Men and Magic: Volume I of Three Booklets. It was like having a personal flux capacitor.  For a few moments, I forgot I was in the gaming room of a large game and comic shop, forgot that I had players eagerly waiting to peruse the boxed set themselves, forgot everything and basked in this facimile of the very first player's handbook.  3d6.  Only three character classes, Fighting Men, Magic-Users (as I still call them) and Clerics.  Race and class were indeed separate in this first edition.  I wondered at the references to Chainmail, and then found that the "alternate" combat system was the very first matrix of attack tables.  All combat hits did 1d6 damage.  This was it - the beginning of the beginning.  D&D before it evolved from this beginning point.  Every role playing game I had played since that fateful afternoon in the early summer of 1986 had stemmed from this.  The AD&D books I had marvelled at in 1985, wondering how one used their contents to play a game - their DNA began here.  I watched the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon every Saturday during its series run, and always wanted to know how it related to the stack of hardcover books in my friend Eric's brother's bedroom.  Here was where it all started.

  Now, at this point some of you are wondering how I can get all worked up over a game.  It's important to note that Dungeons and Dragons, and many, many other RPGs were and continue to be instrumental to the person I am.  Since playing that first character (a Magic-User!) rolled up using the 1983 Mentzer Expert rulebook in Daniel Varner's room with his brother and some of our other friends in 1986 I was hooked on the hobby that actually used the imagination I had been gifted with.  I had lots of trouble in my early school years because I was constantly daydreaming and not paying attention.  I was in gifted and accelerated classes, but still bored much of the time in the grade-level classes on my schedule.  This pattern continued throughout high school and well into my undergraduate studies.  Only now in Grad School and the latter half of my BA am I finding real challenge.  At any rate I was eager to find something where my imagination -normally getting me into trouble- would be a boon.  And here it was.  I could use this game to tell epic stories with my friends, we would have our own tales to tell that were much more exciting than the mundanities of school sporting events or more mundane pastimes pushed on us by our parents.

  In Boy Scouts, Troop 145 spent evenings playing D&D much to the chagrin of Mr. Bonner and Mr. Goorley, our scoutmasters.  We'd make camp, make dinner, and break out the dice.  Mr. Goorley's son Tim was my second Dungeon Master- and took us on adventures like Castle Amber, and msyteries of his own design.  I learned the word "Grimoire" from him.  I remember playing Brother Maynard of the Holy Outhouse at Lost Pines Scout Camp in the summer of 1989.  I remember drawing a toilet seat on a chain that represented his holy symbol.  Brother Maynard drank a haste potion and ran back to town for holy water as the rest of the scouts' characters struggled to vanquish the demon that was the master villain for the campaign we had been playing all through our stay at Lost Pines.  Sadly, the demon was destroyed before the good cleric could return from town - so Brother Maynard became a running joke - literally.  In many games over the past 24 years run by players who were there, a cleric would occasionally run past at superhuman speed for no readily apparent reason.  Somehow, this became a naked cleric.  Oh, well, at least Brother Maynard is still out there.

  D&D opened my world to all sorts of adventures.  Instead of just watching Star Trek or Robotech, I was writing my own stories in those worlds and taking my friends along for the ride.  We had our own Marvel superheroes, we explored ancient ruins, attacked the Death Star, fought World War III and entered into the gritty dystopian future of Cyberpunk and Shadowrun - depending on wether we were in the mood for elves.  I was a natural storyteller, Dungeon Master and all-around gamer.  When I did take up a sport, it was fencing.  I read - a LOT.  The Round Rock Public Library was a second home, and I volunteered there the summer of '90.  I devoured fiction, nonfiction, reference stuff...  I used the bibliographies most early RPGs so thoughtfully put in the back to find things I never would have found on my own.  Heinlein and Asimov, Philip K. Dick.  I read about the historical medieval era.  Roleplaying games not only inspired me to learn, they inspired me to think.  I came up with devious puzzles and traps for my friends to unravel.  I wanted to create my own Indiana Jones adventures- especially after the awesome traps in Last Crusade came out. 

  I also made friends.  Friends I still roll dice with to this day.  In every way that matters, my creative and social outlets from the sixth grade forward were colored by Dungeons and Dragons.  Putting these books in my hands, I could see the formative process that led to the most influential pastime I would ever find.  Sure, I had been a Star Wars and Star Trek fan since I was old enough to turn a channel, but now I could enter those worlds and play inside them.  Transformers, GI Joe, He-Man - all worlds I could now visit.  And my friends came along.  I can't count the number of things I've written over the years to support this world or that as an RPG - and I'm still doing it as time allows.  And I'm still telling stories my friends talk about for years.

  So yeah, reading these books was a big deal for me.  It got bigger as I was able to progress through the seven boolkets in the boxed set.  When one gets to Greyhawk, one sees the D&D game evolving toward what we all know and love.  Thieves are added to the class list, exceptional strength for fighters, spells whose names we've come to know and love.  I was seeing history as it was written.  The three booklets were followed by Greyhawk, then Blackmoor, then Eldrich Wizardry and Gods, Demigods and Heroes.  Each book added something that moved the whole a bit more toward those arcane tomes I had first perused in '85.  A bit more toward the Mentzer basic box I would buy at Hasting's in middle school.  The AD&D 2nd Edition books we would use constantly throughout high school.  It was like having the Rosetta Stone that suddenly unlocked the mysteries of an ancient language, the language of gamers and grognards.

I look very, VERY forward to continuing to peruse these ancient volumes, and perhaps I will run a game using these rules in honor of D&D's 40th anniversary.

11 January 2014

First Post of the New Year

...and it's 11 January.  Wow.  Life has kept this Old Dragoon busy.  Let me describe briefly what my Christmas vacation consisted of:  I got two weeks off work.  Woo hoo!  What did I do with those two weeks?  Well...  Family obligations, road trips, a term paper, and two days of work on my State Guard unit's web site.  I had two days I had set aside to do nothing with.  One of those got taken up by shopping for a new refrigerator AND dryer, as both had died on us during December.  The other was going to be sleep late, read, and go see The Hobbit.  My best friend had a flat on her car, so sleeping late turned into getting moving and taking her to the dealership, but we still saw The Desolation of Smaug.  In short, I liked it- better than An Unexpected Journey.  Perhaps I will blog more on that later.

  Taking stock of my posts over the last year, it's clear I lost my one-post-a-week juju and really fell off over the end of the year.  Once I got into Grad School what time I had evaporated.  I totally underestimated the amount of time and energy Grad School would take.  I am in the middle of a semester in which I will complete 9 hours, one 16-week course and two consecutive 8-week courses.  The 8-week courses are perhaps a bit optimistic.  The pace is frenetic, the readings impossible to complete with kids and work and Guard, but I managed to pull an A- out of my History of Peacekeeping 1945-1987 class.  I hope to blog more consistently this year, but I can't promise weekly until I graduate.

  I have found that my priorities have changed drastically from who I was before I became a father.  They tell you it will happen, and folks like myself tend to resist any notion on the fear that they will "lose themselves" somehow.  On the contrary, I think this experience has helped me find my core being.

 Fatherhood- This is pretty much my top priority these days.  Zane and Kaylee and my family/friends.  This is not a bad thing.  It's actually pretty awesome.  My kiddos are, for the moment, following in Daddy and Mommy's geek footsteps.  As I type this, Zane is sitting to my right watching Thundarr The Barbarian, one of their favorite shows.  I introduced Zane to roleplaying games with the excellent Hero Kids game.  Kaylee was running around our home at Christmas time waving her new lightsaber in the air and yelling "By the Power of Grayskull!"  I love my kids.  I love reading to them, playing with them, watching them learn and grow.  OK, I'm kinda sad about the growing part, and kinda happy.  Bottom line is I'm pretty sure if I was making myself as a FATE character, I would include fatherhood in my high concept aspect.

Job/School- I just got told by a friend not to be, in her words, an "Asian Mom."  What she meant was that an A- is not  a bad grade, and I should stop kvetching about my ruined GPA.  She was right.  Grad School is eating my life.  I am in front of this computer every moment I'm not engaged with the kids, and I'm really tired.  The grind is disheartening.  When this semester ends, I'll be 33% of the way through my MA, and I should be done with all my classes at the beginning of March 2015, unless Mary successfully convinces me to postpone my last classes so that I will not be in class during the holidays, which were terrifyingly stressful to me this year.  The week of Christmas was also the week my term paper was due, and my little brother Cody's wedding.  I had a hell of a time getting everything I needed done that week, and Christmas is the wrong time to be stressing over school.  I was working on homework on Christmas Day.  There's something wrong with that.
  School is a priority because it will unlock the ability for me to start teaching, instead of doing IT.  Being realistic, I'm still going to be doing my current day job for a few more years as I build up a teaching resume as an adjunct.
  Now, my day job is a conundrum.  Most of the time it's pretty simple, since I seem to be born with a decent grasp of customer service.  During the average semester it's pretty low-key, but between semesters, like this last week, is balls-to-the-wall.  It's busy, and we all finish by the skin of our teeth - and it doesn't have to be that way.  I really don't want to get into the technical side of it, but suffice to say we know we can do what we need to do much more simply and quickly than we do- we're just not allowed to due to a staff member who is engineering things so that they remain indispensable to the department.  I have lost the will to excel.  I do what needs doing, and not much more.  Why?  Because my peers at work do even less, and not a word is said, nothing ever done.  Some of them are consummate "get over" artists and there is never any penalty.  Some of them make more money than I do.  So... I need the job to finish school, and to give me time to make it as a professor.  I just no longer have any faith that the things that need to be addressed at work will be...

Gaming- This is the priority I wish was second to the kids, as it encompasses more than just playing games.  For me, the gaming hobby also encompasses writing, studying the history of the hobby, entertaining my friends, and crafting social organizations.  It's not just rolling dice.  I've developed a particular affinity and interest in the roots and history of the hobby over the last year, reading books like Playing At The World and Of Dice and Men.  I've been reading rules systems from the dawn of the hobby, from Chainmail to Top Secret to Boot Hill.  It calms me and entertains me.
  I guess I also include my fandom activities in gaming.  As XO of the Starship Texas/Royal Dragoons I have a lot of fun running game club events.  There's more than a little frustration there, too, but once I graduate and can turn more energy toward the club this stuff will sort itself out.  I wish I could say that I would finish some projects or start new ones this year, but with school going on I really can't make any promises there, either.  Most of my energy goes to the kids and passing my classes.  If I can clatter dice a coupla times a month, that will help keep me sane.

Guard- Sadly, now that I've been in Guard for eight months, I'm not finding it anywhere as satisfying as I had hoped.  My duties have thus far consisted of web site work and document creation.  I had hoped for something a little less like what I do for a living.  Also - after my epic struggle to lose 54 lbs, I have gained 15-20 of it back.  I am deeply ashamed of this, and am working to correct it.  I make no excuses, save that being a graduate student coupled with stress, holidays, and eating out a lot due to the fridge being out of commission did a number on my figure.  My uniform is now tighter than I'd like, and I'm embarrassed to put it on.  Thinking about the next drill or web tasking just stresses me out.  I keep wondering when I'll get my enthusiasm back.  When I swore in, my first question was how soon I could apply for Officer Candidate School.  Now?  I keep looking for a good reason to pull the loud handle.  What keeps me in the Guard is my friends- we joined as a group.  We're there to support one another.  I keep thinking if one of us leaves, it will trigger an exodus either out of the Guard or to other  units and other opportunities.  I don't want to be the pebble that starts the avalanche.

  So, for the record's sake, that's where I being 2014.
  • Fatherhood - Loving it, can't wait to see what's next.
  • Work/School - Becoming jaded and ambivalent about the sadly necessary former; ready for the latter to be OVER already.
  • Gaming - The one thing keeping my brain sane outside of my kids.  Need to stabilize my gaming time, and maybe write here and there as time permits.  Especially here on the blog.
  • Guard - Time will tell, but right now not what I had hoped or signed on for.
So... my next post...  I will reveal the gamer archaeological  awesome that I got over the Christmas break.