25 June 2015

D&D 30-Day Challenge: Day 1 - How you got started.

So, I see this thing on Facebook about the Dungeons and Dragons 30 Day Challenge. Looks kind of interesting.

I've been a gamer since the summer of 1986.  That's 75% of my mortal existence at the time of this writing.  It's the hobby and interest that defines me, right down to things I love to do with my kids and the subject matter of the Masters Thesis I am currently writing for my MA in Military History.  Maybe it would be an interesting exercise to go through the D&D Thirty-Day Challenge for my own reminisces as well as the enjoyment of anyone out there in Internet Land who would find it of interest.

In 1985 I was 10 years old and had just relocated from Round Rock, Texas to Temple Terrace, Florida.  My mother was looking for a fresh start, and we pulled up stakes and and went to Florida where her sister Carrie and her husband and their newborn were living.  My uncle Gerry was a programmer at IBM and a audiophile with a taste for the Beatles, and my cousin Kenny a tiny spud of a baby who was vaguely amusing to me.  I was terribly put off by the move- all my friends were being left behind, I didn't know anyone, it wasn't even my state.  My sole consolation upon arriving was to find that my favorite cartoon that I'd only seen aired in my grandparent's market in Lake Charles, LA also aired here - Tranzor Z.  Our first day in Florida, I tuned in.  As Tranzor Z ended I was fascinated by this other show I had never heard of - Robotech.  The episode I saw first was one of the final "New Generation" storylines of the 85-episode series, in which Scott Bernard and his Freedom Fighters find the city of Denver preserved beneath ice.  I couldn't take my eyes off it. 

The year we spent in Florida reinforced some things I already loved - GI Joe, Transformers, Voltron - and introduced me to some new things - Robotech, MASK, and my first glimpse of Advenced Dungeons & Dragons.  Although I cut my teeth on Mentzer D&D Basic, the first books I ever paged through belonged to the older brother of a school friend named Eric who lived across the apartment complex from us.  He had the AD&D core books in his room, and I was immediately fascinated by them.  I had heard of D&D of course, most kids my age had.  We watched the D&D cartoon, and some even had a few of the LJN D&D action figures like Strongheart, Warduke or Peralay.  There were a couple of D&D carts for the Intellivision... but books?  What could they be for?  Sadly, Eric's brother and his friends were about as enthusiastic about showing us as Elliot's brother Michael's friends in E.T.  You can't just join any universe in the middle.  I had to content myself with my other interests, like my Vectrex and Transformers, until we moved back to Round Rock the following summer.

Returning to Round Rock was something of a sort-of victory for me.  I was home, back in the town I considered my hometown- it was where my mom's parents lived with some of my aunts and uncles, and the town where I had the most memories and roots.  Mom and I had moved there the first time in 1982 after I completed the first grade in Humble, TX.  I made a lot of good friends at Robertson Elementary from '82-'85, and I was looking very forward to picking those friendships back up when we got back to Round Rock... only we moved to the other side of IH-35 and I ended up at Chisholm Trail Middle School instead of C.D. Fulkes, where everyone I knew went.  I was back to being the new kid with no friends.  This kinda sucked.

Almost immediately, I met Daniel Varner.  Daniel was a fellow science fiction nerd, and had to wear a brace that kept his knees apart by about a foot, making his locomotion a Cowboy-like gait where one leg swung forward followed by the other.  In Boy Scouts he picked up the nickname "Jock Itch" for this particular factor.  Daniel and I became fast friends, and he invited me over to his home to hang out after we met at the park just off Chisholm Valley Drive that would later become the second incarnation of Drakenroc, my Amtgard LARP park.  Along with Jim "Cookie" Cook and a few others, we delved into the realm of Dungeons and Dragons for the first time during the summer of 1986.  Daniel had the Mentzer Basic and Expert rule sets, and he started all of us with our first characters at 4th or 5th level.  I remember opening the D&D Expert Rulebook, the blue one with the mounted fighter charging the dragon, for the first time.  The illustrations are what pulled me in immediately.
I will always owe a debt of deep gratitude to Larry Elmore, who I had the chance to meet recently, for the art that set the hook, and to Frank Mentzer, who I also got to game with earlier this month, for penning the version of D&D that remains my favorite to this day.  Two illustrations in particular remain so vivid in my mind that I can close my eyes and recall them in detail even today.  The first was of a Cleric casting what I assume was the Speak With Dead spell, the second was the class illustration for the Cleric class itself a few pages earlier.  I guess the book must have opened to the spell descriptions.  This book had me enthralled in a way only possible before by books on things like UFOs and the Loch Ness Monster.  I loved reading about the strange and the paranormal.  I loved reading The Hobbit.  This was somehow a book you could... play?  And thus my first, short-lived character, a Cleric, was rolled up.  With the toss of that first 3d6 (in order) a journey began that has not yet ended and God willing won't for many years to come.  It is a journey that has been shared with countless friends along the way as well as my wife and my son- and soon, my daughter, when she's a bit older.  The collaborative storytelling that is the Roleplaying Game soon captured my imagination like nothing before had, and I found myself turning to reading even more as a favored pastime.  I devoured books from the CTMS library and Round Rock Public Library on everything from mythology to the middle ages to ghosts to spacecraft.  I discovered that Conan was more than an Arnold Schwarzenegger film.  D&D soon led me to Marvel Superheroes, Star Frontiers, and Gamma World.  My mom's co-workers at Eaton found out I was gaming, and gifted me with Traveller, Cyberpunk 2013 (brand new!) and 2300 AD books.  I scraped together my own money and purchased the first RPG I ever bought for myself just after my birthday in 1987- Palladium's Robotech RPG and a set of red Koplow dice in the extended tube that came with 3d6 and 2d10.  Then came Palladium Fantasy, GURPs, Paranoia, Star Wars D6, FASA Star Trek, Call of Cthulhu, Elfquest and Pendragon- all before I was a High School Freshman.

Gaming became such an important part of our lives that it was the bulk of our scouting weekends.  Much to our scoutmasters dismay, we'd rush to set  up camp and get dinner on the fire so we could break out the D&D or Traveller books and have adventures.  We even played a mini-campaign at Lost Pines Scout Camp, and somewhere out there my second Cleric, Brother Maynard, is still running...  Daniel's group played every day after school for all of middle school when we could, and most Saturdays.  We were kids, with munchkin tendencies, and I got my second character, a Magic-User, into the high 20s level-wise before he was killed by the black dragon we had managed to subdue...  while strapping on its feed-bag.  What do you want, we were 13?

Dungeons and Dragons and other RPGs gave us misfits a place to fit.  When we weren't athletes or popular folks we could always sit down at a kitchen table with others of our kind and toss dice, creating stories together that were just as good as any book or movie.  We could cease to be middle school students and be great warriors, mages, clerics or thieves.  Movers and shakers in the Known World, delving dungeons from which lesser mortals never returned.  And that made for a childhood that was completely badass.

I can honestly say thanks to this hobby I read more, I learned more math - any Traveller player who wanted to calculate interplanetary journey time had to know how to square root things - I devoured knowledge in all its forms and learned creativity and problem-solving.  I learned people skills, how to improvise dialogue and voices, how to plan for contingencies...  I wouldn't trade it for any other childhood.  I grew up in the 80s, we had D&D, great cartoons, great video games and the best music ever.

My mug is raised to Gary and Dave for giving us the game, Frank and Larry for making it something that immediately grabbed me and pulled me in, and especially to Daniel Varner, wherever you are, for handing me my first D20.  Cheers, guys.  And as I have done so much in the past, I will continue to spread the game and hopefully the love of the game as long as I'm able.

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