29 August 2017

D&D And Me - Volume 0

  So, here's where I challenge myself to blog a series, so as to encourage myself to blog more often.  The concept behind this series is to look at each edition of D&D and talk about how it influenced me, what I liked about it, what wasn't so hot, and basically anything that pops into my head about the various incarnations of The World's Most Famous/Popular/Cromulent Roleplaying Game.

  So, I was born the year after 0e was published, 25 JUN 1975.  The year Jaws hit theaters.  My parents were all of sixteen years old when I came into the world, so my upbringing was more than a bit atypical.  On one hand, my musical tastes skew to their generation since I was brought up with their music.  On the other, their tempestuous marriage ended when I was seven in 1982 and I fell deeply into pop culture, books and video games as an alternative to my turbulent family life.  In the early years we moved quite a bit - Longview, Lake Charles, Austin, Humble... that's where it all fell apart.

https://thumbs.worthpoint.com/zoom/images1/1/1212/17/playskool-star-rider-sr1-electric_1_7a5c58dc13ead261afac85e8dc695663.jpg  I was a more or less happy kid up until that point.  I was into Star Wars, Star Trek, and had a serious love for The Black Hole, Disney's first film to have other than a G rating.  Our home in the Atascocita neighborhood outside Humble was where the groundwork for my geekery really came into being.  Some of my random memories include my Playskool Star Rider.  Though the cycle didn't make it through the rest of the moves following the divorce, the module with the lights and sounds somehow did.  Talk about a toy that made my imagination soar.  I had a ViewMaster projector that came with Star Wars, and I put the projector on the toilet lid and projected the filmstrips on the shower wall, the only huge white space I could find.  I played Atari with my babysitter's kids, and we played with Star Wars figures.  A lot. My FX-7 is still in a tree at Oaks Elementary as far as I know.  I've often wanted to go back and make an attempt to find it, just to see if nearly four decades could go by without another kid climbing that tree and finding that hollow.

  The bottom dropped out for me at my seventh birthday party.  It was at Showbiz Pizza, and my dad was notably absent.  Now, I knew mom and dad argued a lot- in fact, my Avon Superman hairbrush showed the battle scars of being thrown at dad repeatedly.  His boots, arm and cape were all broken, and his nose was missing, but I held onto that brush as an artifact of the all too short time that my family was whole until high school, when Mom chucked it one day.  If it were up to me, I'd still use that damn thing on what little hair I have left.  Aside from a few vinyl albums, it would be one of the few things I had left.  Our move to Florida and back divested me of any toys or other belongings I might have had from that period.  Oh, the things I sold in the name of getting rid of things for the move back to Texas...

  So, the divorce happened and Mom and I moved in with her parents for a short time before getting our own apartment just up the road.  Once enrolled at Robertson I became the only kid any teacher could remember in both the gifted and special ed programs at the same time.  I was sharp, but had some severe attention and writing issues.  To this day I hold my pen in my right hand as if I am a lefty.  At that school I began to read above my grade level.  The Hobbit was a favorite.  Also, The Egypt Game (kinda about LARPing) and anything I could find on Tutankhamun, Egypt in general, or space.  Then I disocvered the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon and the pump was really primed.  That was my first exposure to D&D - the cartoon, and the awesome action figures that LJN issued.  I still wasn't quite sure what the game was all about, though I got to play the Intellivision version here and there during this period.

  Second through fourth grade went by, and Mom began to look for a new start.  She decided to move us to Temple Terrace, Florida where my aunt and uncle had just had their son.  I was pretty damn devastated, as kids often are when they are uprooted and dragged away from their friends.  In the days before email, Facebook and kids with cell phones, I might as well have moved to Moscow.  I discovered some really important things in Florida, though- Robotech, my first crush, and my first glimpse of the D&D game.

  My friend Eric had an older brother, and that brother and his friends played AD&D.  Paging through the hardcovers was like discovering an ancient tome of forgotten spells.  My gamer brain was like a latent psychic ability- seeing the ratings for Strength, Intelligence, Charisma...  I had long used the TechSpecs cards from my Transformers to "know" which ones were better at things, now I saw that numerical quantification could be used in an actual game.  Sadly, the older kids had zero interest in letting us play, we were "too young."  We assuaged our disappointment by playing with ridiculous armadas of Star Wars and Transformers toys, M.A.S.K., Thundercats, GI Joe, and the shiny new Robotech.  Not only were there toys, one of our friends had a dad who was stationed in Japan and sending home the badass Takatoku 1/55 valkyrie toys.  You know, Jetfire with Jolly Roger logos and the Armored Valkyrie armor.  Robotech had a huge effect, but I suppose I'll blog on that later.  I mean, when a main character actually dies in a cartoon that was serialized as opposed to episodic - it blew our minds.  But I digress.

  We spent one single year in Florida, then  my mom met my stepdad-to-be and we relocated back to Round Rock.  Wasn't long before I met Daniel Varner, and he introduced me to Red Box D&D.  Now, that was where it all began, and during a walk around my old neighborhood I showed my son the home - even the window of the bedroom - where I played my first D&D game.  The experience was so transformative for me that I remember it with that level of clarity.  I've blogged before about the precise pieces of art in the Expert Set that grabbed me that first game afternoon.  Thanks to Larry Elmore and Frank Mentzer, who I am was indelibly forged that afternoon.  All the elements of what I was when I walked into Daniel's room to play this new game were the raw materials to forge the me I am today.  My "gifted" mind, my disinterest in traditional Texas male kid activities, my interest in history, my love of reading, my passion for fantasy and sci-fi, my deep-seeded need for a connection that wasn't going to go away.  I'd had a hard time keeping friends - divorce tore me from my friends in Humble, then I made new ones in Round Rock and stayed just long enough for it to feel "permanent" until being uprooted for Florida and making new friends- just to be uprooted back to Round Rock, but on the opposite side of town from my old friends.  All my Robertson friends were attending CD Fulkes Middle School, and I was a Chisholm Trail Cougar.  Well, Dan and D&D began a crucible that forged friendships that endure to this day.  Round Rock High brought all the Chisholm and CD kids back together, but gaming was where my deepest friendships existed.

  I rapidly branched out into many other games, all of which I hope to eventually blog about.  Star Trek, Robotech, Battletech, Top Secret, Marvel Superheroes, TMNT, Palladium Fantasy, RuneQuest, ElfQuest, Star Frontiers, Gamma World, so many others...  Then the Satanic Panic hit our church, late by national standards.  I had to debate an adult about the evils of D&D.  Ignorance and Fear, Fear and Ignorance.  I handily won the debate since I actually knew the content of the books - there were no "real" spells, no mentions of the Devil or Devil worship, more Tolkien than LaVey and hey, Tolkien was a devout Christian, just as CS Lewis was, so how can fantasy be inherently Satanic?  You'll note I left my copies of Deities and Demigods and Palladium Fantasy 1e at home - I'm confident, but I'm not stupid.  Ironically, this whole thing made me learn a lot more about Satanism and alternate religions than actually playing the game ever did.  So, to the church member who stirred all this up and caused the need for that debate - good job, sir.  You succeeded where the Devil's Game failed.

  From that point on, for the first time in my life I knew who my tribe were.  We were the gamers, the outcasts, the rejects (I can hear Chris R. immediately repeating Corey Feldman's "I'm not a reject!" - yeah, Chris, you were the cool one among us) and the weirdos.  We cosplayed before there was a word for it.  We watched anime when it was still called Japanimation.  We laid the groundwork for today's geek culture.  And we got the crap kicked out of us for it.  We got ostracized, made fun of, excluded from the cool kid parties, and basically couldn't join in all the reindeer games.  We were the kids Freaks & Geeks was written about.  But we survived, we persevered, and now the very things that got us ragged on and left out are mainstream.  Video games, tabletop games, sci-fi and fantasy.  Friggin Game of Thrones and Harry Potter alone prove that geeks won the Culture War.  Of course, recent events in the US show that we're currently in the middle of a very long mopping-up operation.  Just like the destruction of the Death Star... okay the Second Death Star...  all right, then Starkiller Base...  You get the point.  The big battles have been won, but like the Empire and the First Order there are still forces of darkness and ignorance and backward thought out there that would quash Geek Culture.  I stood against them before.  My soul bears the scars of those battles, and the ampersand on my shoulder where a combat patch would go honors what we geeks went through in the 80s.  I continue to stand against ignorance and fear now.  I am a gamer.  Perhaps more than that, Dungeon/Game Mastering runs in my blood.  It's who I am.  It's what I am.  Above all the other labels and classifications it's the one that sums me up more clearly than any other ever has.

  And now I'm a dad.  Gamer experiences and instincts have helped me deal with being responsible for the lives of two humans that mean more to me than all my game books put together - yes, even my Mentzer and Elmore autographed ones.  But it also means I use those experiences and instincts to raise the kids.  Family gaming helps us talk about problems and issues.  It helps the kids learn math, reading and problem-solving.  I can't wait until Kaylee's just a bit older, so we can all go on regular weekly adventures together with the clatter of dice and the laughter of children filling the game room after a day at the park, or the pool.  Settling in for a story in which the family are the heroes.

  So... D&D and me.  It's shaped who I am.  This is Volume 0, setting the stage for what is to come.  In future volumes I will discuss the various forms and editions of D&D and whatever thoughts come to mind as I examine each.  I look forward to this mental exercise, and I hope someone out there finds it entertaining.