I was introduced to D&D by a high school friend named Kevin and his older brother Steve. They called me up one Saturday morning and asked if I wanted to come out for a game. There were going to be a few other people there, all of whom I knew from high school. I don’t think I had even heard of D&D at that point but I was excited to check it out. That was the beginning of a life-long fascination with the game.
This was in the late 70s. Steve had a copy of Chain Mail and the LBBs, as well as a couple of Arduin books. He and Kevin had been playing in another game for some time. That game incorporated a few house rules that they adopted and which we all continued to use for years to come. One or two were actually pretty silly but we didn’t have the sense to question them.
From the very beginning we have always used miniatures. We had a 4′ diameter round wooden board with a 1″ green and black grid painted on it, which we set upon a folding table. Steve had tons of dice and miniatures. In retrospect, I think maybe they had been playing for longer than I thought before I joined them. Steve had a wooden podium-like desk that was perfect for a DM. It was set up higher (requiring a bar stool instead of a regular chair) and had a flat table top (probably about 24″ x 18″) surrounded by a 9″ tall wall on the back and sides. It also had a shelf set about 9″ under the top surface which was awesome for storing extra books and such.
Their folks’ house had an attached two-car garage that had been completely remodeled into a family room. It was at least 20′ x 20′ and completely isolated from the rest of the house so we could be as loud as we wanted.
My First Game
This was a long time ago and my memory isn’t that great anyway, but as I recall we all showed up by about noon. Steve was going to DM and Kevin already had a character but the rest of us were all new. They explained about races and classes and walked us through rolling up characters. I think we used a straight 3d6 roll, assigning scores to abilities in the order they were rolled (strength first, charisma last). It seems like there was a slight variant like maybe rerolling one stat or swapping one pair of stats. Once abilities were generated, we looked at our characters to see which classes we qualified for.
Before you wrinkle your nose at that, let me say that I think there is a lot to be said for that method. If you were suddenly transported to D&D-land, would you pick an interesting sounding class or one to which you had an aptitude? If you are anything like me (a flabby math nerd with poor reflexes) you’d identify your strengths and go with whatever gave you the greatest chance for survival. This method captures the essence of that strategy. In a game where character survival (at least in the early levels) is low, and new characters are rerolled when “accidents” happen, more or less randomly determining class isn’t a bad idea. It gives everyone a chance to run different types of characters from time to time. In a game where players run the same characters for months or years, having more control over class selection may be more desirable. But that’s enough on that tangent.
So we rolled our characters (being od&d this took less than half an hour, even though we were new), bought some gear, and set off down the road. Where to? Well, these first games weren’t very sophisticated. But they didn’t need to be. We were all new and excited about the game. A complicated storyline would have just been a distraction from what we were doing. :) We rolled to see how many days travel it was to the nearest town and set off. Most of us had no idea what to expect so just walking down the road outside of town was pretty darn exciting!
We had various encounters on the road. Sometimes, we tracked our victim’s path back to their lair (which was just a cave with the rest of their clan) where there was always a larger stash of treasure. As 1st level characters we were quite successful. I think there were 4-5 characters, almost all new players, but everyone seemed to catch on almost immediately. An exciting aspect of these games is that we had absolutely no idea what we would encounter. None of us knew what monsters there were, which is exactly how things would be for 1st level characters. Sometimes there would be a single giant spider, other times it could be ten giant rats. Once it was an ogre that was big enough and nasty looking enough that we all had the sense to run and hide. By the time we got to the next town, we all had enough experience to gain a level so we trained, bought more gear and headed out for the next town.
The next few games were pretty much the same but we were all progressively higher level each time so we ran into progressively tougher creatures. Eventually, we all started feeling pretty brave and decided to head to a nearby dungeon. This was one of those dungeons where each room had a door that could lead to anything (another room, a hallway, a cavern, or who knows what). You could fight in one room, making as much noise as you wanted, and monsters in the adjacent room would never hear you or join in. After you rested up, you’d check the next room and do it all over again. Current day players make fun of such dungeons but we had a ball. The design had nothing to do with it being od&d. We were all simply too busy enjoying the game to worry about whether or not we were “doing it right”.
One bit of silliness was the method of opening doors. The rules listed an Open Doors percentage chance based on strength. Apparently, that meant (or so we interpreted) that someone had to hit each door and roll to see if they successfully opened it. There must have actually been a rule stating this somewhere because I’ve run into a lot of older gamers who remember doing this for every door (not just stuck or locked ones). But that wasn’t the worst of it. Dungeon doors were somehow spring-loaded and had to be spiked open. The strongest fighter would hit the door and rush into the room. Another character would quickly attempt to spike the door open. If she failed, the door would swing shut, leaving the fighter alone in the next room, and another pair would have to hit the door again and attempt again to spike it open. I’m pretty sure this is a house rule that Kurt and Ed came up with. They are the two that introduced Steve and Kevin to the game. I’m not sure how long we played that way before someone finally realized that this was a rather silly way to open a door.
Actually, the more I think about it, I think both of those were actual rules (all doors are stuck and must be spiked to keep open) although I believe the later was meant to read something like “the door will eventually close on its own” instead of “the door will immediately slam shut”. Whether official or not, both are silly rules and weren’t missed in the slightest.
Advanced Dungeons and Dragons
Eventually, AD&D came out. I don’t remember a clear transition. It seems like we must have slowly adopted it piece by piece. Before this, the DM had books and notes and such but players only had character sheets. Now players had a book of their own as well. We felt so empowered!
About this time we were all starting to become more seasoned players. I guess that means that the newness was wearing off and the mystery was fading. In any case, we were now less mesmerized by the unfamiliar mechanics of the game and started to look more at how we were playing and what we were doing. Adventures became more sophisticated, dungeons had more of a realistic layout, we started using a little strategy and began thinking beyond killing things and taking their stuff. Well… no, I guess we pretty much stuck to that last bit. But it definitely felt much more organized now.
We always had at least three players. Usually, there were five or six. Occasionally, there were a few more than that. For at least one game we actually had a half dozen large folding tables full of players.
Although there were a number of folks who only showed up occasionally, we had a strong core that were there most every game. It’s now thirty years later and that core group are all still close friends.
The Stamina of Youth
Everyone was either still in their teens or in their early twenties. Well, I guess there may have been a couple of old folks in their mid-twenties. In any case, we were all young enough that we all still thought we were invulnerable and abused ourselves without care. Games started at noon and ran until dawn. Tables were filled with bowls of M&Ms and peanut butter cups, bags of chips and pretzels, and all sorts of other similarly nutritious snacks. We washed all this down with gallons of pop and beer. Most games we also mixed up a huge batch of sangria that was always gone before we were done. We occasionally took breaks for something more substantial: Totino’s pizzas and 7-layer dip. A few health conscious people (myself included) did step out for some fresh air from time to time. But only because we weren’t allowed to smoke inside.
For some unknown reason, as the sun was coming up and we were putting everything away, someone would pull all the tables back so we could enjoy our traditional indoor hacky sack ritual.
Then, half drunk and half amped up on sugar and junk food, but totally exhausted and barely coherent, we would each drive home in a daze, savoring the level we’d just gained and/or the awesome loot we’d won for ourselves.
The Lure of the Dark Side
After my very first game, I went downtown to Gandalf’s Den, located inside the Olde World Center (our local gaming store located in a renaissance themed collection of shops) and bought the Holmes boxed D&D set, as well as some dice and miniatures. It was less than a week before I had a crude regional map, city map, and dungeon drawn up and was roughing out the basics of my first campaign.
When the AD&D corebooks came out, I bought them each as soon as I could afford them. I still have them today, heavily worn, entirely missing their spines, yet still referenced more than all the more recent books combined.