Pass me more dice…I’m about to cast Fireball! Or not another nostalgic AD&D article! By Cory Ring
I’m one of those 40something dads that’s geekily nostalgic about the good times he had playing D&D as a kid back in the 80’s. So if this is your kind of thing and you are a kindred spirit, pull up a chair in the corner of a dark tavern, grab a mead, and have a listen to my tale….
My D&D story starts out probably a lot like your D&D story. I was a 5th grade kid living in Georgia in the early 80’s and my only gaming experiences up to that time had been with traditional board games and cards. Over the summer my friend Trey had gone off to camp (as I recall the story) and had learned to play a new game called “Dungeons and Dragons”. Trey had mentioned the game to me at school one day and I was immediately interested. The way he described it was fascinating…”you create a character, buy equipment and then go through dungeons killing monsters and stealing their treasure and magic items”. Wow…who wouldn’t love that! I had envisioned D&D as some sort of boardgame, and when Trey told me that monsters could talk and interact with the characters I was totally confused. He said I needed to come over and play sometime after school. I did, and my life was changed forever.
I talked my younger brother into going with me and one afternoon after school we went over to Trey’s house. An interesting side note to all of this was that Trey lived on the other side of a small lake from us and we had to row over to his house in a small boat. In retrospect, what a great way to get to a D&D game! Well, anyway we got to Trey’s house and me, my brother Steve, and our friend Wyck all rolled up characters. I remember being fascinated by all the different dice and the artwork in the rule-books as I flipped through them. I knew this was going to be something good.
Wow, to a 5th grader opening the players handbook for the first time was an amazing experience! The art, fantasy races, classes…well everything blew me away. After looking through the Player’s Handbook I decided on rolling up a half-elf Druid. The natural powers aspect appealed to me and I loved the imagery of spells like “turn wood”, “wall of fire” and” creeping doom”. Over the years in middle-school, “Creeping Doom” became one of those insider middle-school code words used by our group to describe something awful that was about to happen to a 5th grader, like report cards, girls, and parent teacher conferences.
I believe my brother rolled up a thief and Wyck already had a magic-user from his camp experience with Trey. We spent most of the first session rolling up the characters and talking about the game, but we did start on one adventure – B2 The Keep on the Borderlands.
Trey was a great DM for a 5th grader. He used different voices for the NPC’s and really set the mood with his evil cackling and deep orc voices. It was great! I still remember him reading the intro into the valley of the Caves of Chaos … “the sunlight is dim, the air is dank, there is an oppressive feeling here”… The first session we got about half-way through the kobold’s lair. We had had a great time gaming, eating Doritos, drinking soda, and talking smack. The next day at school it was all we talked about and a few of our other friends got bitten by the D&D bug. I think we immediately made plans to play again the next afternoon. I think we spent the next few weeks playing every encounter in The Keep on the Borderlands. By the end of that time the group had grown to me, my brother Steve, Trey, Wyck, Brian, Trevor, Steve O., Ned, Matt and Len. And then it really started to get good…!
This was our geek middle-school support wolf-pack. We snuck in games during the lunch period in our classroom, talked about Rangers, ninja’s and Dragon Magazine at recess and planned epic D&D games for Friday and Saturday nights. We started buying modules, miniatures and anything new TSR released. I really got into the miniatures aspect of D&D and collected and painted hundreds of miniatures from Ral Partha, Grenadier, Superior and other companies. I lost many over the years, and stopped painting for a long time, but it is something that I’ve returned to now and still love it.
We did a lot of the “normal” things kid’s do. We played backyard football and wiffle ball, flirted with girls, and went to the mall to buy cassettes to put in our Walkman’s. We did that stuff, but the common thread was always D&D. The problem of course was the it wasn’t cool to play D&D in the 80’s in middle-school. We kept those conversations top secret within our own group. There was definitely D&D bullying back then (there probably still is) and it wasn’t the cool thing to admit to.
We took turns DM’ing and ran each other through all the classic dungeons. I consider the classics: B2 The Keep on the Borderlands, D 1-2 Descent into the Depths of the Earth, D3 Vault of the Drow, Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits, C1 Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, S1 Tomb of Horrors, S2 White Plume Mountain and S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. Those S-series modules were really something!
I had several characters, but my favorite character of all was “Magen Fellow”, a gnome fighter/illusionist. He was the one I took into most of the classic dungeons and had the most fun with. He adventured all over the World of Greyhawk and then retired a wealthy, old gnome with a keep in Silverwood where he entertained travelers and old friends with stories of his adventures and showed off his collection of magic weapons and items.
One of the things I’ve looked back and reflected on his how being the geek D&D guy helped me learn to deal with people and problems. I learned over time to take pride in the things you enjoy and not to worry about what other people think. This blog is an example of that today, and I’m that guys that still wears jeans and a” The Hobbit” T-shirt around (much to my wife’s chagrin), but it took years to develop and I’m thankful to D&D for that. D&D also provided a safe escape from reality. We were all good kids, but none of us lived in a perfect “Leave it to Beaver” household. Who really does? D&D provided a safe escape, and fun venue for my spare time and allowed my imagination to soar. Playing D&D created lifelong friends, and there was a special social aspect of gathering everyone around a table on a Friday night that can’t be duplicated by remote MMO’s and Xbox Live. When I wasn’t playing D&D with my friends, I spent a lot of solo time in my room working on my campaign world, dungeons and painting miniatures. Thanks for the good times Gary Gygax!
Actually, when you think about it D&D helped gamers in so many ways. Middle-School D&D players all had super vocabularies. We were exposed to words like: flagon, elixir, alignment, Psionics, ethereal travel, Bill-Guisarme, and roast fowl. I wonder if my 5th grade English teacher knew the meanings of those words? Probably not. We knew the difference between infravision and ultravision, and could talk about astral combat tactics. We knew how to defeat basilisks, shambling mounds and otyughs. I think “Deities and Demi-gods” taught me all I needed to know about Greek and Norse mythology. D&D helped with reading, spelling, and math. I remember calculating “to hit” numbers and AC’s helping me with my elementary school math skills. I bet most D&D players back then could do quicker calculations then their teachers!
I eventually moved from GA to FL in 8th grade. It sucked leaving my friends behind, but one day while I was at recess I heard two guys talking about Green Slime and an immediate bond formed. These guys were speaking my language. One of these guys was Joe Murphy, who I still talk to on a regular basis. Joe had an amazing collection of not only D&D stuff, but other games as well. In Fl I played some “Gamma World”, “RoleMaster / MERP”, Boot Hill, and Tunnels and Trolls. Those games were great, but we always returned to D&D.
I gamed D&D with the Florida guys (Joe, Don, Steve & Jason) through probably 10th grade and then D&D took a backseat to girls, cars, and other hobbies. It was rekindled for a short time when I went off to college and was reunited with Trevor of my old Georgia group. We searched for players on campus and found a bunch of guys wanting to play some old school AD&D. I played for a couple years with Trevor, James, V.J., Paul, Mike, Rob, Moses, and David. Those were great times too and I look back on them fondly.
I haven’t really played D&D since. It’s sad in a way. It was something that was so much fun and where I made some of the best friends of my life. I’ve picked up the old books from time to time and flipped through some of the old dungeons. I still have some of my old miniatures and dice. I’m married with kids now and have a time consuming job. It’s funny what the years can do to you. I don’t have any desire to go to a local gaming store and play with strangers. I never got into D&D 2, 3 or 3.5, etc. Although I’m curious to see what they will do with D&D Next. D&D to me was always about bonding with friends and having fun while doing it. Maybe it’s just a pleasant memory for me now. Who knows?
I had been thinking about running a D&D game for my kids now that they are older. My oldest is a little older than the age when I started playing. We ran our first game a while back and the kids thought it was fun but weren’t overly enthused about it. It’s hard to compete with Minecraft, and Skyrim. Well, we tried again the other night and had a blast. I made it a more light-hearted and comical dungeon crawl style game. I ran them through B2, for my own nostalgia’s sake, and we all had a great time. I have three boys and they created a Barbarian (from Unearthed Arcana), a thief and a fighter. I created an NPC cleric to give them some healing and magic. They have been asking me to play again so I think we’ll have a game night once a week. My friend Chris and his middle son have asked about the game and might join in. Who knows where it will lead….
Cory Ring is married with three children and lives outside of Nashville, TN. He is in management for a Fortune 100 Company and has a B.A. and M.A. from Florida State University. He spends his free time blogging (CigarBoxBattle.com), studying history, reading, painting miniatures and gaming.