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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Gaming Memory #1: A New Kind of Adventure

My Introduction to Tabletop RPG Gaming & My First Player Characters

This blog article is one in a series I will be doing recalling memories and personal experiencing related to tabletop gaming. If that topic doesn’t really interest you, then just ignore this series.

It was the frigid winter of 1991, I was eleven years old, and attending Christian County Middle School in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Among the small niche of new friends I had made that year was a guy named Scotty. 

Though we came from completely different social circles, we shared many of the same interests, and would often enthusiastically discuss fantasy video games. The two of us formed a friendship that would last for many years before our lives took different paths during high school.

While I had been a fan of fantasy since young childhood, I had only been introduced to the genre of fantasy roleplaying games a year earlier (in 1990) when I received a free copy of the Dragon Warrior video game for my new NES with a subscription to the 1st issue of Nintendo Power magazine.

One day while discussing the game Final Fantasy, Scotty mentioned a different kind of game that his friend, also named Scott, had introduced him to the previous summer. The game was called Dungeons & Dragons. I had heard of the game before (having read the TSR choose-your-own adventure books under the same brand), but never had the chance to play.

When asked if I had played before, I embarrassingly assured Scotty that I had, and promptly made myself out to be a fool by presenting him with character data from - you guessed it: Dragon Warrior.

During this phase of my life I was an extremely insecure kid, just coming to terms with a cross-country relocation and I often “exaggerated” truths if I thought it made me seem to fit in more. Rather than ridicule me for my obvious fib, Scotty said he would bring some books for me to read the following day.

The next day during morning “home room”, Scotty arrived toting a stack Xerox copies that were crudely stapled together to form a book. He passed the stack over and informed me that these were the “real” rules to the game and that this was my copy of the book. After school the previous day Scotty had rode his bike to the local post office, and spent at least a week’s worth of lunch-money to copy every single page of the Player’s Manual from the 1983 TSR Basic Rules Redbox Dungeons & Dragons Set 1 as well as several copies of the character record sheet on its back cover. 

[Old school piracy, right? A misdeed that I would make up for with tens-of-thousands of dollars worth of purchases in the coming decades.]

I took my makeshift copy of the players manual home, and read it twice that same evening. I was immediately hooked. 

The following day I brought my Xerox D&D book to class, and Scotty brought his polyhedral dice. During our morning break I rolled up my first ever character (3d6 to each of the stats), creating Kato the Fighter. The name Kato a direct transfer of my character name in Dragon Warrior, which was limited to four characters).

During the afternoon classes, while completely ignoring lessons, I ran Kato through the solo adventure included in the manual. Technically that was the first time I ever played Dungeons & Dragons.

By afternoon break that day, Scotty informed me that I would need an entire party of characters to go on the adventure he had planned (which happened to also be the first dungeon he had ever designed). So, I created the rest of my party during that break: Astos the Magic-User, Mordred the Thief, and Shadow the black panther pet of Mordred – which, if I recall, shared the stats of a dire wolf from the Dungeon Master’s Rulebook from the same set.

By the end of the day, my very first D&D characters – the brutish Conan-like Kato, the elderly, white-bearded Astos, and the suave, black-haired, goatee-sporting Mordred (and the Shadow that never left his side) – where ready to go on their first adventure together. The following weekend we arranged for an all-night stayover at Scotty’s house, and I spent the weekend delving the 36-room (totally nonsensical) dungeon he had built – the only story premise in play being that a King had requested us to rid the “ancient castle” of the monsters that were inhabiting it.

That was my introduction to Dungeons & Dragons and tabletop roleplaying games. It was crude and basic, but it was in every way a good-old-fashioned dungeon crawl. Over that first weekend I developed an addiction to tabletop roleplaying games that lasts to this day, and which would have a hugely significant impact on the years to come.

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