Dungeons & Dragons is a fantastic, exciting and imaginative game of role playing for adults 12 years and up. Each player creates a character or characters who may be dwarves, elves, halflings or human fighting men, magic-users, pious clerics or wily thieves. The characters are then plunged into an adventure in a series of dungeons, tunnels, secret rooms and caverns run by another player: the referee, often called the Dungeon Master. The dungeons are filled with fearsome monsters, fabulous treasure and frightful perils.
As the players engage in game after game their characters grow in power and ability: the magic users learn more magic spells, the thieves increase in cunning and ability, the fighting men, halflings, elves and dwarves, fight with more deadly accuracy and are harder to kill. Soon the adventurers are daring to go deeper and deeper into the dungeons on each game, battling more terrible monsters, and, of course, recovering bigger and more fabulous treasure! The game is limited only by the inventiveness and imagination of the players, and, if a group is playing together, the characters can move from dungeon to dungeon within the same magical universe if game referees are approximately the same in their handling of play.
The Dungeon Master designs the dungeons and makes careful maps on graph paper. The players do not know where anything is located in the dungeons until the game begins and they enter the first passage or room. They create their own map as they explore. While only paper and pencil need be used, it is possible for the characters of each player to be represented by miniature lead figures which can be purchased inexpensively from hobby stores or directly from TSR Hobbies. The results of combat, magic spells, monster attacks, etc., are resolved by rolling special polyhedral 20-sided dice which come with this game.
--Introduction from Dungeons and Dragons, Rules for Fantastic Medieval Role Playing Adventure Game Campaigns, by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, Edited by Eric Holmes (1977)
When I read those words at the beginning of the D&D manual, a light bulb went off in my head.
I’d played with plastic army men as a younger kid, and my friends and I had devised our own rules to them. (Guns of Navarone playset FTW!) From what I could see, this Dungeons and Dragons game was a lot like that but with a bit more imagination. And instead of an army you controlled only one player.
“Okay,” I thought, “this makes a little sense.” I read up on the game manual, rolled up a new character, and began immersing myself into the world of D&D.
Those early days were punctuated by a lot of dice rolling, a lot of graph paper, and a whole lot of dyin’ to rooms filled with dragons. When I mentioned D&D to some of my other friends, much to my surprise I found out they were already playing. (Which also made me wonder why they’d never mentioned the game to me before.) My circle of gaming friends expanded to a group of about four, but since my friends settled into two distinct cliques, I never played with more than two at a time.
My parents took note of my interest in the game and gave me a copy of the newly revised Basic Rules for Christmas and my brother a copy of the Monster Manual for the more detailed version of the game, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. I spent much of Christmas break reading, devising characters, building dungeons, and running my brother through a pregenerated dungeon that came with the Basic game, the Keep on the Borderlands.
Throughout the next couple of years, D&D was a constant companion. I played the Basic Set, the Expert Set, AD&D --we had all four books-- and even branched out into other TSR offerings such as Top Secret and Gamma World. When a new module came out, my brother or I would bike down to the local discount store to drool over it. I tried getting my parents into role playing, but I quickly realized the rules were too complex for my mom, and my dad held little interest in the subject.
D&D itself was riding a wave of popularity in those years, which made the game almost mainstream. And that ‘almost’ was, well, kind of generous. Sure, you could find D&D in discount stores and toy stores, and there was even an Intellivision cartridge loosely based on the game, but D&D players were stereotyped as nerds back when nerds were NOT cool. I learned very quickly to not discuss the game too much at school, mainly because I didn’t want to give my harassers more ammo. I already had it bad enough --smart, wore glasses, read a lot-- that adding anything else would be like tossing gasoline onto a tiki torch.
As a result, I began to hang out with my D&D friends more and more, and D&D became that unifying element that we could all hold onto after a day of dealing with the bullies.
My middle school years dragged on and my game playing tastes changed with them. I outgrew the classic hack and slash variety of campaign and gravitated toward a more story driven one. There was one module in particular, the Ghost Tower of Inverness, which introduced me to the concept of a pregenerated character and their backstory, something I’d never thought about before. The RPGs I played were silent on the “role playing” part of RPGs, and the reward structure for advancing your character was heavily skewed toward the mantra “kill the monsters and take their stuff”. But as I read more SF&F, the concept of being in a living story became more appealing, especially when you had Robin Hood or Ivanhoe to look at on television. (I don't consider it an accident that the Ivanhoe mini-series came out at the initial height of D&D's popularity.)
My gaming tastes were maturing, and I looked toward high school as an opportunity to finding other gamers like myself, and exploring the concepts of story more. Hell, maybe I'd try writing something myself.
Little did I know that my world was about to be turned on its head.