I’ve been playing Dungeons and Dragons since before it was cool.
No, seriously. Back in the 80s, I was a member of my high school’s unofficial D&D club — just me and a few friends rolling dice, checking the results against numbers on character sheets, trying to figure out what we were doing, all in the back room of the library. Given that this was a Catholic high school, it’s kind of surprising that we were allowed to do this. This was the mid-80s, as I mentioned, at the height of the Satanic Panic, when any sign of deviation from cultural norms was seen as part of a vast Satanic conspiracy to… something. D&D, as a thing that was done with nerds and which involved people telling each other stories that involved magic, was targeted in that moral panic, and plenty of kids around the country saw their dice and books go up in flames.1
I didn’t get seriously into D&D, though, until I hit college. There, I met a guy whom I shall refer to only as M—, who had been playing serious D&D for years. I decided I wanted to be Dungeon Master, and M— taught me how to create compelling stories and create immersive worlds. I enjoyed playing in his games, and he enjoyed playing in mine, even if we did have differences of opinions in how kobolds should be portrayed. We fantasized about being professional Dungeon Masters, but at the time, there was no such thing. You couldn’t make a living at such a hobby, unless you were named Dave Arneson or Gary Gygax or Steve Jackson.
During college, I spent a lot of time playing Dungeons and Dragons. M— and I would dedicate hours to plotting out the games we ran, and we would run campaigns for our friends that lasted months, some even years. Why, when I learned I could take a quarter off from school without a gap in financial aid, I did so, and spent a majority of that time playing D&D games and running them.
Man, I had a blast those days.
When the Second Edition of D&D came out, I was thrilled. I bought all the books (including the Dungeon Master Guide, aka, the DMG). I played more games. I ran more games. I had a core group of friends that I played with regularly. Even with M- left Davis, I stuck with that core group.
Over the years, friends came and went, my core group of players and DMs changed, but the games went on. I had girlfriends who were heavily into the game as well, and that certainly fed my passion, and girlfriends who weren’t very much into it.
That’s not to say I was averse to other role-playing games. For awhile, I ran a game of Vampire: The Masquerade and the interlinked games published by White Wolf Press (I honestly don’t know if they’re still around, and at the moment I’m too lazy to look them up). For three years, possibly more, I ran a Vampire Live Action Role Playing game (LARP), which consumed all my emotional, social, and creative energy.
When the 3rd edition of Dungeons and Dragons came out, I switched to that from second edition, then from 3rd to 3.5. But I never could get into 4th edition; to me, that edition minimized the role-playing aspect of the game, which was what had always thrilled me about it, and focused on the battle aspects. I’ve since heard that 4th edition really was good, but by then I had moved on to Pathfinder, a new RPG system that was, at first, essentially D&D version 3.75. Now, the 2nd edition of Pathfinder is out.
It’s been years since I’ve run a role-playing game2. The pandemic has put a pause on that aspect of my creative life.
But now… Now I feel the old urge kicking in. A few months ago I started plotting out a new Pathfinder game, with (of course!) pirates. And since we’re still in a pandemic3 my six players and I are meeting virtually, through a Virtual Table Top (VTT) called Roll20. I’ve heard good things about this site, and while I’ve never GMed using it, I’ve played in a game that uses Fantasy Grounds, another VTT. So this will be an interesting experience, to say the least.
In all the years that I’ve run D&D campaigns, I’ve never once used a pre-created campaign setting; they’ve all been homebrew games with settings and mythologies and stories that I’ve created myself. I’m kind of proud of that. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with running a pre-created campaign, it’s just not my style.
Anyway. That’s a brief history of me and gaming. I’ve had so many creative joys, made so many great friendships through D&D and other role-playing games that it’s hard to imagine life without them. There was a time when I considered those days and months and years wasted, times when I thought I could have been writing instead, but fortunately saner heads prevailed and convinced me that none of that time was wasted.
So. How are you?
- There are some who say that the Satanic Panic never ended, that it morphed and became QAnon, and is even far more dangerous now than it was back in the 80s — I think I agree with this assessment
- Not a LARP; in fact, I have friends whom I’ve directed to shoot me if I ever decide I want to run another LARP
- YES WE ARE!