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Once Upon A Time:
Once upon a time, some 25 years ago, I was introduced to role-playing, and my introduction was different than most that I've heard about thus far.
I wasn't led down the traditional path. Some benevolent being did not foist the Hobbit upon me. My parents and brother did not take me to some cool Renaissance Fair, which were very uncommon in the mid-70's anyway. No, my path was somewhat more... ...coercive.
It was 1976. The United States was in the middle of all the Bi-Centennial hubbub and hype. Bell-bottoms were gone, but hair was still quite big. I was eight years old and school had just ended. Summer had come, and with it, endless days of hanging out with friends and family, doing lots of nothing much.
I was at my best friend's house one day. Sean (my friend) and I were having a blast launching Hot Wheels from the top of his basement stairs into an area filled with Micronauts and Star Trek Figures below. We were having a blast trying to nail the smug plastic face of Captain Kirk with flying automobiles when Mitch walked in. Mitch was Sean's older brother. He was a geek like us, having skipped two grades of school. Being fourteen, however, Mitch was much BIGGER geek than we were. The conversation went something like this...
Mitch: Hey twerps! Whatcha doin'?
That's right. I was BULLIED into playing Dungeons and Dragons. Now we're not talking AD&D here. I'm talking about the original D&D. Monsters and Treasure... Men and Magic... Underworld & Wilderness Adventures... Greyhawk... Blackmoor... the whole pamphlet book schmeer.
Mitch had already read most of the rules, so he naturally took up the role of the DM. Since only Sean and I were playing, we each played two characters that Mitch had made up earlier. Sean played a hobbit thief and a human cleric, while I had a dwarven "fighting man" (Don't look at me like that. ladies. That's what fighters were called in the original rules) and a human magic user. I recall alternating between looking at the strange dice with fascination, and staring in bewilderment at the sheets filled with numbers in front of me. Neither one set me much at ease. That may be why I cannot remember what the names of the characters were, but that doesn't really matter as the session quickly degenerated into Sean and I trying to kill off each other. Mitch wasn't pleased, but what did he freakin' expect? We were eight.
A couple days later, Mitch asked us if we wanted to play again. We shook our heads no. Then, out of the corner of his eye, Sean noticed Mitch making a fist...
Sean: "On second thought, why not?"
This session went a bit better than the first. Mitch had given us copies of the same characters we had run previously (since they worked so well last time), and our characters actually made it into the planned dungeon crawl with only a modicum of PC-inflicted damage. In short order though, my fighter had fallen into a spiked pit trap and kicked the bucket. Then we were set upon by a horde of vicious kobolds (hey, we were only first level) and while we managed to fend them off, it was at the expense of the cleric. The grand finale came right after that, when Sean (the thief) and I (the magic user) started blaming the other for our getting killed so quickly. Things were about to erupt in a fit of pre-adolescent tempers when Sean took a deep breath and apologized. I accepted, and as my wizard turned around, the thief stabbed him in the back.
I didn't speak to Sean for a week.
As the summer went on, Mitch eventually didn't have to threaten us to play, and by summer's end, we were asking him to play on an almost hourly basis. Mitch quickly grew tired of us bugging him, so he gave Sean photocopies of his books so we could amuse ourselves.
So Sean started DMing and I ended up running four characters on my own because we had no other players. Needless to say, this cut down on party conflict. Mitch would play with us occasionally, and then I would just follow his lead, him being bigger and all. Eventually, I started DMing, as Sean grew weary with it and wanted to play.
AD&D soon came along, and we all snapped up the books for that, plus we tried a few other games, such as Traveler, Gamma World, and Boot Hill. All were great fun, as we let our imaginations run rampant.
Years passed, and as Sean and I entered high school, we drifted apart. We still gamed together occasionally, but he had become fascinated with games like Diplomacy and Statis-Pro Baseball, and had become a Dead-head, while I had gone on to play more AD&D, Top Secret, and Star Frontiers, and listen to Devo.
It's been almost three years since I've spoken with Sean, even though we live in the same area. We've each grown up, gotten married, and in my case at least, fathered children. My son Marc is seven now, and with the release of D&D3e, I've introduced him to wonders of gaming. And as I now sit behind the DM screen watching Marc roll dice and describing to him the latest fate of his character, Hogarth Ironblade, I sometimes think back and wonder what might have happened had I not been forcibly introduced to this hobby...
Would I have discovered gaming at all?
Would I have met so many fantastic people and made a great many friends?
Would I have met my lovely wife (also a gamer)?
Would I have been able to share something I find so special and liberating in role-playing with a child who can capture wonder in his eyes, and show boundless enthusiasm with his flashing smile?
Thanks Mitch. Feel free to beat me up anytime...
Dave Hoover currently lives in Champaign, Illinois, and is a 34-year old man of many talents. When he's not slinging dice, Dave's often at work making the world safe from hunger. Dave has had love affairs with many games in the past (AD&D, Top Secret, and Champions chief among them), but his current faves are Feng Shui and 7th Sea.
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