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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Quest Begins: A Gygax Day Reminiscence

When I think about my life as a player of TTRPG's (which until recently I had just called D&D or referred to myself as a gamer, which I know today is not the same thing, not specific enough, and not really a term that I use much anymore unless I'm talking to my 11 year old son) I think of it in stages, in phases.

Phase one was my introduction to Dungeons & Dragons back in 1980.  The summer before Middle School began (6th,7th,8th grades) I was asked to play in a game with some local kids that I had met while standing next to the Joust! machine at Dips, the local ice-cream-in-a-small-plastic-baseball-cap place near my house in Suburban NE Philadelphia.  It was a kludgy affair, with all sort of arcane paraphernalia like dice and character sheets, and it was filled with rule after rule after confusing rule that both confounded and fascinated me.  We played Keep on the Borderlands and it was a turning point in my life.  I had found my people.

I didn't go back to that house, or play with those kids again.  It wasn't in the stars.  I don't really remember why I never went back, but it just didn't happen.  What DID happen, was that after pining for a while to get back to a game, I asked my mom to take me to the book store so I could find these mysterious tomes of power.  It took some looking, and eventually, after a great deal of driving, we found the Moldvay set at my local hobby shop.  Oh, those small blue dice and that white crayon.

Not an Actual Picture of Me....But that dude on the right with the shades looking down does resemble...

I played on and off with friends I found at school who had also discovered the game(s), but really had little notion of the mechanics of play.  Sean Boyle, who ran me through the Expert rules and the Isle of Dread.  Mike Slater, who had the ADnD manuals and Holmes and made a mish mash of a world he dropped my characters into.  It was one-on-one gaming for a long period of time.  Then Mike introduced me to Jeff, and we were a party of two, tromping around ADnD fantasy worlds and occasionally diverting into Villains and Vigilantes and Marvel.  It was a blast, but there was little consistency.  The saving grace was that a weekend with Mike and/or Jeff was a mini convention, an entire weekend in the basement filled with the game, the pizza, the chips, gallons of soda, and very little sleep.

Phase two started after I had moved to Houston and I was able to find games with a group, albeit a small one.  I met a few new friends towards the end of High School, and stumbled into a small game that was really the start of my peak gaming time.  It was the first time I had a 'regular' game, one that was recurring and took place in a world and with characters that had a real chance to level and grow.

Soon after, I visited a local Game Store (and yes, not a hobby shop, but an actual store devoted to RPG's, Comics, etc.  It was the first of it's kind I had visited) and stumbled across a small cork-board near the entrance with 3x5 card advertisements posted up with thumb-tacks.  One in particular stood out, and though the contents of that small white card are lost to the mists of faded memories, I know that it was that card, that phone number and those frantic moments of finding pen and paper to jot down the info that led to the best gaming experience (and the best friend) I would ever have.

The details after this point are unimportant.  The gist of the story is that my introduction to the game was not my BEST TIME with regard to Role-playing.  It took many years after that summer in 1980 before all of my 1-on-1 games, my RPG book collection, my reading every fantasy novel available, until all of the things that built the 'RPG Gamer Me' coalesced into a person, place and time where the best gaming experiences occurred.  Even now, as I enjoy basking in this OSR time well into my 40's, I'm having great experiences...but not the best.  They aren't like the ones I had between 18-24, what I refer to as my Golden Age of Gaming, where the stories, the action, the characters and most importantly the friendship and camaraderie that grew out of that time made such a lasting impression.

These days I still play, but not in the same way.  I have a weekly Sunday night game via Fantasy Grounds that's been ongoing in some form or fashion since 2008.  I also have a bi-weekly Labyrinth Lord game at my place, where I GM.  It's great fun, but I certainly wish I had more time for the IRL game. Life is busy...

When did it happen for you?  Were you swept up early on by a group, maybe older kids or a sibling, and so 11 or 12 year old you had the greatest time?  Were you at college, hanging out in your dorm or at the library or student activities center?  Did it occur later in life...when you were in your own place, lived with your girlfriend or wife?

These are our Origin Stories!  I know that for some, including me, it's a bit melancholic to look back and know that the best role-playing sessions are behind us, but hearing the Origin Stories of others I've come to realize that the future is unseen, unknown.  I'd like to think that this old grog, and the PC's still to be born from him, have some exciting times ahead!

Thank you OSR.  Thanks for all of the new, old-school modules, monsters, magic items, and mayhem.  Thanks to all the players and producers of content who make my NEW games feel old again.

and thank you Gary.


  1. Great post, Howard!

    While those adolescent D&D games seemed to be "more real," I believe the games I'm involved in now are actually "better." That's my own personal experience, of course. Hopefully, you have many more awesome adventures ahead of you!

    1. Thanks!

      Definitely doing what I can to ensure there are some great games ahead. Being a 'grownup', while requiring a certain degree of responsibility, also brings with it the freedom to approach my Role-playing adventures in a whole new way. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

  2. I was bought the red B/X boxed set when I was about 10 as a get-well present after having my tonsils and adenoids out. It included "The King's Feast" adventure and I ran it for a friend the same age and three younger siblings. I found the box again the other day and saw I'd even enlisted my 5-year-old sister. It was pretty much a disaster and became read-box-text, kill-monster, next-room. I put it away regretfully and moved on to Talisman and then Warhammer Fantasy.

    Then, after occasionally buying rpg stuff in charity shops, back in October some of my students asked me if I'd run a game of D&D for them as they "figured I'd be the kind of guy who played or knew how to". We've played twenty sessions since then and they've just saved the world in time for the summer holidays and I think we've gained two new players taking us up to eight which may too many - an embarrassment of riches!

    THIS is my golden age of gaming. We're using Swords & Wizardry Core.

    1. S&W is Great! The Adventure I just wrote, Adventure Most Fowl, is using that as it's ruleset basis, even though you could easily drop it in any FRPG game.

      I was a MASSIVE WFRP guy back in the late 80's and to this day I use wide brushstrokes of the Old World as part of my ongoing campaign with Labyrinth Lord.

      I can't tell you how awesome it is to hear that teachers are running games. I definitely felt like I was an outsider when I started playing in 1980, but if there had a been a school-based group for RPG's I would have joined in a heartbeat! Thanks for reading and posting...and keep those students' young minds full of all the great adventure, teamwork, and fun that Role-playing offers.

    2. Thanks, Howard, the kids (mostly 16 or 17) certainly seem to have got hooked!

      You can read my pulp-fantasy rendition of or adventures at my blog, if you're interested.

  3. I really do miss those days when I was still learning to play. I'd make some really dumb mistakes and it was exciting! It took awhile to learn to keep a character alive past 3rd level, but it was a fun process! I used to play a lot back in the day, but I think that, now that my time is more limited, our games are stronger and more developed. I, in no way, feel that our best games are behind us. I am still looking forward to finding out what is happening just around the next bend.