Friday, March 17, 2017
The Magic is in the Book...
I started reading Swords and Deviltry again the other day, and once more I travel with Fafhrd and the Mouser across Nehwon to face untold danger, wicked sorcery, and fearsome monsters. It's a journey I've taken at least a hands-count of times before, and one i'm always happy to start anew. While the shelves at Barnes & Noble are stocked to the brim, sometimes there's just nothing new under the sun that attracts me and so I spin the wheel and grab an 'old friend' to get me through.
I was heavily invested in reading several years before I started my lifelong love of roleplaying games, D&D of course my first. By the 4th & 5th grade I had plowed through a ton of the standard youth reads and had even found some slightly more adult content accessible, such as The Hobbit and David Edding's Belgariad. For those not of that era (late 70's/early 80's), the local library and a few small bookstores were all I had with regard to the content I enjoyed. Every book was a treasure, every toy a treat. I'm not mad or jealous that folks have all the content they could desire at their fingertips these days, but I do think it's probably true that in order to really appreciate something, you might first need to understand what it means to not have that thing.
We had 7 channels on the TV. Just saying. (and props to my pops, who started with just a radio and his imagination!)
By middle school I was devouring the genre, and by high school I had caught up. I don't know how many books I had by 11th grade, but it far surpassed my meager comic collection. Books and reading very much defined who I was, and who I would become as a gamer, and as a person.
I'm a reader. That's just what and who I am. It's the fantasy novels of the 60's, 70's and 80's that fuel my games as both player and DM, but primarily as DM. It's hard for me to shake the Dragonlords of Melnibone or the One Ring or that smart-mouthed Jhereg Loiosh from my psyche, nor would I want to do so. These are the images of my youth, that same places and people that I brought to life with my own adventurers when I discovered that books were not the end of my love affair with fantasy fiction, and that through RPG's I could 'live out' that amazing story that thus far I had only been able to connect to as part of the audience.
Why would a kid play baseball, if not to feel the same way that A-Rod felt when he swung his bat and knocked yet another ball into the stands? Sure, you can sit in the stands, cheer, eat a hot dog and wish you were that amazing player, or instead you can grab a bat and a ball and do that thing! Of course, I never swung a sword or cast a spell, but the imagination is an amazing, versatile thing, and D&D is a powerful tool to help transport the player into that realm where combat and spell-weaving are as real as the every-day world (with less bathroom breaks). For me, it's the books of my youth and those amazing writers who laid the foundation for my own imaginative journeys.
To the players of D&D and other RPG's today, those raised with Xboxes and On-Demand, who may not be readers or think much of books beyond their scholastic experience, I urge you to head to the nearest library or bookstore, or even pop on to Amazon.com and grab something from Appendix N, or maybe some newer fantasy genre fiction you think might appeal to you.
Sure, you can grab the AD&D books or play Swords & Wizardry or Labyrinth Lord, but the power behind the magic that is OSR games is, was, and always will be the great fiction that forged it.
My son is 11. He's not a fan of comics or RPG's. He loves Black Ops and Terraria, but not so long ago I bought him The Hitchiker's Guide to the Universe and he loved it! I can't express to you how happy that made me, how full of joy I was to be able to share that geeky 42 with him. He hasn't wanted to play D&D with me, and that's ok. The greater gift is the books. If we end up sharing not one single common hobby or interest in life, I know he loves to read, and that is completely satisfying.
Read more with your kids.