A Walk Down Memory Lane - 30 years of Gaming




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    A Walk Down Memory Lane - 30 years of Gaming

    It was 1976, hair was migrating from long to big, Bohemian Rhapsody was playing on the radio, and I was starting 4th grade in a new school.

    One thing occupies a 9 year old's mind like nothing else. Games. I particularly enjoyed chess, but something was... missing. I had met what would become a lifelong friend in my class. He and his older brother had an interest in a very particular kind of game: the wargame. I was introduced to Blitzkrieg, Panzer Leader, Tobruk, Squad Leader, and many, many more. We played days, nights and weekends, to my mother's dismay.

    Finally, I was starting to enjoy real games, far more complex than mere chess. That same year, however, a momentous event occured. My best friend's brother had a bunch of his buddies, also wargamers. He came back from California with a strange box. It said Dungeons and Dragons, and had a picture of a dragon atop a treasure hoard, some kind of soldier was aiming a bow at it and a funny guy with a pointy hat, stars and moons and all, was "doing some freaky magic stuff". It was written by a guy with a weird name, Gary Gee-gacks or something.

    I had just read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and my head was still filled with the wonderful places and creatures Tolkien had so beautifully described. Not least was Smaug, the old dragon in The Hobbit, and definitely Gandalf.

    I was intrigued.

    I had just turned 10 years old, but the older boys wouldn't be caught dead playing a game with boys 2 years younger, some were 5 years older than us (the horror!). So my best friend and I cast a baleful eye at them as they were rolling funny looking dice and scribbling on paper in another corner of his parent's basement, while we tried to enjoy a quick game of Victory in the Pacific. They even commandeered the ping-pong table with its nice large playing area while we were left with a dinky little table with almost no space for the board and counters! That we felt left out is an understatement.

    Eventually, with appropriate amounts of whining, they finally invited us to play. Jumping up and down with glee, we asked what we had to do.

    - "Okay, I'm the Dungeon Master", one of the older guys says to me
    - "Uh, what's that?"
    - "You do what I tell you. Just shut up, and roll these three dice six times"

    Okay, the dice looked normal enough. Where did those weird dice go to? Anyway, I roll the three dice.

    - "Okay, uh, three time six", I say incertainly
    - "Huh. That's good. Now roll this die twice", he says, as he scribbles down Str: 18 on a sheet of paper

    Now this one was really freaky! It had, like, 10 sides to it! I'd never seen anything so strange. So, tentatively, I roll it on the table.

    - "Uh, 9"
    - "Huh. Roll it again"
    - "Again?"
    - "You deaf?"
    - "Uh, 9 again. Is that good?"

    All the older boys burst into laughter, leaving me dumbfounded.

    - "Haha! Yes, it's good. It'll make a good fighter. Now shut up, and roll 3d6 again"
    - "Three Dissects?"
    - "Just roll the dice", he sighs

    And so on, until I marveled at my first character. Until then, the wargames I had played didn't allow for creating custom units, and this one was randomly generated to boot! The wonder! And I even got to give it a name!

    After we filled out the other details (I chose dwarf as a race, as I was still thinking about Gimli and Thorin), and the DM explained some of the rules, I started to feel uneasy.

    - "So, how do you win? What are the victory conditions?", I asked
    - "Win? You don't 'win' at this game"
    - "Hunh?"
    - "You play a character, you become the character while you play. You act like he would act. You talk like he would talk, were he real. That's why it's called Role Playing. The character gains experience by achieving goals and killing monsters and accumulating treasure. With experience he becomes more rich and powerful."
    - "But when does it end?"
    - "Until I decide it ends, or your character dies.", he says patiently
    - "You mean, he can die?", I squeak
    - "Well, yeah, you know, like destroyed units in wargames"

    I looked at the sheet of paper with a sudden sense of realization. This wasn't some kind of "unit" in a wargame, it was the description of a person. True, it wasn't real, but remembering LoTR and how lifelike the characters were, I felt a sudden sense of responsibility to this gathering of statistics scratched on a piece of paper. It, no he, had a name, for God's sake! Nervousness aside, I blundered through my first game of D&D, and nothing would ever be the same...

    Eventually, the inevitable happened. My character died.

    I was devastated.

    I mean, I was really into it. From the start, we played our characters as if they were real: voices, mannerisms, personality conflicts between characters, the works. For me, my character was alive. Even if I realized at all times that he was just a figment of my imagination, it was a heavy emotional blow. I bawled and cried, I just couldn't believe it. I begged the DM to make him alive again, but he sadly but firmly said "the rules are the rules, you should know that". Indeed, I did.

    The older boys did not laugh this time, as I ran straight home...

    (Author's Note 1: Jack Chick, if you ever dare use this as one of your "examples", I swear I will lodge my foot so far up your butt that it will give new meaning to "where the sun don't shine")

    (Author's Note 2: I realized about a decade and a half later why tamagochi became so popular... but I digress)

    Eventually I came to realize, like many kids losing a favored pet, that grief is something that can be overcome, whether the source be real or imaginary. It was a valuable lesson that would serve me the rest of my life.

    We played more and more, and characters lived and died. There is still, even today, that slight pang of loss when something, someone, you have nurtured finally comes to pass. And you move on. If anything, it gave me a new appreciation of life, any form of life.

    We played weekdays, we played weeknights, we played weekends, we played during our vacations, we had long "marathons". We played, and gathered at the wee hours of the morning at the nearby McDonald's or around a pizza to discuss the day's game. My mother, by then, was resigned. At least I wasn't in some back alley doing drugs.

    We played until the ping-pong table finally died as well, in a great resounding crash. R.I.P. You were the best gaming accessory ever! Of course, now we had to find space for 8 players...

    Since I was the youngest in the group (my best friend had a few months on me), the others were amused when I had to go home by 9 pm. They would play until very late (or early, depending on the point of view), but I had to go home. I would plead with my mother on the phone, for an extra hour, nay! an extra half-hour of playing. "Please! Please! Have pity!", I would squeak.

    Even now, 26 years later, my friends taunt me by imitating my then-high-pitched voice. Sets me back a quarter century, every time.

    Over the years, some of my friends left town for their studies, or their work. Myself, I joined the military and moved around a fair bit. Even then, we still played, although less often. We would come back to our home town, or the whole gang whould move to where one of us was, just to play. Now, that's dedication...

    We would also play other role-playing games, like Gamma World, Traveller, Boot Hill, Top Secret, GURPS and countless more. But while these waxed and waned, D&D remained.

    Actually, D&D became our excuse to stay in touch with each other. More years passed, and some of us started families, some stopped playing and new players came on board. But we continued to regularly play, and we would write modules for tournaments.

    Today, three of us remain from the original 1977 group, including my DM. The other players have between 10 and 23 years of experience. And one is in a remote city, we play regularly with him every two weeks via NetMeeting.

    Our dedication to the game, and to each other, continues.

    I have played D&D for near three-quarters of my life. Another edition of D&D is now here, and like the others, will eventually come to pass. I look forward to many more editions, and hope that on my death bed I can look back at nine tenths of my life imagining wonderful things in the company of my friends.

    A special thanks to Gary Gygax, his colleagues, and all the others following in their footsteps, for allowing me to travel to many, many worlds.

    Andargor

    EDIT: Corrected some facts.

    EDIT2: Updated the number of years...
    EDIT3: Same.
    Last edited by andargor; Thursday, 11th January, 2007 at 02:06 AM. Reason: 1 more year
    It is by will alone I set my die in motion.
    It is by gaming that thoughts acquire speed, the hands acquire shaking, the shaking becomes a warning.
    It is by will alone I set my die in motion.


    Shameless Plug from an Old-Timer:
    A Walk Down Memory Lane - 30 years of Gaming

 

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    Andargor, thanks for sharing that. It seems like we are of the same age.

    I started gaming a bit later than you (I think I was 11 or 12). I played for a few years, then, for some reason, stopped. Looking back, I guess I thought that it was time to move on. Dumb.

    So, shortly after 3rd edition came out, I was walking through the mall and wandered into a WotC store. I had no idea that TSR was owned by WotC. To me, WotC was the company that put out the Pokemon cards. Anyway, I'm in the store and I see the D&D display. They had the Gold Box 3E adventure game. For like $10. I bought it on a lark. Thought my kids (at the time they were 8, 6 & 1 1/2) might get a kick out of it. I also thought it would be a good alternative/comparison to video games.

    It brought back so many great memories for me, that soon purchased the core books. I was hooked. After a little searching on the internet, found a group of gamers that were more than willing to let an "old guy" in and play. Since then, I've been playing once a week and I'm going to go to my first Con next month.

    I'm sorry that I left the game. I get so much enjoyment out of it now. I really enjoy our weekly game and I love to see my kids get into it when I run a short game for them. I wish that I had kept up with it all those years ago.

    Reading your post cements that for me. I'm glad for you that you've gotten so much enjoyment out of the hobby! Thanks again for posting.

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    Thanks so much for sharing that
    Check out 30 Things Can Happen! A System-Free Sourcebook for Fantasy RPGs.

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    Thanks for the kind words. I did leave out a lot of other incidents, but it would otherwise have turned into a novel!

    The Caves of Chaos, Bone Hill, Tomb of the Lizard King, Gabriel the Paladin's ignominious death to a Green Slime, the time the whole party mistakenly jumped into a Sphere of Annihilation, and many, many more memories...

    Andargor
    It is by will alone I set my die in motion.
    It is by gaming that thoughts acquire speed, the hands acquire shaking, the shaking becomes a warning.
    It is by will alone I set my die in motion.


    Shameless Plug from an Old-Timer:
    A Walk Down Memory Lane - 30 years of Gaming

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    Very cool. Nicely written. I'm sure it will bring back nostalgic memories for many of us. I know it did for me.
    Monte Cook
    montecook.com

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    That was a great story... though I'm far too young to have any huge stories like that... it does take me back awhile. I've been playing for over 7 years now, and damn I've had some good times and seen friendships matrure and change, just as the games have matured and changed. I won't bore everyone with my tale of playing D&D with my grandmother again, though!
    "My name is Will... Will Negates."

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    GO ILLINI!!!

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    Thanks for the nostalgia.

    Although I knew what Dungeons & Dragons was, my folks were the overzealous religious types that wouldn't let me buy the game.

    I played other games like Car Wars, and Gamma World, until I met a kid at school who played D&D. Then it was entire weekends spent at his house gaming....Just the two of us. He would DM, and I would run a character or two. This was around 1985 - 1986 when I was 12 years old. We would do silly things like make up 20th level characters and try to take on the demons and devils in the Monster Manual, but all in all, we had a great time.

    Over the years, my older brother would hear us talk about it, and he became interested after reading the Dragonlance books. One of his neighbors joined the game, and together with another kid from school, we had a group of five. Throughout high school, we played weekly and had a great time.

    Greyhawk started it all.....Then Forgotten Realms, but Dragonlance was always the one that stuck.

    After graduating, I joined the Marine Corps and spent several years away from my buddies. My original DM and I managed to play a slow play by email game.

    When I returned home after my stint in the Corps, we got four of the original five back together for weekly games - but life seemed to get in the way. My brother had 2 kids. The rest of us had serious relationships. All of us had full time jobs. So things never worked out the way we wanted them too....Someone was always missing from the game, or we would skip weeks do to scheduling.
    In the end, it fizzled.

    When 3rd Edition came out, my original DM and I decided to try and kick things off again....This time, my brother was out, but one of the other guys we had played with decided to join us again....We gamed for about a year before that guy moved to Hawaii....and the 3 of us slowly let other things take priority....a repeating story. In the end, computer games (like Dark Age of Camelot) were more interesting to the DM than playing.....so we all figured things were pretty much dead and we had grown up.

    In the year and half or so since things ended, I've tried everything from Everquest, to Neverwinter Nights, to Dark Age of Camelot myself - just to be able to 'play something'. They have never been a satisfying alternative.....So I went out and bought the 3.5 PHB. I've got the other two books on order from Amazon.com.

    I called my brother, the DM, and the guy the doesn't live in Hawaii - and asked if we could get a GAME TRIP together. In August, we are going to take an air conditioned camper out to a campsite, Game, fish, and Jetski....I hope it's fun enough to keep everyone interested.....I hope it leads to a few years of weekly games.....I've got high hopes considering our track record, but after 18+ years of playing, damned if life isnt a little dull without a steady game of D&D.

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    Originally posted by Melkor
    I called my brother, the DM, and the guy the doesn't live in Hawaii - and asked if we could get a GAME TRIP together. In August, we are going to take an air conditioned camper out to a campsite, Game, fish, and Jetski....I hope it's fun enough to keep everyone interested.....I hope it leads to a few years of weekly games.....I've got high hopes considering our track record, but after 18+ years of playing, damned if life isnt a little dull without a steady game of D&D.
    Good luck on your trip! I hope everything works out and you get your gaming fix in on a regular basis.

    It's pretty incredible how this game becomes so much of a release for so many people.

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    Ignore Ezexiel
    Andagor my man,

    Indeed, I recall the whining little kid that wanted to play. One of the Lords of Chaos (the other one is a Tsunami Scientist these days).

    He later made for a most interesting ranger my campaign. which I still have stored away in a box after I went off to University; one day I may ressurect it).

    Yes, I recall the pleading to his mother to stay past 9pm. His trauma, however, was shared by the rest of us who had to be home by 10:30

    Thanks for the nostalgia.

    Ezexiel

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    the other one is a Tsunami Scientist these days
    Hm? What? Oh, heh...


    Er... yes...

    I've been playing for about four and a half years (since 7th grade...), but I hope, in 22 years, to be able to tell stories like that...
    Previously known as "Tsunami".

    If you don't like a man, try walking a mile in his shoes. Then you're a mile away and you have his shoes.

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