Sunday, April 24, 2011

In Search of the Perfect Game

My introduction to the game was through a curious looking book I saw on the shelf of a mall book store in Oklahoma in 1982.

Libraries and bookstores were probably my favorite place to be as a preteen boy and these were handy places for my mother to deposit me while she went grocery shopping or ran errands.

So it was that one particular day I was browsing in the book store and spied a colorful tome which stood out from the others.

The title on the cover said Monster Manual.

The book was adorned with painted illustrations of mythical and fearsome looking beasts.

I picked up the intriguing volume and began to flip through it, immediately grabbed by the black and white smorgasbord for the eyes contained therein.

Every page was covered with pen and ink renderings of fanciful denizens of mythology, heroes with swords, and detailed descriptions of the habits and habitation of monsters.

"The most powerful and respected true giant is the storm giant. These great, generally reclusive creatures inhabit only out of the way places...their abodes are typically cloud islands, mountain peaks, or underwater, and there the storm giants will build their spacious castles..."

This entry was accompanied by a picture of a fierce bearded giant catching lightning in his hands.

My eleven year old imagination was immediately fired, and when my mother reappeared I begged her to buy me the book.

She did, and I treasured it for months, reading the monster descriptions and drawing crude copies of them.

However, alongside all of these images were lists of statistics and numbers and percentages which were incomprehensible to me. I loved the book but I had no idea what all of this very technical and complicated data meant. I gathered that it was a part of some game called Dungeons and Dragons but that was the extent of my knowledge.

I was not to find out what it all meant until two years later, when I found myself staying for several months with my grandparents in a rural Oregon community. There had been some very bad step family friction in my home, and my mom thought a stay with her folks might do me some good. I really loved my Grandma and Grandpa and the whole thing seemed like an adventure but it was a pretty remote locale compared to what I was used to. Only two other boys lived nearby, and I soon met them. Richard, Carl and I would be schoolmates when school started up. but there was a great deal of summer left.

The second day we hung out together, one of them said, "Hey, why don't we play D&D?"

"What's D&D?" I asked,

"Dungeons and Dragons," he said. "You've never played?"

I related that I had not but that I'd heard of it and owned a book like that.

With that said, the three of us retreated to his house and in his room out came the books, paper and dice.

He explained the basic concept to me, we rolled up a character for me...a halfling thief named Shadow...and we began to play.

It went something like this...

"You are walking down a shady road in a tall and overgrown forest...your companion is a dwarf named Cutter...your short sword swings at your side as you survey the mystical looking woodlands around you. Suddenly, you hear a noise in the thick undergrowth...filthy bandits leap from hiding and point their spears and crossbows at you...what do you do?"

I was immediately hooked and hardly a day of summer went by that did not find us in Richard's room exploring the wonders of a mythical fantasy world. Even when school started we played most nights, and on weekends we spent whole nights up in my grandfather's garage attic space playing the game from dusk to dawn. The adventures were endless, as we seemed on a mission to ecounter every monster in the manual and find and use every magical item in the Dungeon Master's Guide.

 Maybe a psychologist would say something about me using the game as a vehicle to escape the mental stress of the problems back home. But I really don't think that was it..I had always loved fairy tales and Sinbad and the Lord of the Rings and the game seemed like a magic carpet that could actually carry you to those mythical lands. There something about when you're that young and you can vividly imagine things...all sorts of things like what that lady at the store looks like under her sweater...but also fantastic and exciting things like magical castles and undersea kingdoms. The places we invented for our games became landscapes in oil upon the canvass of our imaginations and it was a vision we all shared.

We didn't use the miniature figures (I didn't even know they existed at that time) and truthfully we didn't even use all the rules. We understood Armor Class and Hit points, though, and could consult the combat charts to see what number we needed to roll on a twenty sided dice to hit a monster or determine if the monster had hit us...that was enough.

I eventually said goodbye to Richard and Carl, but not to fantasy role playing games because that became a life long interest. I moved onto a street in a nieghborhood where two other boys my age played D&D, and we spent at least two years on the games, often running marathon sessions from night until dawn and trying out all the various types of games being released during this burgeoning period for the hobby (it was the mid eighties). We played AD&D, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Aliens, Star Wars, Ghostbusters, and just about any sort of game that was published. And we grew a good friendship and had a lot of fun.

I played heavily through out my teen age years but quit playing when I was twenty one and got married and had kids. Yet I never forgot about it, and I always missed it. And at 37, I returned to the hobby I had abandoned and found it just as fun as it had always been.

I created a home brew game and played it with my preteen kids around the kitchen table, and they enjoyed it. My daughter drifted out since she was never as much into fantasy themed stories but my son became a role playing game hobbyist. He is 17 now and has written several fantasy short stories and as I write this there sits on the kitchen table a freshly hand drawn four page map of a world of his own creation.

As of this writing we have made many good friedns who we met wround the gaming table.
I'm 40 now, and I know that I will probably always play. I am still always in search of the perfect game...

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