Allow me to reminisce – about my very first experience with Dungeons & Dragons –
It was 1981, the summer between Fifth and Sixth Grade. I was a mere lad, ten years of age. I was at a friend’s house, and he wanted me to see this game his older brother was running. “Don’t you mean ‘playing,'” I asked. “No, running. My other brother, two neighbors and I are playing it,” he replied. “Huh? What’s it called?” “Dungeons and Dragons – it’s a game where we explore caves, castles and dungeons, fight monsters and get the treasure afterwards.” My interest piqued, I asked, “So, what do you do, wear armor and swing swords?” “Well, only if you’re a ‘fighter.’ And it doesn’t have to be a sword – it can be a mace, or a club, or a glaive-” “A what,” I interrupted. “Uh, I’m not sure – oh, and magic-users can’t wear armor.” “Magic-users?!?” “Yeah, you know, like wizards who can cast spells like fireball, magic missile, invisibility-” he explained. Once again, I interrupted, “Cool! I want to play a wizard! Can I?” “Let’s talk to my brother.”
They didn’t let me play that day – something about it not being realistic to meet their characters while they were in a dungeon. Still, I watched, fascinated with what was unfolding in front of me. There were these funny dark orange sheets where the players had written their characters’ stats, items and spells, funny dice (“Why would anyone need anything other than the regular cube?” “d6 – it’s called a d6.”), funny-sounding enemies like “orc,” “ghast,” “stirge,” and “gelatinous cube,” and a whole bunch of paper sheets with numbers written and scratched off (“That’s my hit points, and the DM has the same for the monsters.”).
So, the adventure ended that evening, and I would “roll up my characters” during the week before the next session on Wednesday night. “Why will I have two characters? Why not just one?” “Well, just in case one of them dies, you won’t be left out,” explained my friend’s brother. That settled, I quickly pored through this black-covered Player’s Handbook with a gem-eyed demon statue on the cover. I went directly to the Magic-User section, and rolled…
Three “regular” dice (“3d6, they’re called 3d6,” I reminded myself), write the total in the blocks, top-to-bottom. At the end, in the second field labelled with the letter “I,” I had written the number 7. “OK, so I want him to be my wizard.” “Sorry, he’s too dumb,” he laughed. “He can’t be a magic-user! Ha-ha!” OK, that was a setback, I guess. Still, I forged ahead and made this one a barbarian. I still had one more chance, with my second character. Rolling the 3d6 and writing in the first number, I then nervously picked up the dice and shook them, willing a high-enough number to come forth. Roll-roll-roll, pause. Roll-roll-roll, pause again. Then, one more time for good luck, roll-roll-roll, and DROP…!
4. 6. And 5. Wait a minute…, “Fifteen! Fifteen! I have my Magic-User!” The rest of the rolls didn’t matter to me – I had my magic-user. That was all that mattered. So, I finished up with making my barbarian, then turned my attention to the magic-user. I picked the spells that my friend and his brother suggested, bought equipment for the both of them, and took the sheets home to familiarize myself with them before Wednesday.
The day finally arrived. I rode my bike to their house, excited that I was finally going to cast some spells! I sat at the table and listened to the DM about how we were exploring the ruins of some wizard’s tower. I let the other players direct the actions of the party, as far as going down the stairs, turning left, listening at the door. The fact is, I don’t remember anything too clearly before this point.
My barbarian bashed in a door, surprising some orcs in the room. He charged them, the rest of the party following suit. It was my magic-user’s turn, and he unleashed a mighty MAGIC MISSILE! That was it! I had finally done it! I had cast a spell, by golly! “OK, roll the d4, Mark.” “That’s the pyramid, right?” “Yes.” “Wait, how do I know what number it rolled?” (Later, I would learn that everyone asks that question the first time they roll a d4.) Roll-roll-roll: 2. “Two – is that good?” The other players snickered. “Oh, I guess not.” OK, so it wasn’t the battle-deciding action I wanted. No problem, there’s always next battle, right?
So, the rest of the battle consisted of my magic-user trying unsuccessfully to stab the orcs with his dagger, while my barbarian did some decent damage with his two-handed sword. Afterwards, we went down a hallway, and came to a door. “What do you do, Mark?” “Huh, why me?” “Because your barbarian is in front.” “Oh. OK, um, listen at the door, I guess?” “You can’t – you’re not a thief?” “Huh?”(1st Ed. only allowed a thief to “Hear Noise.”) “OK, I guess I open the door.”
And open the door he did – to a room with pools of different colored liquids! “Oh, this is a potion room,” one of the other players asked. “Yes,” answered the DM, “but you can’t tell what they are unless you taste them.” Ooooo – magical experimentation! But, from which pool to drink? “There is a blue pool, a red pool, a green pool, an orange pool, a black pool, and a yellow pool.”
“I’ll try the red pool,” said one player. The DM exclaimed, “You feel stronger! It’s a potion of strength!”
“I’ll try the blue pool,” said another. “You start flying! It’s a potion of flying,” said the DM.
“How about the yellow,” asked a third. “It’s a potion of invisibility!”
“What about you, Mark? Are you going to try one of them?” Five sets of eyes turned toward me. I had no idea which one to try. “Well, OK. What one should I drink?” “That’s up to you,” the DM said. “Let him pick one,” he told the other players. “Uh, OK, then… I’ll try the… green one?” Snickers from the players, then the DM quickly asked, “Which one? Which character drinks the green pool?” “Well, my magic-user – he’s the one who knows about potions, I guess?”
“DEAD! You’re magic-user is DEAD! Ha-ha-ha!!!” The rest of the players all laughed as well, while I’m left feeling like a fool. “What? Why?!?” My friend explained, “Green slime – it was green slime, right?” The DM answered, “Yeah – and Mark’s magic-user drinks it, screams, and melts as his insides are eaten away!” The next few minutes are like hell as they all comically reenact my magic-user’s death, as if I should have known better. “Geez, you could have said something to me,” I said to my friend. “I couldn’t – that’s the way D&D works. Unless you say that you ask for help, we can’t say anything.”
“WTF?!?” I thought to myself (OK, 10-year-old me would have thought “What the heck?!?”) I don’t remember the rest of the evening’s activities. I think I rolled when and what they told me to roll, wrote a few things down, then rode my bike home. I do remember thinking that I was robbed – I wanted, more than anything, to have a character who could cast spells, but, because of some stupid, unnecessary rule that I didn’t even know about, I wouldn’t be able to do that.
I felt that my first time playing Dungeons & Dragons was a disaster. I considered quitting the group altogether. Doing that probably meant leaving D&D, because no-one else who I knew played it. Regardless, I decided to go back and continue to play as my barbarian. I even got him up to 5th or 6th level, I think, before the Christmas holiday. I’m glad I did, because I saw the potential in this game. Unfortunately, I never got to play a magic-user again…
That is until the Christmas break, when I bought the Red Box… but that’s the subject of another post.
How about you? Was your first foray into role-playing games as bad as, or even worse than mine? Good or bad, has it shaped the rest of your gaming experience as a player or a GM? Let me know in the comments below.