Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Thanks, Gary

Gary Gygax, the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, has died. And I never got to thank him...
* * *
"What's this?" I asked as I opened the box from beneath the Christmas tree in 1979.
"Open it and see..." Mom replied.
As I peeled back the wrapping paper I saw this:


"Oh my god! That's so cool!" I said as I read the description on the back of the box and then looked inside where the game was described in more detail:
"Each player creates a character or characters who may be dwarves, elves, halflings or human fighting men, magic-users, pious clerics or wily thieves. The characters are then plunged into an adventure in a series of dungeons, tunnels, secret rooms and caverns run by another player: the referee, often called the Dungeon Master. The dungeons are filled with fearsome monsters, fabulous treasure, and frightful perils. As the players engage in game after game their characters grow in power and ability: the magic users learn more magic spells, the thieves increase in cunning and ability, the fighting men, halflings, elves and dwarves, fight with more deadly accuracy and are harder to kill. Soon the adventurers are daring to go deeper and deeper into the dungeons on each game, battling more terrible monsters, and, of course, recovering bigger and more fabulous treasure! The game is limited only by the inventiveness and imagination of the players, and, if a group is playing together, the characters can move from dungeon to dungeon within the same magical universe if game referees are approximately the same in their handling of play. (Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set (rulebook) 1977, 5)"
I was right. It WAS cool.
Mom had picked this up on a whim from the Hanover Mall. She thought that alot of boys were playing it and it just seemed to fit my creative personality. I always loved this about Mom. She may not have known all of the things that I was interested in but she was always willing to play to my personality. I loved this boxed set.
I had never really knew about Dungeons & Dragons before this time. I had heard about it from friends but I had no real concept about it. Now, armed with the basic rules, I called my friend George who told me that he had played with some other guys at school but he would gladly put together an adventure for me and Victor. Of course, they were playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and my boxed set was essentially useless. I never told Mom this fact. Armed only with good intentions, I joined George and Vic over Christmas school vacation and created my first D&D character Apollo Quest, an elven fighter/Magic-user/Thief who was ready to take on the world.
And my world was never the same again.
I can still remember sitting in George's camper listening with rapt detail as Apollo Quest and Carrig Rassafass (Vic's character) met in the Green Griffin Inn, beat up some street toughs and were then hired to raid a dungeon and rid it of orcs.
"Orcs? Like in 'The Hobbit'", I asked?
"Just like that," said George, the Dungeon Master for this adventure.
I was afraid for Apollo. My first combat was against orcs? Orcs are scary evil and tough. Hesitantly I rolled my combat dice ("Which dice do I use?" was a common phrase that day) and ran the orc through with my elven longsword. We defeated the orcs, raided some treasure hoards and I got a magical +1 longsword in the process.
I was hooked.
This very same week I quietly went out and used my Christmas money to buy a Players Handbook from Hobbytown and dove in to "Advanced" D&D head first.



Needless to say, Apollo and Carrig survived this and many more encounters together. Soon we were creating the "next generation" of characters and "Morgan Quest", human son of Apollo (don't ask) and a Paladin (read:noble knight).

Soon we had expanded our group to include Nick, Ben, Jay, Stan, Greg, Mark, Sean, and Jim. At the height of our gaming we were playing 4-5 nights a week and had 10 people around the gaming table.

In those early days adventures started by the DM asking us if we had any characters of "x level" and we would each pull a character from our folder and create a group on the spot. Later, as our playing matured we had specific DM's for each character and group. Now, If Nick was DM-ing, we knew exactly which characters should be used because they already belonged to a group. So the Ravenloft Group and the Corianth campaign became our first official, ongoing adventures. No longer were we just going to "hack and slash" our way through a single adventure. With static groups we had a home base to return to and get supplies. We made friends and enemies that we could see again and again over time. We could build personalities for our characters and make "Role Playing" more important than "Roll Playing", which is just stats and charts.

For the uninitiated, I have always described D&D role playing as "acting out" a book or a movie around a table without ever leaving your chairs. The DM is the director or storyteller and the players are the cast. You are armed only with dice, a character sheet, graph paper (for mapping and combat) and your collective imaginations. Together, you are creating a story.

And we created some doozys.
I remember hunting for the vampyre Strahd through the depths of his castle after Hurricane Gloria rampaged through New England. We played at Nick's house that night and the only requirement was that we each bring a candle because he still had no power. We hunted the bloodsucker by candlelight.
I remember Morskay and Wagner (my character) sneaking into the frost giants lair while they were entertaining guests, disguising ourselves as waiters and finding out (much to Wagner's dismay) that the frost giants don't use human servants, right before all frosty hell broke loose.
I remember the slamming of the Player's Handbook as Mantua (and sometimes Zetho) researched their spells and came up with yet another smug way to foil Nick's plans (again).
I remember Zetho and Fireball.
I remember Lyre Blackthorne (my rogue character) being beaten by street toughs, only to find salvation in the arrival of Zarazon (Greg's massive fighter). While Zarazon engaged the bastards Lyre was making a bee-line for a wall at the end of the alley and freedom. Lyre was steps away from the wall and his own safety when Zarazon's voice cried out "Blackthorne! If you go over that wall then you're dead, too!" Silently whimpering, Lyre skidded to a halt and went back to get beaten up; I mean, help Zarazon.
I remember so many good times because of D&D.
I was always a player, because I was always afraid that my own stories would never be as good as the scenes that I described above. Later, in the mid 1990's, I embarked on a campaign of my own and created the town of Whittingham, where Cullen (Greg), Malcolm (Vic), Harloc (Jim), Barandakas (George) and Gaerd (Nick) joined together to save this small farming community from the machinations of a dark elf and his cohorts and their efforts to release the Shire from the protection of a long dead druid while they searched for the legendary "Ranger's Heir", who would reclaim the Moonblade from its hiding place and use him or her for their nefarious deeds.
This campaign is ongoing even today. We're finally approaching end-game and even the story has taken a few twists and turns that I could never have seen coming it has been one heck of a rewarding experience creating a story for my friends to enjoy.
When I was 17 my father grew concerned that I was spending all of my free time playing this game and that I should "find something else to do." Before I even had a chance to object Mom spoke up and said "Leave him alone. We have a 17 year old son who doesn't smoke, doesn't drink and doesn't do drugs. We know where he is at all times and we like his friends. What exactly are you complaining about?"
You go, Mom.
Dad never mentioned it again.
And that, in a nutshell, is what D&D has given me - friends.
We gather to play for the same reasons today as we did when we were kids. We gather for companionship. We surround ourselves with good people who share common interests and to spend time together outside of our day-to-day lives. Sure, we can argue sometimes but what family doesn't? These guys have been my comrades in arms in this world and in a few imaginary ones and I am grateful for each and every adventure, real or imaginary.
And I owe alot of it to Gary Gygax and his wonderful game.

9 Comments:

Blogger Leah said...

You are such a nerd!

11:49 AM, March 05, 2008  
Blogger Andy said...

Smile when you type that, lady!

12:58 PM, March 05, 2008  
Blogger Cynthia said...

You have to admit it...you geeked all over the keyboard, but in a really nice way.

I heard the story about Gary on NPR this a.m. and thought of you.

Game on!

P.S. Frost giants remind me of the movie Big.

7:41 PM, March 05, 2008  
Blogger FoxInDetox said...

...and so out of the closet bounced a resplendent Andy, dragging a kicking and screaming Victor with him. And that children, is how the holy day of nerdiness known as "pretendies" came to be.

The end.

7:47 AM, March 06, 2008  
Blogger Andy said...

Yours is a cold heart, Kathy. :-)

8:51 AM, March 06, 2008  
Blogger Summer Ryan Doyle said...

You are so cute, Andy. And because I cannot let this pass without poking a little fun, you must read this:

http://m.assetbar.com/achewood/one_strip?b=M%5ea11f09b8576e606bcb5038dfdb92fb821&u=http%3A%2F%2Fachewood.com%2Fcomic.php%3Fdate%3D03062008

12:58 PM, March 06, 2008  
Blogger Summer Ryan Doyle said...

Damn! Can't get the link to post. Go to www.achewood.com and read today's post. ;)

12:59 PM, March 06, 2008  
Blogger Andy said...

Summer! That was freakin' HI-LARIOUS!

Well done, my friend.

2:57 PM, March 06, 2008  
Blogger 1st Lady said...

I heard a lot about D&D when I was a child but we were never allowed to participate or own it. Sounds like you've enjoyed the game immensely!

8:10 AM, March 14, 2008  

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