The late 70’s were big for me. I had my brain explode twice before 1980. I had grown up with Star Trek episodes, Godzilla movies, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Daniel Boone and a little known science fiction show called Space 1999. During the summer of 1977 I had my eleven year old brain blown by watching Star Wars on the big screen and spent most every weekend afterwards figuring out ways to see it again and again and again and again.
At the end of the 1979 I went to visit a friend I had not seen in a while. When we lived next to each other we had spent idyllic summer days in the yard behind his house chasing frogs and damning up the nearby creek. We played war with little green plastic men. We played cowboys and indians. We played daring knights and fought off monsters. My parents had moved from the city and now lived two hours away in a much smaller town. I’d not seen him for a long time and was excited to hang out with him again.
It was a Christmas-time visit during the holiday break. The weather was cold and somewhat nasty so we played inside and caught up with each other. For Christmas, his parents had given him some sort of weird new game he was excited about but which I had never seen. The box for the game was very colorful and featured a wizard and a knight confronting a dragon sitting on a mound of gold. It was called “Dungeons and Dragons.”
Sitting on the floor together, my friend tried to explain the game to me and wanted to know if I wanted to make a “Character.” He showed me a handful of very oddly shaped plastic dice.
“It’ll make more sense if we just play,” he said.
I didn’t understand but I agreed. He took me through the steps to make a wizard and we began to play. I entered into a creepy old dungeon and fought two rats and, later, some goblins. I fired off a magic missile for the first time. I found a treasure chest with some coins and a magic wand. Once I realized it was a game of make-believe I got excited.
My brain exploded for the second time.
Then my parents were coming to get me and it was time to go. He hurried me out of the dungeon, wrapping up my first adventure. I asked him where he found the game as I rushed to get my coat and shoes on. I needed to find a copy! I needed to know more, to play more! What about my wizard? What would happen next?
“I’ll use him as a character in the game I play with my older brother. When you come back you can play him again.”
My parents were pulling into the driveway.
“Where can I find this game? Where did you get it?”
“I don’t know where my parents got it. I really wanted it and told everyone about it.”
“But, where did they FIND IT?”
My parents were coming to the door. There were greetings and hellos. I would have to leave very soon.
“I don’t know but…” and my friend suddenly ran back into his room. He came back carrying a Dungeons and Dragons box set still in its shrink wrap . “Look, I asked for this so much I actually got two copies. We were going to take this one back but here… I want you to have it.”
I couldn’t believe it. “Really? Are you sure?”
My parents were calling me and it was time to go. It was the holidays. Family to visit. Meals to eat.
He smiled and pressed it into my hands, “Yes. This way when you come back to play again you’ll know what you’re doing.” He laughed.
I thanked him profusely and left with my parents back out into the cold December air. He waved to me. I waved to him. “Look what he gave me, Mom! It’s really cool. It’s a new kind of game!” As we drove away, I had the box open and was looking over the items inside, flipping through the book.
It was the last time I would see my friend.
Time passed. We didn’t make the two hour trip as often. People change. Kids don’t really have firm control of their destiny, let alone long drives. Things shift. Life takes you on different turns and then, before you know it, you have lost touch with someone. That was before the internet and easy communication.
I went home and poured over the book. I made a dungeon. I made several characters. It was the holiday break and at the first opportunity I had a friend or two over and we started to play. We played very badly but we played. I discovered that a local hobby store in my small Indiana town carried some modules and books. Over the next few years, I moved on to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and became a poster child for the Stranger Things cast. I ran a game. My buddy ran a game. Then another buddy was running a game. We talked about the game during lunch breaks at school.
You know how it goes, right?
And that’s how it all started. From a simple, generous gift came a lifetime of creativity, stories, drawings, maps, friends, adventure, laughter and fun. A simple act of generosity followed by infinite ripples of effect after effect flowing outward over the decades.
That’s how I want it to continue.
It’s the most important part. It’s the bottom line behind this entire project and all that I have planned here.
It’s a gift.
I hope you like it.