“My” Dungeons & Dragons
It has become “en vogue” lately to talk about “my” Dungeons & Dragons. It is a way to connect with other enthusiasts of your favorite version of the world’s most popular role-playing game, as well as a nice little walk down memory lane while the world “shelters-in-place” due to SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19). So I thought I’d join in on this trend and talk about my particular favorite version of Dungeons & Dragons. Many people seem to have made the deepest connection with the version of the game they started with. Acknowledgements of the “nostalgia” factor are common. For me however, though I still love many things about the version I started with, it is not “my” D&D.
I began “gaming” in 1979. My friend Michael Wachter invited me over to try a new game. We were school-mates and enthusiasts of science fiction and fantasy literature. We’d both read many of the same books; the Tripods series by John Christopher, the Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien were all ingrained in us. When I saw the game I wasn’t sure what to think of it. Michael had what was probably a 6th printing of the Holmes Basic Dungeons & Dragons set. Michael had already read through the rules, so he would be Dungeon Master. We sat down, and I created a couple of characters, as did Michael. Together we would run the PCs as Michael guided us through the world.
The set Michael had came with the adventure module B2 The Keep on the Borderlands which we began to explore post-haste! I quickly became addicted to the wide open imagination of the game. Our party slogged through the marshes and discovered the Lizard Men there. It took many sessions of chipping away at their numbers before we were able to finally defeat them. We lost several characters as I recall, but there was always a fresh supply to be found at the eponymous Keep to which we retired after each excursion.
Next we found the Caves of Chaos, and what followed was a fantastic delve into the slopes of that defile. For months we kept returning to the caves and slowly working our way ever upwards to the temple of Chaos in the topmost caves. To this day I still remember some of the most ridiculously small details of that quest. Mental images of what I saw when our characters encountered the Minotaur, or the Medusa or upon entering that shrine of Chaos come back to me from time to time with shocking clarity.
Somewhere along the line Michael started using the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons books to add elements to our game. The sheer volume of materials in those book made my head spin! When, not too long after that, Michael and I went our separate ways I found new players and another copy of Holmes to keep the fun going. But it was not to last.
Because I had played with all the extra material found in AD&D in a sort of hybrid Basic/Advanced game I found being restricted to just Basic to be unbearable. So I set about getting the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons books for myself using my allowance, and before long our group had completely converted to AD&D.
We played through Keep on the Borderlands, Palace of the Silver Princess, and Castle Amber using AD&D rules, and many more besides. The group changed as first my sister stopped playing and then more of my school friends started playing. We played through a lot of AD&D modules, like Slave Pits of the Undercity, Secret of the Slavers Stockade, The Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, Tomb of Horrors ,and more. I started writing my own adventures and soon we had a full fledged campaign going.
In case you haven’t guess by now, “My” D&D is the first edition of Advanced Dungeon & Dragons. There is something about those books, and the adventures we played that were magical. I’d say on any given weekend night I DMed a group of from 6-8 players. We ranged in age from 2 years younger than I, to a year my elder. As such our interests were tightly knit. We discovered Michael Moorcock, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Stephen R. Donaldson, David Eddings, and H.P. Lovecraft together, and as we did we incorporated what we read into our games. That same group of boys expanded our interests and began playing other role-playing games. Gamma World was the first, then Tunnels & Trolls, then Traveller and Champions, followed by Stormbringer and Call of Cthulhu. We played so many games sometimes it makes my head spin, but nothing really ever compared to AD&D.
I can still recall individual actions players took in iconic adventures like Tomb of Horrors. When I ran those adventures again and again, I will always remember what happened the first time, and half expect the new players before me to do the same thing, but they always surprise me, because in a game where you can take any action, any action at all will be considered and taken if you play with enough people.
AD&D is “my” D&D because after all these years (40+) and all the other games I’ve played, I still come back to AD&D, it is still the game I want most to play, and the game I most often advocate playing when trying to start up a new game with new players. In a few years my daughter and her friends will be old enough to play role-playing games, and although I will start them off with Holmes Basic D&D (or BLUEHOLME), we will quickly move on to AD&D when I believe they can handle the number of options presented in “my” D&D. I hope “my” D&D will one day be my daughter’s D&D too! Game on my friends!
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