Updated: Jun 17
A Return to Dungeons & Dragons
The summer of 1980 was a magical time. For me, junior high was right around the corner, and there seemed to be a tangible optimism about the dawning of a new decade, the Eighties. As well, there was another phenomenon sweeping the nation called “Dungeons and Dragons.”
At that time, the topic of Dungeons and Dragons was a real issue for parents, as many were told that this was an occult game, or that kids were doing the devil’s work; it was satanic! Needless to say, the negative narrative and hype probably fueled interest in the game – it certainly caught my attention.
The more forbidden this game was, the more I wanted to know about it. Same held true for my friends. And for my birthday, I was lucky enough to receive the first edition of “Advanced” Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual and Dungeon Masters Guide. And to be clear, it was very important to reference the fact that this was Advanced D&D.
I read the Player’s Handbook so many times that the tables and text were virtually committed to memory. I studied the front cover and fantasized about the two thieves stealing a giant gem from what I imagined to be a goblin shrine. The illustrations were unlike anything I’d seen before.
There was so much detail to this game that it didn’t even seem like a game. I loved how characters gained titles with their increasing levels. Fighters started off as a “Veteran” and became a “Warrior” at level 2, which progressed to becoming a “Swordsman,” then “Hero,” and on until reaching the vaulted title of “Lord.” We all dreamed about becoming an “Arch-Mage” or “Great Druid.”
The game was complex, yet understandable. There were only seven races (Dwarven, Elven, Gnome, Half-Elven, Halfling, Half-Orc and Human), and fewer still of the character classes (Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, Thief and Monk). Druids, Paladins, Rangers, Illusionists and Assassins were subclasses; Bards were some sort of subset of Thieves and Fighters listed in the Appendix that no one seemed to know what to do with. And, don’t even get me started on psionics!
Did I mention the game was complex? Despite having the G1-G3 Dungeon Modules of the Hill Giant Chief, Frost Giant Jarl, and Hall of the Fire Giant King, rarely did we actually play the game. Most of the time was spent creating characters, debating about who was more powerful, and then imagining what any number of crazy encounters would be like.
To bring the D&D fantasy world to life, I also collected and painted miniatures, which back then were made of lead. My two favorites were a blue frost dragon and a tiny woodland sprite pulling back on a bow.
However, the Eighties moved on, and so did I. My miniatures disappeared, but I always held tight to my original trio of books. As well, I kept all of my dungeon modules – they seemed to be irreplaceable.
But then a funny thing happened.
About a year or so ago, my son started to show interest in Dungeons and Dragons – the “new” D&D, Fifth Edition. So, I dusted off my old books and dungeon modules to show my son, and he was amazed and captivated. He encouraged me to get back into D&D, which I did.
Surprisingly, the fifth edition (5e) of D&D was amazing. Not only was the game simplified, it was really playable. And, not just playable for nerds, but anyone could play it… you didn’t have to use a slide ruler to figure out whether your crossbow hit a Kobold, and if so, what damage was done.
Not only was game play improved, but my eyes were opened to new races, new classes and all sorts of fantastic developments. Amazing story lines weaved their way throughout the new format of dungeon modules. What was once old was now new and substantially better.
However, I still refer to rogues as thieves – they will always be thieves in my book.
A New Beginning
The only downside to D&D is that you really can’t play it alone; it’s best played with others. So, I asked my kids (17 and 8) to see if they would be interested in playing the game. We’ve already played Castle Ravenloft, so they had an idea of what D&D was like.
So, on an uneventful Sunday night, I became the Dungeon Master (DM) once again, and ran my kids through the “Lost Mine of Phandelver” – a well-known introductory module/campaign for new players. I was stunned to hear that they loved it! In their minds, their characters weren’t just numbers on a piece of paper, they were living beings. Even my youngest wanted to know what it would be like if magic were real in this world.
And then I saw it. They had the same enthralled interest and enthusiasm for this fantasy game as I did 40 summers ago.
Not only has D&D rekindled a fire in me that I thought was out, but it has given me a renewed energy and desire to learn, venture and explore.
Tonight, we will finish the Lost Mine of Phandelver, and we’ve already started to debate whether we should start Tyranny of Dragons, Ghosts of Saltmarsh, or Descent into Avernus. They all sound so good.
Regardless of what we start on next, the one thing I know for sure is that the next character I create is going to be a bard. Not an appendix noted bard, but a real bard named William Brandywine. I can’t wait!