Periscope Depth

like a castle in its corner, in a medieval game

CNN confirms the passing of Gary Gygax.

I think I first started recognizing Dungeons and Dragons from ads in the back of the occasional Marvel Comic that I’d buy. One day in 4th grade I discovered a huge standing display of D&D boxed sets in the local Waldenbooks – the black box with the red dragon on the cover, for those who remember it. I begged my parents to let me buy one, which they said I could – out of my own pocket. So I scrimped and saved twenty whole dollars (plus $1 tax) and walked out with one about a month later1. I was already familiar with Choose Your Own Adventure books, and video game RPGs like Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy. But the idea that I could make and explore my own worlds thrilled me to no end. It turned on an addiction that I’m probably never going to get over.

Now here’s the pathetic part: I spent far more time preparing to play D&D than I spent actually playing. I had a friend, Stephen, who’d play D&D on occasion but liked Champions and Marvel Super Heroes better. My friend Patrick liked Shadowrun – the cyberpunk RPG where the 2050s look just like the nightmare of 1985 – and we played on and off for a couple summers. Other than that, though, I never had a regular gaming crew in high school. I was always too conscious of the judgment of the “cool kids” to risk admitting that yes, I liked half-elven fighter/mages and slaying pit fiends. Those kids at the corner table? With the greasy black hair and the pasty skin and the Dungeon Masters Guide with the cracked spine? They had more cojones than I did.2

I got back into D&D in college, with the gentle coaxing of Kevin H. and Serpico. I played a big, glorious mess of a one-off game with them and about seven other people one spring. Inspired, I took the slow steps necessary to start running my own campaign. Melissa, Serpico, Kevin and Aaron followed the trail I set for them, recovering two ancient artifacts that outlined a ritual for godhood and keeping them out of the hands of the demonic/celestial crossbreed, Duvaran the Fair. There were vicious halfling mercenaries and religious zealots and genocidal elves and half-orc barbarians and snow dragons and kobold traps galore. I think I even worked a barbazu in there. Good times.

Without RPGs, I never would have run the 7th Sea campaign (The Lost Histories) that got Melissa and Fraley better acquainted. Without RPGs, I never would have known Christine any better than I did. I probably wouldn’t still be friends with Bobby, Auston, Dana J., Will S. or half the people I went to school with. I probably wouldn’t still be reading. Or writing.

I’d also probably be at least $1000 richer, judging by the contents of the bookshelf closest to my computer, but that’s neither here nor there.

I’ve had a rich and imaginative gaming life so far and I’ve only been at it sixteen years. You’ll find me and a regular crew at the nursing home, shaking polyhedral dice and arguing over who has initiative. I can almost promise.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing.” – Oscar Wilde

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1 This should be especially funny to anyone still in the hobby, where $20 will buy you about 2/3 of one of the three core handbooks you need to play D&D today.

2 Not hanging out with geeks all the time in my developing years had its other advantages, of course, so I don’t rue the whole experience.