Thursday, June 11, 2015

Another Day, Another Challenge

While I'm far from done with reviewing classic Champions material, it has been the sole focus here at My Dice Are Older Than You for the past two months.  So, I think a little break is in order.  My friend Timothy Connolly from Benchleydale And Beyond suggested I tackle the D&D 30-Day Challenge.

I won't do this to the exclusion of anything else, so there is more Champions stuff coming, but I figure an occasional change of pace is good for the soul.

Day 1:  How You Got Started

Well, this is a story I've told many a time.  I started high school in 1977, utterly obsessed with Star Wars and The Hobbit, both of which had crashed on the shores of my awareness only a few months previous.  My third obsession was this new hobby I'd discovered called wargaming.  My school had a wargaming club that met before school, during lunch, and after classes on Fridays to play Avalon Hill and SPI games, among others. I cut my teeth on Battle of the Bulge, War at Sea, Panzer Leader, and Wurzburg.  There was also this other little game folks were crazy about called Melee (written by some nobody named Steve Jackson).  It was a man-to-man game of arena combat.  It was fast, bloody, and a ton of fun.  It also had a companion game called Wizard that included magic and supernatural beasties and it's still one of the best thinking mini-games ever designed.

I got hooked on these games.  Completely swallowed by them. They were so small and portable, you could play it almost anywhere.  Gameplay was so fast, you could easily get in three or four battles during lunch.  And your warriors and wizards, if they survived, gained experience that you could spend to make them better. Eventually, I had a warrior named Feahor the Fearless who could hit an opponent with a thrown axe from all the way across the arena with almost 100% certainty.  Because I was a fourteen year old munchkin.

But that wasn't all.  Metagaming (the publisher of Melee  and Wizard, collectively known as "The Fantasy Trip") published a companion for it called Death Test.  This was a dungeon crawl in the form of a programmed adventure.  The characters, auditioning for a job in the Imperial Guard, moved from monster-filled room to monster-filled room, killing things, gaining experience and gold bars.  There were even healing potions.  My friends and I played the hell out of Death Test.  We memorized Death Test.  We soloed Death Test. We got bored with Death Test.

Fortunately, around that point, Death Test II came out.  It was deadlier and more devious, but it didn't take long for us to plunder it.  At that point, it occurred to us we could make our own.  So we did, still using the base maps, but changing up the challenges.

So, yeah, me and my friends kind of invented RPGs all on our own. (KIDDING)

A few weeks went by and I was telling a friend at church about it.  Another kid overheard and said, "Are you talking about Dungeons & Dragons?"  I indicated no, but was curious, so he told me about it in sort of vague terms that didn't tell me a lot, but it sounded interesting.  I decided to give it a look.

Problem was, in my head, I confused TSR with SPI (a company I was much more familiar with), so I kept looking for it in the SPI stuff at the hobby shop.  Eventually, I decided I wasn't that interested in it in the first place.

Fast forward to the first day of Sophomore year, and my friend John comes to school with the Holmes Blue Box.  He let me borrow it, and I took it to my mom's office where she let me run off a copy on their rudimentary copy machine.  I've still got those super-delicate, greasy photocopies in a folder somewhere, as a memento of my past life as a pirate.

I devoured the rules and made it clear we had to try this.  John's dad was a teacher and had to stay late most days, so on a September afternoon in 1978, he and I and one more friend sat out on the patio outside the school cafeteria and braved the depths of John's dungeon.  I remember I had two characters: a fighter named Feahor and a thief named Theron (because I was imaginative that way). Theron died in the second room, but Feahor survived and came away with some treasure.

And that was it. I was hooked.  It's been nearly forty years, but I still remember the color of the sky and the hint of cool on the breeze.

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