Monday, August 11, 2014

#1 First RPG Played - Also, first game designed #RPGaDAY

I didn't have a clue what a role-playing game was until I was nine years old. Most of my gaming experiences were with my family playing Sorry!, Uno, Mille Bornes, Dogfight (my first "wargame") and Star Wars: Escape from the Death Star. I was obsessed with video games, but had no home game system or easy access to arcades to satisfy me.

Back in 1981 or 1982 when I was in 4th or 5th grade, I went to my elementary school library during lunch. There I saw a few older boys I didn't know seated around a table, poring over a collection of books, papers and odd dice. The library was empty, so they were free to speak openly about some strange adventure. I invited myself to sit at the table, transfixed.

G3 Treasure Coffer illustration by Dave A. Trampier
One image from their adventure remains emblazoned in my mind: a treasure chest filled with gold rings. They must have been playing through Gary Gygax's G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King, the only adventure in which I could find such an image (in Gygaxian semantics, it is a treasure coffer and not a treasure chest). Of course, the first image I have from D&D would be an illustration by Dave Trampier, the same artist I've written  about many, many, many times and had the unfortunate duty to report his death to many readers.

After that lunch, I was left to puzzle over the experience I'd just witnessed. This was both a game and an adventure story in one, like a much better version of a Choose Your Own Adventure book. It was all about exploring old castles and labyrinths, fighting monsters and claiming great treasures. It had a lot of books, but its core was about graph paper and dice.

I had graph paper and some six-siders, but where would I get the other dice?

A few days later, I had my answer. My class was all marching single-file back to our classroom after lunch or recess or something. As we walked past the library building, I spied a shining ruby in the muddy grass by the sidewalk. I snatched the gem from the ground: my first d20!

Still rolling true after all these years
It remains my favorite die to this day. The numbers were hard to read (a year later I learned to mark the numbers in with crayon) but now I had the key to role-playing. I just needed a game to play, so I designed one of my own.

This was a design of need. I didn't know the older boys I saw in the library. I didn't know anyone else who played. I didn't know where to get the rule books and, as a kid, I couldn't afford them. It was far easier and cheaper to make something myself.

I drew out a labyrinth on graph paper, draw in nasty creatures guarding treasure chests (I remember populating it with giant spiders and bats) and trace my way through the maze as a solo adventurer. I had a rudimentary combat system using the d20 and a d6 (probably stolen from some board game) and drew up a small chart of monsters and their stats. I created a custom folder to hold my game, complete with a "pocket" made of construction paper and tape to hold the dice, so I could safely transport my game to and from school. I never played it with anyone else; this was a solitary, meditative pursuit.

My d20 is the only material from that game to survive the ages. I can't remember any further details about the game system or how many labyrinths and creatures I designed. I abandoned the game when, a few months later, a friend taught me how to play from Moldvay's purple box Basic D&D set. I created a fighter, learning new words like "Dexterity" and "Chaos" and that "Constitution" doesn't always mean the paper upon which our founding fathers created the American government. My ignoble fighter battled a few guards and got killed, but I was hooked.

I also had no idea how many games I would design in the years to follow.

1 comment:

  1. Your red 20 has a lot of character. Even looks battle-tested.