The Alexandrian

What Got You Into D&D?

April 28th, 2007

Vince Garcia asked, “What got you into D&D?”

I can’t really pin it down too precisely. The general concept of these games in which a Gamemaster described the world while other players played characters in that world just kind of percolated into my consciousness.

I know E.T. (and the novelization of E.T.) is in there somewhere. I know that the ads TSR used to take out in Marvel Comics in the 1980s played a part. There were probably other influences. (Oddly, at this point, I don’t remember really connecting this rough conceptual understanding I had of pen-and-paper games with the CRPGs like Ultima that I was already playing.)

The first RPG I ever actually saw was the Batman Roleplaying Game. This was a spin-off of Mayfair’s DC Heroes, and I spotted it used in a long comic box at a small comic book convention in Minneapolis, MN. (This was a great little convention: They had Stan Lee, Jim Lee, Chris Claremont, and a half dozen other major names of the time. But the convention was so small, despite somehow attracting this talent, that you were able to get meaningful face-time and interaction with them.) The game was like $5 or $10 and I snapped it up.

(Why it was being sold used still leaves me a little baffled. This was the summer of 1989, so the game would have only just been released to tie-in with the Batman film release.)

Unfortunately, the game was completely impenetrable to me. If the game was designed to meaningfully tie into the Batman film (released that same summer) and attract new fans, then it failed miserably for my 10 year old self. I couldn’t figure out what you supposed to do with it.

So, in lieu of that, I ended up making my own BATMAN game. My brother played Batman and every single action was resolved using an opposed roll of 1d6: I, as GM, rolled an unmodified 1d6. My brother, as Batman, rolled an unmodified 1d6. If his roll was higher, he succeeded. If my roll was higher, he failed.

And we rolled for literally every declared action, leading to the one moment of hilarity I can remember from that game: Batman crashing the batmobile on his way back to the batcave.

Shortly after this, my father dug out an old copy of Middle Earth Roleplaying that he had acquired somehow (he never played himself). I read through that and found it nearly as impenetrable as the Batman Roleplaying Game (although with MERP I at least managed to create a character I never used for anything, IIRC).

Later that same year I finally convinced my mother to take me down to the local game store (Pinnacle Games in Rochester, MN). Pinnacle Games had the brand new 2nd Edition AD&D Player’s Handbook on display. But the word “Advanced”, combined with my experiences with both Batman and MERP, steered me away from that and towards the 1984 red-box Basic Set they also had displayed on top of the shelves. (I was under the impression that the Basic game must naturally be a precursor to the Advanced game.)

The red-box was just about perfect: The clear, transparent explanation of what a typical RPG session would look like. A solo playing experience so that you could get a taste of what the game had to offer without trying to convince other people to learn it with you. A subscription card for DRAGON magazine (which I saved my pennies and my dimes for and eventually sent in, receiving #162 as my first issue).

DRAGON helped me realize my mistake vis-a-vis the relationship between Basic Set D&D and Advanced D&D, so I ended up picking up the PHB and DMG later that fall. I ended up picking up a used copy of the 1st Edition Monster Manual instead of the 2nd Edition Monstrous Compendium and, in point of fact, continued using the 1st Edition MM until the 2nd Edition Monstrous Manual came out many years later.

Mayfair, TSR, Pinnacle, MERP, AD&D, and Basic Set D&D are all gone now. Even DRAGON Magazine is about to disappear. But I’m still here. And that’s how it all began.

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