Yeah, I am one of those who read Tolkien too many times, McCafferty, Moorcock, Lewis, Zalazny, Howard, Leiber, and so many other fantasy authors growing up. I yearned to go to lands beyond time and live the adventurer’s life (if only in my mind). You know be the hero, battle evil, defeat the villains, and save the damsels, who probably didn’t need saving. Being something more than the skinny, nerdy kid I was, growing up. Who was anything but a hero.
Reading took me to places that I would never go and let me be someone I could never be. Looking back Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) did many of those same things and let me go beyond the mundane borders of daily life. Although due to the stigma attached to D&D over the years, it also became a point of contention at various points professionally.
A Long Time Ago
David H. introduced me to the original Dungeons & Dragons box set in early 1977 (yeah, that long ago). We spent more than a few evenings at his dinner table on grand adventures dealing with the multitude of villains that inhabited the world and his imagination. All while solving puzzles and even saving that world a few times. It was fun and his wife got to laugh at us while she watched TV. We even conned her into playing a few times, she had zero interest in playing and only did it when another player didn’t show up.
D&D gave me a lot of the things the books did, but also gave me something more. I wasn’t vicariously living through the hero in a book and the choices the author made for the characters. I was participating vicariously in the adventure, by taking an active role in how the story unfolded, role-playing the part, and with the help of the other players became a member of a team that set out to do something special.
All it took was my imagination (something I have an over-abundance of), someone willing to nudge the story along (the DM), and a couple of people to play the heroes. Oh yeah, some dice to keep our imaginations at least somewhat grounded in the rules, not just something we made up as we went along.
When 2e came out, it was great and I had the original Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms box sets and all the books. I was painting miniatures, going to conventions, and even starting to DM a few games. I was just having a lot of fun and making more friends than I ever had. People who had many of the same interests that I did beyond our jobs.
Yeah, I enjoyed playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.
Then came the mid-’80s and the “Dungeons and Dragons scare”, where too many thought that if you played D&D that you were selling your soul to demons or the devil. Of course, I ignored most of the histrionics that were being bandied about in the news media at the time. I knew better, but many didn’t.
The D&D stigma had started.
D&D’s stigma reached a level where I worked during that time, that it became something I was unofficially counseled about. I was advised by a very senior individual that if I continued to play D&D, it would harm my career. Based on the times and me planning on making a career of the military, that kind of threat was real. When it came down to making a choice between career and a great hobby, there weren’t a lot of choices. So I stopped playing D&D and went about my career.
Even so, I still sneaked in a game here or there and kept reading books in that genre over the ensuing years. But in the back of my mind, I could still see that person’s face, so carefully and thoughtfully advising me to not have anything to do with D&D. When the D&D-like RPG computer games came out, I continued to play D&D, as more of a solo endeavor.
A few years later when I was beginning to start playing D&D (at a different location) a bit more regularly again, some people around the office had noticed. A different higher ranking person took me aside and let me know with no uncertainty that when I got into the wardroom, (I had been selected for advancement) if it got out that I played D&D, it would be as he so eloquently put it “frowned upon”.
The military does have its own prejudices about what is proper and not for certain ranks. That was the real end of that era of my playing D&D. Shortly after that I sold all but three of my 2e books, purchased adventures, box sets, and almost 200 miniatures to another player for a song.
Fast forward a few years, I retired and was working with behaviorally challenged kiddos at a residential facility. On a lark, I offered to DM a game for the kiddos and got it approved by the program manager (one of the other PMs was into D&D, so it flew), as a test with some very strict guidelines. Well, it was a hit with the kiddos and we focused on moral choices, working together as a team, and only choosing good defeating evil adventures.
However, when the kiddos started talking to the LCSWs about how much fun they were having, the therapists had a hissy fit and quickly shut down. I was given the usual explanations, too violent, demon-worshiping, and the like. The way it was handled soured me quite a bit towards a lot of things where I worked. I didn’t bother playing anything more than D&D-based computer games for quite a while.
It seemed that whenever I played D&D regularly, others made it so that there was a penalty for playing professionally. Honestly, I didn’t want to deal with the crap that seemed to come along with playing D&D at the time.
I never really lost my love for D&D and every so often would peek at a Dragon magazine (when it was still a thing), some Wizards of the Coast sites, thumb through some of the stuff that I had kept, and sort of kept on the fringes of the community, without ever joining in.
Old and Retired
Now that I am old and retired, I don’t give a rat’s ass what people think. I can be as weird as I want to be and there ain’t a lot they can do or say that matters to me.
The wife is all aboard with me playing and my daughter/son-in-law got me three 5e manuals to get me started on my journey back to playing D&D. I even joined One D&D to help me with figuring things out and started painting miniatures again.
The only thing stopping me from leaping in with both feet is the pandemic and the rising numbers this fall. I have a feeling that once it clears up a bit more, I will find a weekly group somewhere. Yes, I have thought about playing online in something like Roll 20, but I would prefer to get back to doing something face-to-face than another thing online. Online friendships are one thing and friendships in person are different.
Yeah, so here is a nerdy old fart, who is getting back into leaving the mundane world behind a few hours a week by playing D&D 5e (this time) and re-learning how to paint miniatures. Who knows what adventures I will have? But this time I am going to enjoy myself immensely in the many facets of the game of Dungeons and Dragons.
Who knows, I might even have to join the Hell-Fire Club hehehehe.