I like to use this blog as a way of recording my precious childhood memories and sharing them with whoever it is out there who reads this. Recently I shared my love of Dragon magazine when I was younger. The truth is, Dungeons and Dragons was as important to me as anything in my life from the age of about 12 until post-college. Gaming in general was very important to me until my mid-20s, and it still is, though now mostly in the form of video games instead of pen and paper.
I remember, for example, the night I got my D&D basic set, the old red box. I remember a James Bond movie was playing on tv, though I can’t remember which one it was (I think it was Roger Moore). I remember vividly taking the white crayon included in the box and rubbing it furiously over the sides of the included robin’s egg blue dice. They were like precious gemstones to me, and the wax was a polish to bring out their fiery gleam. It also filled in the numbers quite well. It’s weird to think of it, but back then most of the non-standard dice (i.e., not six sided) came un-inked, and you could buy various inks to fill in the numbers.
I was about 12 at the time, as I’ve said. I bought the red box and blue (“Expert”!) box at the same time. I red the player’s book but studiously avoided the Dungeon Master’s book. After all, I wasn’t the Dungeon Master. Never mind that I had literally no one to play with – I had friends, including the one who introduced me to D&D, but no one ever wanted to play with me. And D&D would soon consume my life. Maybe those Jack Chick tracts were correct; for the next ten years or more, I would spend a large amount of my time thinking about nothing but D&D and gaming. But I never became a satanist (I don’t believe in god, satan or any of that mess anyway), and I never tried to sacrifice someone to Bezuuzuu (well, you know, not literally…I mean, later in my college days while playing in a large group I may or may not have offered the souls of our cleric, mage, and the NPC we were supposed to be protecting for a jelly donut and a +1 ring of party fuckery). I just found my world, the world I’d been looking for but never really knew it.
Anyway, the point is, I had no one to play D&D with, so eventually I wised up (hey I was twelve!) and read the DM’s books, and began running the adventures provided in the boxes (including the awesome Isle of Dread that came with the Expert set). This was spiffy…I had a character, I kept track of my sheet, I was…well, as honest as a twelve year old could be about treasure earned and fighting monsters, etc. I didn’t just automatically make my character level 20; I actually “played” through several modules to get him there! I didn’t understand the concept of encumbrance (mind you, neither did most folks – there weren’t rules for it at the time!) so I had multiple magic swords, axes, shields, suits of armor, and tens of thousands in gold all supposedly in my backpack. I think my character’s pack was massive enough to have its own gravitational field.
I also scoured my local Waldenbooks for D&D stuff. Since I didn’t quite grasp that I could make up adventures (and had no idea how to do so if I did…yeah, again, twelve), I felt I had to buy modules. Thankfully they were cheap. Unfortunately, the only place to buy them was Waldenbooks at the mall, and they weren’t very good about cleaning up the carousel with the modules on them. Many of them were mangled by this revolving deathtrap, and they were all mixed up (leading to Ghostbusters modules mixed in with D&D…yes, there were Ghostbusters modules for the Ghostbusters RPG!), but I would spend large amounts of time shuffling through to try to find stuff in the level range of my character.
One day I happened to be rutting around with the modules stuck deep inside the carousel and pulled out a strange blue covered offering. It was D&D module O2, The Blade of Vengeance (all of the modules had those codes, and each meant something). It had a British flag beside the module code! What sorcery was this?! And it said it was designed for one player and one Dungeon Master. Why, I was one player and one Dungeon Master! It had a picture of an elf and…well hell, the image is over to the left, you can see it yourself. Considering I was used to the standard Elmore covers (and I need to write a post about Larry Elmore…what a great artist), this was…alien. I had to have it!
I may have made it sound like I had lots of money growing up – I didn’t. I was raised by my mom with lots of help from my grandparents (on both sides), and we never had much. Around that time my mother was on unemployment. I didn’t fully understand that she was unemployed because she wanted to be (well, sort of…she collected benefits for about six months while my uncle was setting up his restaurant which would be the “family business” for a few years). I didn’t get an allowance, and there were days when food was…well optional (which I think has led to my weight problems in later years…I eat because I’ve been conditioned to do so whenever possible). Again, this was because my mom didn’t realize that I’d gone through whatever food she’d bought that week at the store…it’s kind of complicated and not within the scope of this post to explain, but the point is, I didn’t have a lot of money, but what I did get, I held on to for special things. This module was one of them. Honestly, if RPG books were as expensive then as they are today, I would never have gotten hooked.
The point is, I got home with this new treasure and set about “playing” it. Boy, was I not prepared for the story contained in that slim, blue jacketed booklet. The story of Blade of Vengeance is, as I would later discover, a mis-mash of various other stories. In it, your character (an Elf, which I’d never “played” before) is an estranged member of his race, having left home years ago to pursue a life of adventure. Now you have returned with your trusty warhorse and a pair of wolves who obeyed your every command. BAD ASS! Your homecoming is ruined, however, when you see smoke coming from the forest – your village is ablaze! In the distance, winging away through soot filled skies, is the architect of your family’s destruction; a huge red dragon!
I was totally hooked. A dragon kills your people? You vow revenge? Wow, awesome! Your character then heads to
Gandalf a wise old Druid’s home, and he tells you how you can kill the dragon by following in the footsteps of an ancient elven hero and reclaiming his sword, which legend held could slay dragons with a single stroke. You set about doing just that, eventually having a trippy dream journey to the moon where you meet the ancient hero and find out you’re his reincarnation, and you recover the sword, which is intelligent and will talk to you! Did I say AWESOME? Because this is the definition of awesome. You return to earth and sneak your way to the dragon’s lair, where the dragon has massed an army of hobgoblins and orcs. Why? To kick ass! You find a hidden path all Hobbit style that leads you to the dragon’s lair. There you encounter her hatchlings, which you dispatch posthaste, and then it’s a battle to the death with the dragon. Oh, and you also get this special circlet from the ancient hero that protects you from dragon fire, natch, and so you are able to basically waltz right up to her and stone cold execute her ass. Then you can pretend to be the dragon and disband the army out front…or use the wand of fireballs in the dragon’s horde to rain down death.
Whew…man, what an adventure! And at the end you have the sword, your war wolves, the horse, and you’ve avenged your people! Goddamn! I loved that adventure so much. It came to live inside the Expert box, a permanent part of my collection. I had it for a number of years, even into my college years. It came with me when I went to school. I had it after I dropped out, and I am pretty sure I had it until about ten years ago and then I lost it. I don’t know where I put it, but I’m sure in my multiple moves since then it ended up in some trash pile, but man do I miss it. Maybe someday I’ll eBay a copy of it and have it back, but maybe it’s better to let the magic remain in my memories only.
Sometimes it’s better to let your twelve year old memories be the reality and let reality itself take a rain check. This is probably one of those times. Maybe that’s true of a lot of things.