I first discovered Dungeons & Dragons after we moved into the big house in Quail Run (classic suburb name). My brother showed up one day with something called a module, a magazine-sized booklet about some evil island full of horrors. I took a look but couldn’t make sense of it.
My brother met a guy who had these books and before you know it we were playing. In those days it was First Edition D & D, some versions you could even play yourself, like a choose your own adventure book. But if you got your hands on a Dungeonmaster’s Guide, forget it. You were on your way to nerd heaven.
I don’t know when I first ran my own game. My brother encouraged it; probably because he didn’t want to take the time to draw maps and all that. I took to it like a horse to water (that’s a thing, look it up).
It was glorious. For a loner kid like me, bullied at school and at home, here was my chance to create the kind of fantasy worlds I was reading about in books, AND gain the respect and adulation of my players. Even my brother, who is a shitfuck asshole jerk, but that’s a story for a different time.
If you don’t know how D & D works, pick up some dice, grab a Monopoly board, and then have the players tell stories about what their dog is doing, or their thimble or whatever. Then have them roll dice, and come up with something cool for when they land on Connecticut Avenue or whatever. Your imagination is free to roam. You can use as many or as few of the rules as you want. You can even throw away the dice and just do it through improv. If you have players who are smart, or funny, or interesting, the story will unfold in exciting, unusual ways, and by the end of it you’ll have an incredible tale of something that you can’t ever tell girls about, because ew gross, weirdos.
So we got the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons books, played that for a few years, then we branches out, playing other game systems: Car Wars, GURPS, Toon (a game about cartoons ala Roger Rabbit), Marvel Superheroes, and more. Each one had its own rules, its own world/s, its own language and style. And I rocked all of them.
I put players in situations that would break a weaker man. I provided drama, romance, intrigue and violence for kids that were experiencing none of that in their lives. For the nerdy kids, I offered a way to be powerful and cool, for the sporty kids, I gave them a chance to be vulnerable and kind. For the weird kids, I provided a safe space to be weird af without judgment. At times I felt like a god.
Most of the time though, I felt pretty shitty. My home life was a bummer, my school was inhospitable to a sensitive freak like me. I studied hard but I had few extracurricular activities. D & D, and the other RPG systems were my outlet.
Then I grew up. I still played, in secret basements and guys’ living rooms. But the time we had to play those games got shorter and shorter. After I was married, I pretty much let it go entirely.
Years passed. I wrote and wrote and wrote video game ideas, hoping I could parley my years of experience into something productive. Unfortunately, I was as reluctant to send my work out to any publishers as I am now.
Then my wife left me, and I took a second look. I didn’t have the books anymore, or the friends, but I got together with one old buddy and played a game or two.
Then I became a podcaster, and shit started to happen. I met a wonderful lady who had her own outlets, who didn’t shame me for being into dorky stuff, and supported my podcasting dreams.
I started a second podcast all about playtesting an RPG I created, based on a game I’d played with a guy 12 years earlier. I even put his character into the action, although we weren’t friends anymore so it was a little weird. Kind of like hanging out with a real doll version of your old best friend. (Hi Christian!)
I started writing novels based in the game’s universe, and it’s going really well. I met some really wonderful new people who help me play the game and make the podcast, and if I ever have the time and energy to fully flesh out the gamebook, I’ll have a finished product I can share with the world.
Regardless of whether I am able to monetize this thing or not, being a Dungeonmaster again (or in this case, a Loremaster — I know. It’s even cheesier) has been incredible. I get happy everytime I sit down to run a game, or design the worlds, or edit the podcast. In the offseason I’ve even gotten to play a character myself, which hasn’t happened in eons! It’s pretty great.
If you haven’t played a tabletop RPG, check out a group on meetup, or find an online group to play with. Find out how much fun it can be to escape into a fictional universe. Unlike video game RPGs, tabletops allow you to do virtually anything your heart desires (as long as the DM says it’s okay, of course). And if you really love it, get yourself a gamebook and try being a Dungeonmaster yourself. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
Stay tuned for more musings on this most dorky of hobbies. I’ll see you on the flipside, my friends!
[check out my RPG podcast over at shatteredworlds.libsyn.com and see what it’s all about. Listen to an episode there or on itunes or whatever and get at me. I’m always happy to share my DMing knowledge with anyone who needs it. I also have an art and pop culture pod called Everything is Awesome with Jeff & KC — awesomepod.squarespace.com]