Thursday, October 18, 2012

Growing Up in the d20 Dark Ages (Part 2)

Do you remember your first D&D game? I do, and I had a blast. And it was actually AD&D, sort of.

For sometime I had begged my brother to run a game for me. His high school group had fallen apart and he'd gone to college. On the breaks and weekends he returned, I'd pester him. Finally, soon after I turned 10 (the age requirement for the game), he finally gave in.

I rolled up a character: Havoc, a 1st level dwarf fighter with 7 hp. I don't remember the rest of his stats. I do remember him explaining the ability score definitions. I had a hard time figuring out Constitution, Dexterity, and Charisma. We had a short vocabulary building exercise. He didn't tell me the mechanics behind each score (i.e. an 18 dexterity gives you a +4 bonus to AC), just that the higher the score, the better. Furthermore, I didn't play a dwarf because his abilities--I didn't know his abilities such as seeing in the dark, bonuses against giants and poison. I just wanted to play a short tough guy. My brother even let me adjust Havoc's scores, lowering a couple other stats to increase my strength. I had no idea that this was an optional rule from D&D, not AD&D.

In fact, I knew almost zilch about the rules. In fact, my brother really didn't teach me the rules, he taught me how to play. The rules were secondary, to be learned as we went. He did most of the die-rolling from behind the DM screen. I think I only got to roll for damage and saving throws. My own decisions, not necessarily my character's abilities, determined what happened in the game. The rules remained backstage, behind the curtain, behind the DM's screen.

Looking back, I think this is great way to introduce somebody, especially if their young, to RPGs. They won't get bogged down by game mechanics. Instead, the get to focus on what's happening in the game, in their imagination.

Havoc's adventure was simple: a village a day or two to the north called Dukna needed help fighting off monster raids from the forest. So I decided to travel there to fight the monsters. I learned quickly that Havoc lived in a very different time and place. There were no maps to purchase at the "general store"--it was a Dark Age! There wasn't even a road leading north to Dukna--it was a Dark Age! I even tried speaking in "thees" and "thous" because, well, it was a Dark Age!

My brother never told me the names of the monsters I fought. On the way there, I got attacked by two 3-foot tall humanoids during the night. I think they were kobolds, maybe. I still remember the image of the two horned creatures silhouetted on a hill, silhouetted against the moonlit sky, and the eerie feeling of be watched while I camped.

When I got to Dukna, I got myself hired to deal with the monster and ventured into the forest. I ambushed and killed four orcs (I think--maybe they were hobgoblins), got wounded, and had to rest for a couple days. The village got raided again and somebody mentioned I wasn't doing my job.

On the next foray I ambushed another four orcs (again, I think). An ogre led them. I used the same tactic I did with the first bunch of orcs--shoot with my crossbow until seen, and then engage in melee. The ogre sent his minions after me. I killed them and then charged the ogre himself. I told my brother I wanted to run and jump on the ogre, hacking with my axe.

He shrugged, rolled some dice, and said that I'd made it. I even somehow knocked the ogre off balance. The ogre fell down, but was still fighting. Still, in a round or two Havoc stood triumphant on the dead ogre's body.

I really wanted to keep playing. I had no idea if that ogre was the leader or not. A lair must have been out there somewhere, right? In the next session I began a different adventure. But I still didn't really know if I had cleared the forest of trouble and made Dukna safe.

So that was my first taste of adventure via D&D. And I'm still hooked.


What was your first RPG experience like? Are there things you remember to this day? Are their gaming philosophies that you learned that continue to influence your gaming style? Mine was to keep the rules in the background as much as possible, and hardly ever let your players know what they are up against.


  1. I always had to run the games, then my friends moved away and I was stuck with Fighting Fantasy books and such. I would make stacks of index cards with monsters on them and make characters. I would pull a card and my character would fight whatever monster was on there. Sad really, but great fun in retrospect.
    Coming to the table as a player I was always wayyyyy curious about the details of every room and every environment. Always looking for something to help me out later in the game.
    Great blog! I just started mine - Take care!

  2. I had resd the dragonlance first few books. I was 12 or 13. i know how you fell about dragonlance but I REALY wanted to play a kender... (I will pause for a moment so you can yell at me and check how crasy I am)... go on a little longer I am waitinog... done ? ok a few second more... ok let me continue.

    I had a friend (10 years older than me) who accept to let me play one but outside the dragonlance world. (looking back, I understand that it is the best role a 13 years old can play in a group of 20something). The campaing last for month.

    I did nothing except attract trouble (see? perfect role). Since I have join a (almost epic) group I have started level 12 I think. but by the time the group split (you know adulthood, jobs etc.) My DM made me do the same character but from 1rst level. I hav played for month without knowing the rules, I understood the world, how to play a character and work in a group but had never actualy check my sheet... the DM kept it aniway because I was loosing it in my piles of hand-drew maps of the campaing...

    But knowing my character, and by restarting at 1rst level I learn to build a character not for his stats and to make him the strongest possible adventurer, but to fit in the role. Later we have switched for 3 edition and this is then that I have realy started to look at the rules.

    I don't think the edition matter, it is only a tool. The important thing isn't TAC0 or AC, it is to make that damn golbin bleed.


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