Monday, 20 October 2008

First Experiences

Let me tell you about the first time I played a fully fledged role playing game. (I had messed around with Advanced Fighting Fantasy a bit before that.)

It was the Red Box Basic D&D set, and I was about 11 or 12. My friend Adam's big brother had a copy of the game (secondhand all the same - I think he'd got hold of it at some bring-and-buy sale somewhere) and was keen on playing. As he didn't have many friends, we ended up being his guinea pigs, and agreed to roll up characters. We knew at least what that meant, because we'd already been playing Fighting Fantasy adventure game books for some years at that point.

My character was a halfling. I don't believe he had a name. For some reason I think I wrote 'Halfling Thief' on the character sheet, which must mean that at that stage we were unaccepting of the advanced concept of race-as-class. (One thing I've noticed about Classic D&D is that the wisdom and coolness of race-as-class is something you learn many years after you start playing; when you were a kid, you thought it was stupid and that the AD&D system made much more sense. Youth is wasted on the young.) The halfling thief was rather like Tasselhoff from the Dragonlance series in my mind; I have to admit I loved the original Dragonlance trilogy and borrowed it from the local library several times to re-read. My halfling thief had a topknot and was utterly fearless. He also had a DEX of 16 - that's the only stat that I can recall. (Funnily enough I can even recall that roll - the dice, face up on my friend's brother's desk, showing 6, 6, and 4.)

I believe Adam played a dwarf. There was also somebody else present, but I don't remember who they were or what character they had. Whoever it was died within the first ten minutes - more on that shortly. There were some NPCs too, to beef up the numbers: a wizard, another dwarf, and I think an elf. For some reason my friend's brother also decided to give us one magic item to help us on our way: a ring of invisibility.

We set off into a cave network and were immediately set upon by a carrion crawler. There ensued a furious melee in which the nameless, faceless stranger saw his character die with horrible speed. My halfling thief got in a solid blow with his handaxe, dealing the full 6 points of damage. A few rounds later and the carrion crawler was dead. Our first victory! We descended a stone staircase and entered a large chamber.

This large chamber was full of gold and other treasures. But before we could get our hands on it, we realised that at the far end there was a red dragon. Behind the monster was a tunnel - the obvious only way forward! But how to get to it?

The red dragon immediately noticed us, and warned us not to move any closer, nor further away, lest we be burned to a crisp. So we spent at least an hour (in my memory anyway - in reality it could have been as little as five minutes) in parley with the thing. Gradually we realised that we were at stalemate. We couldn't convince the dragon to let us past into the dungeon proper, but nor could we convince it to let us go back to the surface. And yet it wouldn't kill us, either.

Words can't express how frustrating the whole thing was. My friend's brother was a terrible DM. A few hours prior I hadn't even known what a DM was, and even I could tell. It was suddenly very clear. And yet what could we do? He was the only one with rulebooks and dice. So we gamely played along.

Finally I hit on an idea. I convinced the NPC dwarf to put on the ring of invisibility. He could then try to sneak around behind the dragon. My plan was that the dragon would notice (all dragons can detect invisibility, duh, don't you know anything?), burn the dwarf to a crisp, and in the meantime the rest of us would leg it. It seemed a capital idea.

The NPC dwarf gladly obliged. As planned, before he'd got half way towards the dragon, the monster had noticed him and was demanding for us to give him a reason why he shouldn't fry us to a crisp. I vividly remember offering the NPC dwarf up as an unwilling sacrifice, telling the dragon that he should go ahead and feast on the bugger because "Dwarf tastes of chicken", but my plea was ignored and sure enough we were fried to a crisp. My friend's brother made sure we rolled for saving throws, and then made a big show of calculating the damage from the dragon's breath - as if it mattered when my nameless halfing thief had 5 hit points. And so my first tryst with D&D ended.

There's a moral in there somewhere, I'm sure, although I don't know what. Looking back now I think it's a miracle I'm still at all interested in this hobby, but I suppose there's a lot to be said for the fact that it allowed me to pretend to be a halfling thief confronting a dragon. I know of no other hobby which can claim to allow somebody to do such imaginitive things, and I suppose that's what's kept me at it.


  1. That's a pretty quintessential experience, noisms. You had a dungeon and a dragon -- what more can an up-and-coming roleplayer ask for? I hear ya on the terrible DM situation, though. If anything, it sounds like it motivated (rather than discouraged) you.

  2. I remember my first game. It was at the school wargames society and the wargamers were all incredibly snooty about dungeons and dragons. two sixth formers ran it (why two? I don't have any idea), and the party was about 8 third and fourth years all ranged around the DMs behind a circle of tables. I was given a thief to play, like you; also like you I don't think he had a name. My mate was an illusionist with colour spray and 1hp. There was a door and a dusty corridor, but that's kind of as far as I went, because I reasoned that - if I was a thief - I should do some thieving, and chose to try and steal from the dwarf fighter (my first experience was, oddly, AD&D first - I got to Basic afterwards. He and the rest of the party ganged up on me, trussed me in ropes and left my dangling from the door frame. I sat the rest of the adventure out, but was immediately hooked, and came home and invented my own version for my 10-year old brother (I couldn't remember the name of kobolds, so called them 'bullins', which still gives us a laugh today. Sorry for the long post. But the memories... (I had no idea what a kobold looked like, musch less a bullin, but did that matter?)

  3. Patrick: Well, exactly! It was kind of fun, though, and my friend's brother became a much better DM in the end.

    Viriconium: Did you just pluck 'bullin' from thin air?

  4. Thin air! Yes. The bullins were all congregated in a big cave. I don't know what my poor brother played - we had no rule book. I just drew everything out in felt tip pen in an exercise book in what I thought approximated the game I'd just played. I imagine I thought bullins were little trolls or something. And this you won't believe - our babysitter that night heard us playing, and thought it sounded like the game he'd just bought for his kids and didn't understand, which was...basic D&D, Frank Mentzer cover. He lent it to us on the proviso we taught his kids. So I went from being irritating AD&D thief to DM of the basic game. Is it possible even to express that mix of feelings generated by seeing that cover? It did - still does - make me dizzy with excitement. What's so fantastic about od&d to me is that you could just make it up yourself, and it didn't spoil it - even bullins didn't spoil it - it made it *better*. The game could take anything you threw at it. Sorry for the long comment - getting carried away!

  5. I was very interested in D&D as a kid, and read and re-read my parents' unused copy of the basic rulebook. Unfortunately, nobody would play with me except for my little sister, and with her there was a catch! She had no interest in being a halfling or an elf, she would only play if she could be a My Little Pony character.

    So, finally, desperation drove me to invent some stats for My Little Ponies. I don't remember if I just used the regular rules and we said that they were Ponies, or if I actually modified the rules to reflect adventurers of a more... pastel and equine nature. I *do* remember that I invented special weapons for Moongold the Pony Fighter (or whatever): bladed, front facing spurs to affix to the forelegs...

    I gotta say, we had a pretty good time.

  6. Fitzerman: Heh. Luckily I only ever had an older sister, and she would never have been interested in D&D! ;)