I started gaming when I was about 10 years old in 1981. My brainy friends introduced me to a game that some of the older brainy kids were playing, Dungeons & Dragons. It took me a while to understand that it was different from other games.
At first, I treated it exactly like a board game. But it was one where you were expected to draw your own game board and fill it with monsters and treasure. Before I had ever actually played a real game session of D&D, I was drawing up my own dungeon. That piece of paper is long lost to the trash heap of time. I don’t think it had a theme. But I remember how simple it was. I didn’t draw it on graph paper because I didn’t yet understand that the game was usually played with miniatures and a 1-inch square graph. I didn’t even have a rule book and was just going on what my friends were telling me about the game. But it had goblins and minotaur creatures and a dragon. In each room, the monsters guarded a treasure chest filled with gold. And the dragon, of course, was sitting on a mountain of treasure. At least I had read The Hobbit and knew that much about dragons.
I remember taking this map home and showing it off to my parents. I received the usual, "That's nice, honey" and the usual reminder to do my homework. I tried playing the game with my mom or my dad and they didn't quite understand the point. To them, it probably just seemed like a maze game. But they saw that I was being creative and did not discourage me in any way.
As it turned out, my first dungeon map resembled some of the deep cavern levels of some popular D&D modules. I didn’t know squat about monster statistics or any of the game rules at all. What fascinated me was how the game resembled what I later learned to be a flow chart. The Dungeon Master explained to the players that they were in one cave and that they can choose to go out one of the exits. After the players made their choice of where to go, the DM described what happens when they go to the next cave. That freedom of choice based upon a pre-defined framework totally fascinated me.
It wasn’t as if I had only played Monopoly of Clue all of my life. I was familiar with strategic war games like Rise and Decline of the Third Reich. But I didn’t completely understand the improvisational qualities of D&D game play. I would soon learn.
In my next article, I’ll talk about the first D&D game rule book I ever owned and my first real game session.