So in the last installment, I had finally learned to play, and yet still didn’t manage to play much…
The End of an Era, the Beginning of Another
In 5th grade, Paul and I found ourselves in separate homerooms, but remain good friends. Throughout the year we would get together, go on adventures, watch the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, and live eat and breatheD&D without actually playing it.
The summer between 5th and 6th grade I remember being somewhat terrified as it was the last summer before I went into The Junior High… It was going to be a big change from having a class that stuck together for almost everything, and suddenly being dropped in a new building where you were almost entirely on your own.
I remember that the last 2 weeks of that summer before 6th grade started, Paul and I would have sleep overs at one or the other’s house. Every night. It was pretty crazy and I’m surprised and thankful our parents put up with it. I also remember playing a couple of games of D&D with him, some of the few times we actually played the pencil and paper game.
I also remember my mom joining in for a game that ended in a rather gruesome encounter (my doing, not hers) that leaves me a touch embarrassed today. She probably doesn’t remember it now, but I remember her cringing a bit as the hill giant met his tortured end. She didn’t complain though, and she didn’t ask me to stop later. She has always been a very good sport.
It turns out that 6th grade wasn’t horrible. Paul was in a separate building, but I made new friends in my new homeroom. We still got together throughout the year, but by the summer of 6th grade, Paul and I would gradually begin to head off in our own directions as young friends often do. We would remain friends for as long as we lived near each other, well into high school.
With Paul in a different homeroom and our interests gradually drifting apart, it meant that, no longer having a best friend attached at the hip, I would begin to make more friends. Amongst them was Justin.
Justin and I were friends back in 3rd grade and had lost touch. But in 6th grade we were put in the same homeroom together. We quickly reconnected and became great friends.
Justin and I shared a passion for Commodore 64 games, and Dungeons & Dragons. If I remember correctly, I introduced it to him via a map of a game I was trying to make. We became good friends for the whole of 6th grade. On the other hand, we did a LOT of playing of video games, reading about D&D, discussing D&D, and planning to play D&D. Oddly enough, despite our obsession with it, I don’t think I ever actually played a game of D&D with him though.
There’s not a whole lot to that chapter as far as Dungeons & Dragons goes, but it was influential and I had a really good time just talking about Dungeons & Dragons with Justin. I think that’s one of the things that makes a great hobby. Just talking about it with like minded individuals can often be as fun as actually participating in it.
Setting the Stage for Actual Play
I’m going to take us out of the Dungeons & Dragons timeline briefly, and talk about summer vacations and what I would do on them. While I did a lot of the normal kid stuff, climbing trees, pretend adventures, various pick up games of football and baseball, the thing I liked the most was playing board games on our front steps with the other neighborhood kids.
We played a bunch of the games that were popular back in the ’80’s: Trouble, Headache, Pay Day, Monopoly (never finished a game), etc. I think my favorite board game was probably Dungeon. I remember playing the heck out of that, even though I typically only played the Super Hero trying for a big score on the 6th level. Anyway, we played a lot of board games, well before I discovered my obsession with D&D.
It’s an important little tidbit, as it sets the stage for where I would finally play Dungeons & Dragons.
…with Both Feet
During the summer between 6th and 7th grade, Paul and I weren’t hanging out much. Justin was an indoor guy and lived far enough away that it was difficult to get together with him. So I was spending a lot more time with the neighborhood kids than I had in previous summers.
Somewhere along the summer of 1986, the girl who lived across the street, Barbie, and I started talking about Dungeons & Dragons. I believe she had a sister who worked at Waldenbooks, who got her a deal on the Basic and Expert sets, and the Monster Manual II. I’m not entirely sure how it started, but rather than just talking about it as I had for the past 2-3 years, we actually started playing.
My brother Mitch, and another neighbor Jeff, joined in, and we had our first group. Dungeons & Dragons quickly became our front porch game. Occasionally, we would move the picnic table into the garage if it was raining. Sometimes Philip, Jeff’s older brother would join in, as well as our neighbor Dan, another good friend.
We played for days on end, on and off for the entire summer. If I recall correctly, we mostly played adventures that we had drawn up ourselves. These adventures amounted to little more than random collections of rooms and a random collection of monsters. There wasn’t a whole lot of story telling, but that didn’t bother us. Rolling those dice and leveling up our characters was plenty fun.
We each ran about 2 characters at a time, and in retrospect got a TON of the rules wrong. I don’t think I could ever really decipher how to track time in the game. At one point we were misinterpreting the stats in the Monster Manual 2 under the XP section and returning hit points to the characters when they killed a monster. And while we never tried to carry anything really stupid, encumbrance was never a concern.
But we had an absolutely fantastic time.
When the summer came to an end, we were still riding a pretty crazy D&D high, or at least I was. It was a long wait until the following summer…