Wednesday, July 1, 2009

D&D and Me Part 1

Any who know me will tell you that I am an avid D&D player. D&D is of course, Dungeons and Dragons, a role-playing game originally published by TSR, and currently published by Wizards of the Coast. It is not the only role-playing system I have used, but it is so iconic that almost all of the role-playing games I have been involved in have been referred to as "D&D". The sole exception is the Star Wars RPG which is referred to as the Star Wars Game(s) though they are still noted as happening on "D&D night". This blog series will cover some of my memories of past games and my involvement with my biggest hobby.

First let me begin by saying that my love of Fantasy and my love of D&D are hopelessly intertwined but still very separate things. My love of Fantasy started with such influences as He-Man, Star Wars, and Saturday morning cartoons, not to mention C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and Lloyd Alexander. My love of D&D started with a Nintendo Entertainment System.

We were living in Amarillo and I was about 8 at the time (give or take a year). My older brother Derrick had come to live with us (this is another story in itself, but the short version is he is my half brother who moved in with us when he turned 18 and his mother no longer had custody). Derrick got a job at a local video store which rented Nintendo Systems and games. We didn't own a Nintendo because my mother thought it was a waste of money (she was wrong) and was worried that my younger brother Daniel and I would vegetate in front of it if we had one instead of playing outside or reading (she was right). Several of my friends had Nintendos, including two families on our street, so I knew what I was missing. Unfortunately I was often cast as the observer because, hey, it wasn't my Nintendo. I used this injustice to lobby for a Millwee Nintendo, but the bill never made it to the floor as it was crushed time and time again by my unsympathetic mother. Derrick, to be kind to his much younger siblings, occasionally brought one of the rental Nintendos home for us to enjoy. He would always bring 2 games with it, and one day he brought home a game titled Simon's Quest.

Simon's Quest was the sequel to a game called Castlevania, and nobody I knew had it. I loved it. The premise is as follows: when defeating Dracula in the first game our hero Simon was cursed. Now he must gather Dracula's remains and resurrect him and defeat him once more to rid himself of his curse. The game remains one of my favorite video games to this day. It had a good story. It had puzzles. There were towns where people lied to you, and shops where you could buy better equipment. The more you played, the more powerful your character Simon became. It was amazing, and it also had most of the elements of a pen and paper RPG though I didn't know it at the time. I didn't beat the game although Derrick brought it home more than once. I can still remember the triumph when, years later and now a Nintendo owner, I finally beat it. At this point I have played the game through about a dozen times, and am over due for another.

We moved to Sugar Land in the fall of 1989 and I did not re-adjust well. My mother noticed a lack of friends and my unhappiness and that Christmas we got a Nintendo from Santa, with a suggestion from my Mom that I try to start a Nintendo Club. Again, my transition to Sugar Land and the effect of the Nintendo Club is for another blog, for my purposes here the important part is that I now owned a Nintendo. Simon's Quest was acquired and beaten as mentioned above, and I quickly began searching for similar games. Zelda, Dragon Warrior I and II, Metroid, Final Fantasy, all were devoured hungrily along with others. Simon's Quest had sparked an ember of interest that blazed into a roaring fire, and I began looking outside the world of Nintendo for my Fantasy game fix.

Sometime during my fifth grade year, I can't remember exactly, I discovered a book. My mother regularly took me and my brother to the library, we would cycle like clock-work through 3 or 4 different branches, and on one of our library trips --in a four sided rotating rack of mouldering paperbacks-- I found a book titled Dragons of Spring Dawning by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. I had read some science fiction at this point, but most of my "fantasy" reading had been confined to the classics and mythology. Dragons of Spring Dawning was a surprise. There was reference to sex, and betrayal. Characters died seemingly meaningless deaths. The bad guys were evil. Not evil because the author told us so, but evil because the author showed us so. Even the victory seemed Pyrrhic. The book was the third in a trilogy and of course made references to events in the first 2 books which I had not read at the time. In a way it was fun for me, trying to figure out what had happened through hints and comments spread throughout the book. It turns out that this trilogy was (loosely) based on the notes from D&D campaign the authors had been in. It was also published under the label of Dragonlance, which was published by TSR, the publisher of D&D.

One day in the fifth grade I was over at my friend Matt's house attending his birthday party and he looked around and said, "Hey guys, want to play a computer game?" Now Matt had an Apple 2, and as far as I knew the only game for the Apple 2 was Oregon Trail. Doubt must have flitted across my face because he look at me and said, "Come on Jacob. It's like Dragonlance." Well, that sold me. A few minutes later the six of us were clustered around Matt's drab grey Apple 2 playing a game called Curse of the Azure Bonds. Azure Bonds was a computer game published by, wait for it, TSR and was basically Dungeons and Dragons rendered into computer code. You could create up to six characters, and everyone at the party created their own. It was meant to be a solo game; instead we gathered around Matt and instructed him what we wanted our personal bundle of pixels to do in a fight. It was an extremely slow and tedious way to play but I loved it. I felt an innate connection with my 30 or so pixels on the Apple 2 screen; both a sense of proud ownership and vague personality displacement. It was great. I was being picked on at school and never seemed to do anything right socially but here I was portraying a character that was killing monsters with a knife.

Maybe it was all those Saturday morning cartoons; maybe it my fascination with all things Star Wars. Maybe it was the books that I gravitated towards. A love of mythology and folklore that persists to this day. Whatever it was, that afternoon clustered around Matt's computer I felt right at home. And I knew that I had found something that I could excel at.


  1. Hi Jake,

    Small correction Curse of the Azure Bonds was published by SSI (Strategic Simulations, Inc.)

  2. Indeed it was Simeon Pilgrim. SSI was the publisher, TSR just allowed the rights. For some reason SSI just slipped my mind (of course I'm writing about things that happened 20 years ago). I stand corrected and will note it as such when I write Part 2. Thanks for reading!

  3. ...and where is Part 2? I want to hear about games in school libraries.