Saving Throws and story
Back when I was a young pup, we got the three white book box set of D&D. Actually, my buddy Ed Smith got it. Todd Downing and I were just brought over to play. We did not understand those rules at all but we were very excited. Role playing just didn’t make any sense to us yet. We thought that the point was to make a map with different symbols on them and as we walked along the map, we’d fight whatever monster was represented by that symbol. The world was shiny then. We were in 7th grade and had all just read the Lord of the Rings, The Dark is Rising, and Dune.
We wanted to experience story in a new way, beyond anything we’d ever dreamed. And this game did not disappoint. Oh, we meandered around a while, trying to understand Chainmail, figuring that maybe we needed miniatures to understand D&D. But that just proved to make things even more confusing
Eventually we worked out the basic concepts and things got even more fun. We were a creative lot, making up stories about wizarding apprentices who became hunch backed because they were turned into an eraser as a punishment then used to fix a magic scroll by the absent minded wizard. That one had us laughing so hard we thought we were going to throw up. We designed deadly dungeons that no one could survive and found out just how hard they were to play. We began to haunt gaming stores and buying anything we could from places like TSR and Judges Guild and buying magazines like The Dungeoneer and Dragon.
We were progressing through junior high and by ninth grade had a free period each day. Like recess but we were much too mature for recess. We started spending our free class in the biology teacher’s room where we could play games as long as we were not too rambunctious. Oh, we were true Kentucky nerds, living on Mt. Dew and Ho Hos, rolling dice and snickering every time we made a saving throw or killed a kobold. We were living the dream.
Then the biology teacher mentioned to us that her brother was moving to the area for his wife to go to school, and that he played that game as well. She asked if we’d be interested in meeting him and we were all over that. A grown-up who understood the magic of this new world. How could we not?
We arranged to meet in one of the meeting rooms at the public library. We could get there by bike and it was a public place, after all. There was much excitement when we met Merle Davenport. He had played the game in Ann Arbor, MI with the likes of Jennell Jaquays and the folks at Judges Guild. Merle had even written some articles for The Dungeoneer. We were in awe.
Merle helped us roll up some characters and showed us the newly published first hardback of D&D rules: The Monster Manual. I remember holding that book in my hands, mesmerized by the art work, carefully turning the pages and seeing the wealth of knowledge hidden inside.
We gamed with Merle a few times over the year, but soon enough he moved away. Other gamers came into our life and we kept digging into new stories, building new characters and delving into the worlds of our imagination. Those were magical years, formative years in the way of story and adventure.
I still have that character sheet 30+ years later. I was a ranger who stole a baby Manticore, hoping to raise it as my own. The mother nearly did us in, but we prevailed.
We grew older, brought in new friends, evolved as humans (slightly). There are many lessons from those days, but this one bears remembering.
As my good friend Ted Huffman learned — when you are facing a door with a skull glyph on it, I don’t care how good a thief you are, there is a chance you’ll fail your saving throw and the whole party is screwed.
“He broke the glyph upon the door, he failed his save, a fucking four”
From the sixth grave of Van Judas, thief extraordinaire
Also dead that campaign: Englase, the Samurai (me) and Shardik the wizard (Ed Smith). The GM was Tony Howard.
Those were spectacular days — moments that shaped my view of the world.
Every story I write, every character I bring to life have a beginning in those raucous days of running from skeletons and cutting purses. Life has always been a grand adventure and story will make it always so for me.