Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My First Love: Dungeons and Dragons - Basic Set

Hooee... my mundane life is finally removing its needle-toothed maw from my throat, and I can finally start appreciating the finer things again. My apologies, but when you're a daddy and a husband you must do what you must... like cleaning lip gloss out of cat fur.

Now, like Jules Verne before me, I am going to regale you with tales of a forgotten time. A time when it took only five minutes to roll up a character, and about as long for that character to suffer a horrifying and bloody death... a time when you had to roll 3d6 and place them in the order rolled on your sheet,  not 37d6, dropping the not-sixes, and  placing the totals on your cat's bum if you felt like it...  A time when Elfing, Dwarfing, and Halflingery  were jobs you could be proud of...

"How's Elfing been so far Bob?"

"The pay sucks, but it's starting to look up now that I've gone freelance..."

I'm talking of course about the original Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set... better known as "The Red Box."

There's been a lot of buzz these days about the New D&D Red Box, and it had me travelling back more than twenty-seven years to the first time I set eyes on the game that would forever change my life. Since hearing the name of my sanguine hued first love I've found myself seeing faces I haven't seen in years, and watching the history of role-playing gaming unfold in the annals of my memory as I recall the clumsy, sweaty, sticky seventy-two hour gaming sessions of my youth, and the many games and gamers that blessed my life since that first moment ( ) .

I was relishing these memories on the drive over to Scipio's house for game design night, and when I arrived I mentioned them in passing as I was removing my chocolaty footwear (don't ask). Scipio, with a twinkle in his eye and a grin on his face only said two words.

"Follow me..."

His basement was unusually un-cluttered, and he brought me to a cabinet that looked to be older than the two of us put together. He said, "This.... was MINE...", and opened his treasure chest to reveal a classic gaming enthusiast's wet dream...

I responded, and I quote: "GHAARG!?"

Original Gamma World...

Star Frontiers...

HOLYSHITSHITSHITSHIT!!! Red Box right through Gold Box...

Scipio said, "Dan's leaving the wedding early so we can play. Let's roll us up some characters old school..."

And that's when I nerdgasmd.

Dan arrived just before 8pm dressed to the nines. Fucker didn't even go home to CHANGE man!  My fingers lightly brushed the cover as I spread the pages open to the character creation section, the familiar bouquet of my first love caressing my nostrils. Only two weeks before I'd found my first set of  dice... the ones that came with the Red Box I'd bought during my first trip to the Local Gaming Shop. I remember it like it was yesterday...

"If you're not going to purchase a product, do so and please leave the store. I don't want you hanging around here stealing anything."

The best part of my week was going to that local gaming shop with a pocket full of money to check out the banquet of games on those shelves... and being kicked out before I could make up my mind. How that mean old bastard remains in business to this day in spite of healthy competition (which he didn't have in those days), I haven't the faintest clue... but I digress.

It took all of five minutes to have three characters created. We decided we'd play through the dungeon in the Dungeon Master's guide, and that Scipio would run it. My character was a slightly above average fighter with an Austrian accent whose name I can't remember (keep reading to find out why). Dan created an exceptionally average Magic User named Hugo Dyck, and Scipio rolled a character that was incredibly weak but juuuuust not-weak enough, according to the rules, to justify rolling up another one. We named him Flimszi.

Scipio read the flavour text meant to introduce us to the world. We headed out from the Gold Dragon Inn, met a farmer who didn't seem too concerned about the monsters in the old Keep, and reached our destination in a confident state of mind.

That's when the 8 attacks per round Carrion Crawler handed our first level ASSES to us on a platter. By the third round Hugo was the only one left standing, and used his sleep spell...  a first level spell that puts 2d8 Hit Dice of living creatures  to sleep without a saving throw, allowing your intrepid band of heroes to merrily butcher their victims in their sleep without having to roll.

We looted the Carrion Crawler's lair, and moved immediately on to the castle. Looking through holes in the wall, we caught sight of ten Kobolds just inside the courtyard. I rushed them and killed one, at which point Scipio rolled morale for them and they all fled. Hooray! We won!

Or did we?

Hugo, the un-armoured Magic user equipped only with daggers, gives chase.  Flimzi and I, being heavily armoured, couldn't keep up. I was yelling in a nearly incomprehensible Austrian accent,"HUGO VAIT! Hugo vhat arrre you doink? Vait forrr us Hugoooo!" 

Holy crap! Hugo scores a hit and kills another Kobold! Hooray! Hooray! Hoo...oooly SHIT! They all turned on Hugo! I started yelling, "Rrrun Hugo! RrrrUN! Oh Hugo no... ohhhh.... ohhh.... oh nooo.... ohhh...."

In a single round the Kobolds did three times more damage to Hugo than he had total hit points.  Zere vere piezes of Hugo everrryvear. And that's when they noticed Flimzi and I and it turned into a Captain Hindgrinder TV dinner with a teabag sans cup.

After the TPK was over Scipio handed the reins over to me. We created three new overwhelmingly average characters and in five minutes we were headed out to find out what became of our other characters. We got to the courtyard seeing nothing more on the way than an assassinated Carrion Crawler and the annoying "I told the last idiots it was a bad idea" farmer.

We again saw the Kobolds through holes in the wall. Scipio's Thief sneaks off to check a hole in the wall that's big enough to offer passage while Dan's professional dwarf and my new Magic User, Ned "The Head" Ryerson fiddle with the door.

Scipio takes a shot and misses, revealing himself to the Kobolds. They promptly kill him, and that's when I cast my sleep spell. Now, Kobolds are 1/4 hit dice creatures so even if I roll a 1, I put four of them to sleep, and I roll two dice. They all fall asleep, we butcher them, drag all of the loot back to town (including all of our former characters' stuff), REST, and gather up Scipio's new character.

Huzzah! We finally made it to the adventure, and we've only had a TPK plus a character death. After fighting a giant bat and attacking some invulnerable crates and barrels for a while, we had to pack up for the night.

During the session we'd all had multiple moments where we laughed 'til we cried, and at that moment I felt what I felt when I first started playing tabletop RPGs... the feeling that's kept me playing them for almost 30 years. True, by today's standards the rules were pretty rough, but wasn't that silliness a part of what made the experience fun when we were kids?

We're thinking of finishing off this dungeon. Let me know if you want me to continue the story of Ned "The Head" and his stalwart companions in a future post, and also tell us a story about a memorable tabletop RPG moment.

'Til next time, share the weave...