Unearthed Arcana – My History With D&D.

I don’t know why I started thinking about this. I was just sitting at my “desk” on my side of the laundry room and I was looking over my gaming books. Sadly my collection isn’t what it used to be but it still fills five milk crates that line the back of my “desk” like make-shift book shelves. The milk crates are packed with everything from Dungeons & Dragons’ first edition to small independent super hero games that have names that I can’t remember off the top of my head. I have my favorite genres, but all and all I love gaming.

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I haven’t played in 10 years and just saying that feels so wrong and surreal. It doesn’t feel like that much time has slipped away because my memories and love for gaming still feel so strong. Even though I haven’t rolled a dice in a decade it is still who I am. I still concoct campaign ideas and think of new characters almost daily. Heck, when I see an old book for sale in my travels online or in the real world I still buy it if the price is right. When I get that aged and weathered tome in my hands I devour it’s knowledge like a starving Mindflayer.

But how did I become this way? Where did it all start?

As far as gaming and Dungeons & Dragons goes it all started without me really knowing it. There are a couple different things that lend themselves to my whole origin story concerning role playing games. The first one is by far the easiest to explain. As I said in my First Frights guest post over at the lovey blog Just Dread-full, ever since I can remember I longing studied the beautifully painted covers of fantasy and science fiction book covers. The covers encapsulated worlds and characters and the adventures that were unfolding within the pages the covers embraced. With sword, axe, or staff in hand I placed myself into the scenarios that I was creating by simply studying these books. And this was all happening before I could even read these books or truly comprehend what was going on in those yellowed and worn pages.

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Another factor is something that all of the people of my generation share. We were all spoon feed fantasy, action, adventure, and science fiction on a daily and weekly basis. Most of the cartoons and toys of the ’80s era had a back drop of the fantastic. Even things that had a high “realistic” factor dipped their toes into the waiting pool of fantasy and Sci-Fi. A show like G.I. Joe which is some what grounded in the real world (kinda) had a back drop of super science with lasers, crazy computers, and parachutes that instantly unfurled to save thousands of lives. (Ok, the last one was a joke for anyone who watched the show.) but on top of all of that the show and the awesome comic series took on other completely batshit crazy ideas about King Arthur, hidden races and creatures, and ninjas.

G.I. Joe is just one example of dozens of things that were aimed right at kids that defied genre and structure. Masters of the Universe is another example of blending the fantasy and Sci-Fi genres. Believe me, there is no amount of time to give everything its due in one post. Even as I write this my mind is swirling with a countless number of shows, cartoons, and toys that defined a generation and allowed me to think other worldly.  All of these shows were our bibles, our new myths, our folklore. To most people these ideas and “beliefs” are discarded over time but to some they are tattooed on our brains and psyches, permanently there forever.

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It just wasn’t what was on after school television or Saturday mornings. I remember Disney’s Robin Hood having such an impact on me which I discussed in a past post about if I was a Furry or not. The furry thing is still up in the air but what I do know is that it set the stage for me to be a fantasy geek. On top of that I loved the animated Hobbit and Lord of the Rings and I lived for the Sunday morning showings of Sinbad movies on the local stations. When my dad bought one of the first VCRs  on the market, the three movies he bought at top dollar were Dark Crystal, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Star Wars…I really didn’t have a chance. I was all about fantasy and to be honest Star Wars was the only thing Sci-Fi I loved…well loved isn’t a strong enough word. But lets be honest Star Wars is as much science fiction as it is fantasy. Which is maybe why I never really got into Star Trek…but that’s a discussion for another day.

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The last big factor that I will say contributed to my life long love affair with fantasy and dice is one that took me years to realize. Until I got into high school my parents had friends that they met while they were still in high school. We would go and visit them at their house every other month, they would come visit at our house the other months. The couple had no children at the time and who they were as people really sailed under my radar until years later when I realized I had missed a wonderful opportunity.

My parent’s friends were the protoplasmic version of who I became. In the late ’70s and early ’80s people of their ilk didn’t really have a name and to me they were just really cool adults. In their living room they had large black, shiny shelves that screamed fashion forward in that era. The shelves were lined with books that I can’t even take a guess at now and with hundreds of records. Records that have also left a lasting impression on me today. They were metal heads but for all outwards appearances they looked normal until they would travel to Baltimore to catch concerts or go to Hammer Jacks. The only evidence I had about these escapades came from pictures they had lining their hallway like badges of honor mixed within family portraits and pictures of their dogs. I can remember one Christmas when they saw where I was heading and got me the first Skid Row and Warrant albums.

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Also on their shelves, mixed in with the books and records were statues of dragons and Egyptian gods like Bast and Anubis. With the childhood I had this was 100% and I think the normalcy of it all was what blinded me to the facts. Whenever I came over they would pull out their Star Wars figures for me to play with. Let me say that again, these were adults and they allowed me to play with their Star Wars collection. For me now that blows my mind but like I said as a kid it didn’t sink in, I thought everyone was like this. All of the other adults I knew had kids and there were toys around, so either you had children or not but there were toys either way. They even had ColecoVision and I stayed up playing games for hours while the adults stayed in the kitchen drinking wine coolers and talking about whatever adults talked about in the ’80s.

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But for how open and generous they were with their toys there was one room that I couldn’t go into without adult supervision. They had an office that doubled as a guest bedroom. On one wall was a small bed and nightstand, on the other wall stood a drafting table and shelves that wrapped around in an “L” and covered some of the adjoining wall next to the closet. These shelves housed their large fantasy and science fiction book collection. There was a section of books on those shelves that at the time I didn’t know what they were but they had the same awesome and beautiful art work I grew up admiring. It was because of this that I didn’t give them a second thought. There were also painted lead miniatures displayed with all of the books and again it all seemed normal to me.As time went by in the early ’80s small colorful and enticing figures began appearing on the shelves. I wanted to play with these figures so bad but they were 100% for display purposes only. They were the Dungeons & Dragons figures and soon I would have a couple of my own to play with.

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I remember when Dragonlance was released in 1984, it was an event. My mom was reading the books as they were released as was my parent’s friends. My mom would stay up until ungodly hours reading them and would fill me in on the epic tales, until I started reading them a few years later myself. It was something that consumed all of their lives for a period. For a few Halloween parties afterward they would dress as characters and my parent’s friends even named their new puppy at the time Tika. The fervor was still going full-bore up until the “Twins” novels were released. Again, I really didn’t have a choice in what I was to become.

As the years have gone by my parents and them drifted apart. Mostly due to them finally having a child of their own and with the wife having health issues that sadly took her life a few years ago. I really wish I could go back in time or in some way let them know how much they impacted my life. Because when I close my eyes and think about D&D one image comes to the surface first, The Unearthed Arcana. It was one of the books that they had on their shelf that the had recently bought so it was displayed with upmost importance. That beautiful artwork of Jeff Easley is forever seared into my brain as the image of D&D.

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It was enough of a push that it had me combing the aisles of the local hobby store on main street and seeking out Dungeons and Dragons and checking the books out of the library. While in elementary school I found a kindred spirit and since we couldn’t be bothered to really learn the rules we made up our own and played either with the first waxy bland dice of the time or would run around the woods and pretend to be fighting monsters and mages. Years before we knew what LARPing was.

Speaking of LARPing  I remember when I was in Cub Scouts my parents would take we along to the local Den Leader meetings. I would quietly sit in the back of the room reading comics, looking at my WWF trading cards, or playing with toys (which I carried everything in an old faux leather 8-track  case with the cartage holders removed). All of a sudden people burst in the room wearing cloaks and chainmail battling with swords and shields. Someone even fired a foam covered arrow at a dude who deflected it with his shield. I was awe struck and it was my first glimpse of the world of Live Action Role Playing. They used to play it at the local college and these players sat and talked with the Den Leaders about how much fun it was and how its a great learning opportunity because they crafted their own armor and weapons. Sad to say it did as well as a lead balloon with the stuffy rednecks in my town.

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It wasn’t until years later when I was a freshman in high school that I fully embraced role playing games. I had just finished reading The Crystal Shard novel by R.A. Salvatore and my first character was a Drizzit clone right down to the scimitars. This is where I feel that I need to point out that no one else at that table knew what a Drow was let alone who Drizzit was. Now of course the books and the character are classics but I like to think of myself as a trendsetter…thank you very much. From there I branched out and started to play any type of game I could. Since then I have played in hundreds of games and have had dozens of characters. It all seems so fresh in my mind that It’s hard to believe that’s been 10 years since I flung some dice and caved some monster’s skull in or made a sweet skill check and saved the day.

I really miss the days of getting together with my friends every Saturday night and vanquishing evil or saving a poor hamlet from tyrannical overlords. It is a goal of mine to one day have the opportunity to roll some dice again. Akin to my comic collecting, the world had kept turning and left me behind. But now I have embarked on a more harrowing and dangerous quest than ever before…raising kids.

I’m sorry. I probably sound like a broken record with all of this D&D nonsense and nostalgia. It is a topic I have covered many time before and I apologize but I was just having a moment of reflection and I needed to put pen to paper….or fingers to keyboard….or whatever.This article is kinda a companion piece to my “Please Hollywood, Don’t Make Another Horrible D&D Movie” so please check that one out so if you did like what you read, please check out some of my other posts regarding D&D and role playing games.

Please Hollywood, Don’t Make Another Horrible D&D Movie!

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5 Ways a DUNGEONS & DRAGONS Movie Could Be Awesome!

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The Brief But Magical Life Of Dungeons & Dragons Toys – Part One.

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The Brief But Magical Life Of Dungeons & Dragons Toys – Part Two.

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6 thoughts on “Unearthed Arcana – My History With D&D.

  1. Great article, lovely to see the cover of Unearthed Arcana again, must be almost 30 years since I laid eyes on that.

    For my own part, I fell in love with the idea of RPGs after reading Tolkien sometime around 1981 but the sort of area I grew up in wasn’t the sort of area you would declare an interest in that sort of thing so I had to content myself with the solo-adventure Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson Fighting Fantasy books. It wasn’t until a few years later that I found a group of friends as peculiar as I was.

    I had quite a collection of RPG books and Games Workshop figures (all painstakingly painted of course) but I got rid of the lot in the early ’90s.

    Thanks for bringing back some memories,
    John.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing your story John. It was hard to connect with like minded people back in the day. I too thrived on the One on One books by TSR and the Steve Jackson books. Just know you are never alone in your peculiar endeavors my friend. Cheers and Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I adore this series and I can’t wait for the next time a D&D memory strikes and you take us on another lyrical and nostalgic trip into the past. Seriously, these posts make my day! Also, I 100% agree with you. I think Star Wars is, by far, more fantasy than it is sci-fi. Sure, there are elements of science fiction to it and people often place it there first (’cause, you know, spaceships) but I think it more fully fits in the fantasy category.

    Liked by 1 person

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