In the summer of 1980, I had a job as a Counselor in Training at Camp Collier, a Boy Scout Camp on Lake Wampanoag in Gardner Massachusetts. I was almost 14 years old but had hit a growth spurt, finally, and was a Life Scout very close to being an Eagle. It was the first time I was away from home for an extended period and I was thinking it was going to be a very long six weeks. One of the adult counselors in our staff cabin asked us one night if we wanted to try a game, he played called Dungeons and Dragons. He had the Basic Blue Boxed Set and a copy of the Dungeon Masters Guide, Players Handbook, and Monster Manual. By the end of the six weeks I had gone on some incredible adventures, slain a host of orcs, and had an alter ego named Arthanial Fireside a ranger of some renown. I graduated from D&D to Advanced D&D. I had also read through each of the books cover to cover, twice.
After camp was over, I used some of the money I earned to buy my first set of 1st edition books and a couple of boxes of lead figures. This was back in the day when miniatures were cast metal and not plastic. I talked my best friend into buying a player’s handbook and by the start of school, my freshman year, we were recruiting a party of adventures. The Companions of Copernia were born. My sophomore English writing project was a novel called the Companions of Copernia. I spent more time during high school writing campaigns than doing homework.
We played marathon games lasting entire weekends. In the good weather we camped outside and made torches of tomato stakes and toilet paper rolls wrapped in chicken wire and soaked in kerosene. We LARPed before they invented LARPing. I converted a small basement into a game room and outfitted it with sound. My Dungeon Master notes had three-digit numbers in the side columns. Those numbers matched the analog dials on my cassette deck that had the correct sound effect or background music. We either made the effects or recorded them off LP’s (that’s vinal records for you young folks) I got at the library (a building where you could borrow books). In 1983 I organized a tournament to raise money for ALS and more than 75 people showed up. Teenagers just like us. This was our golden age, even with the controversies of the time. I grew up in a conservative multi-generational Christian household and still presided over games that my parents and grandparents would join in on. Heck my father was a police officer and satanic crimes investigator. The “adults” occasionally played with the kids so they knew exactly what we were playing.
Back in the day we were the nerds and geeks, musicians and drama club kids, and computer club enthusiasts just after Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, started building the first PC’s and operating systems. My mother saw the value in D&D and encouraged us all to cultivate imaginative and creative thought even through the days of the “satanic panic”. As it turns out, that was a good thing. Now we are presidents and CEO’s, professors and teachers, engineers, physicians, artists, parents and yes, even grandparents. Who’d a thought. (I’m still waiting…)
A lot has changed over the decades. I was in the army overseas when 2nd edition came out. Was married and expecting child number 3 when they revised it. Needless to say, I missed 2nd edition completely but was able to get Dragon Magazine in the PX in Germany. I might not have been playing in the late 80s but I was still writing like mad. I played 1st edition all the way through the 90s with a “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” view as the revised version of 2nd edition came and went.
I was hunting for new material and new mechanics by 3rd edition but was still bent out of shape that Wizards of the Coast had bought TSR in 97 when I wasn’t looking. Besides, I still had all the 1ST edition books. Then 3.5 came out and I forgave Wizards for their transgressions. Books and minis and other accessories had moved from the hobby stores to the comic book shops, and dedicated gaming shops were starting to appear in my neck of the woods. Now I was paying close attention again, with an adult perspective, and discovered the OGL had been out a few years and companies like Mongoose Publishing had some intensely cool stuff, like their “Quintessential” series.
Along with the birth of 3.5 was the birth of child number 4 and 1-3 wanted in on the RPG action, as did the rest of the neighborhood kids. So began a different type of adventure with parties of 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. I was a 3.5 evangelist, so naturally, I thought version 4 was just a money grab. Maybe I hadn't entirely forgiven Wizards.
It's more than forty years later. I am still running games of Dungeons and Dragons for family and friends, and those adventurers always all take place in Copernia. My adult children have their groups, and two of them are the DM's. Sometimes I join those games as a guest DM, sometimes as a player. We still play as a family; that's a party of six without guests! The youngest "child" at the table is eight, the oldest twenty-eight. I got dragged kicking and screaming by my 28-year-old daughter from 3.5 to 5E. Thank you, Tori. Today I DM with my Surface Pro and an iPad. I own all the books because I am a bibliophile who likes to turn pages. Licking your fingers before turning pages on an iPad leaves smudges, sigh. I use DnD Beyond because; I'm not that old, dammit. I'm a massive fan of Tim, another Dad who games with his kids, and his incredible Tabletop Audio and Sound Pad. And yes, I'm a Critter, a huge fan of Matt Mercer and Company. Matt and his gang of slightly irreverent voice actors have done more to bring D&D back to the mainstream than any company or person. Mind you; I still try to talk to him through the screen sometimes when I think he has made a Dungeon Master faux pas. And yes, I am showing my age by using the term Dungeon Master instead of Game Master. I was a Dungeon Master for twenty years before Wizards trademarked the phrase.
To Be Continued...