Friday, July 17, 2015

1987: My First Role-Playing Experience

In the Fall of 1987, I was sent to the Lakeside Middle School auditorium during an entertainment basketball game because I didn't have the .50 cent admission fee.

I was pretty upset about not participating, not that I enjoyed basketball, but because all of my friends were at the game.  As I was sitting there, quietly to myself, a face I sort of recognized came down and he sat a few rows ahead of me.  He opened his book bag and took out a large book and started reading.

Needless to say, I was pretty bored. After all, I was an avid reader and although I didn't know this guy too well, my thought was we were in the same boat and there wasn't any rule about talking.  I got up and sat closer to him and introduced myself.  He told me his name was Dentye. We instantly connected as friends.

I asked him if he had forgotten his money too and he told me he did not. In fact, he said to me that he didn't care for sports and preferred the opportunity to read.  I inquired to what he was reading and he showed me something I had never seen before, a 1st Edition Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master guide.

Growing up in the 1980's I was familiar with the Dungeons and Dragons Saturday morning cartoon, but I had no idea there were books about it.  I asked him about the story and he explained to me that it was a game, not a fantasy novel.  To me, this sounded very confusing, so I asked him if we could play the game.  He explained that it took time to prepare and also I needed to create a character. He and his brother had a game planned for that very night along with a friend of theirs who was a grade older than us.

After school, Dentye decided to introduce me to this friend of the family to see if he was cool if I joined the game.  He asked me to think about what kind of character I wanted to play and so I did.  We went to Main Street in Lake Village, Arkansas to meet his friend who was busy stocking shelves.  The friend asked me, "I'm cool with you playing, but what do you want to play?"

I had no idea how to answer, so I said, "An elf!"

The guy just looked at me and started to laugh.  He knew that Dentye had not explained much to me about the mechanics of the game. So, he clarified by asking, "Yes, I can see you are eager to play an elf, but what CLASS do you want to play?  Do you want to be a fighter, a thief, or a magic user?"

Once again, I had no real answer since my only real experience with "this game based on a book" was from a Saturday morning cartoon.  I said, "I dunno, but I certainly want to be an elf."  To this day, I have absolutely no idea why I was obsessed with being an elf.

So the guy told Dentye to bring me along and he would talk to Dentye's brother and come up with something for me.

Later, Dentye and I went to his house after I explained to my mom that I was going to be out for awhile. Luckily, he lived close by and his step-dad was a police officer, so my mom said it was ok for me to stay out later than usual since it was a Friday night.

When we arrived at Dentye's house, his mom was very kind and friendly and she offered to feed us. Dentye was rushed and wanted to head to his brother's room where his brother and friend were waiting to play.  I walked in and saw Dentye's older brother, Butch sitting behind a large cardboard screen, but that was not the oddest thing I discovered in this first introduction.

Butch was sitting there with long, blond hair and large brown eyes wearing a straw hat, a heavy metal t-shirt (I don't remember the band, sorry) and bright orange sweatpants complete with a big pair of cowboy boots.  My first thought was that this guy was completely off his rocker, but then I learned that he liked art and was a good artist.  Later, I discovered it was his intention to appear as freakish as possible just to make a memorable impression.  It was absolutely most memorable!

Dentye and I sat down and his friend handed me a character sheet.  He explained to me that Dentye was playing a duel class magic user/thief and he was playing a new class from a book they had recently acquired called a Cavalier.

Since I was wet behind the ears new to the game, Butch and his friend decided to roll up a fighter character for me, but something that would be simple.  They rolled up my character, a human barbarian.

Needless to say, I was disappointed but understood their logic. Butch explained to me that even a basic elven race character had some understanding of magic and that he preferred to not have new players dealing with the game mechanics of magic.  This was his way of easing the learning curve.

They handed me a set of dice for the game.  I was only familiar with a six-sided dice at that time, like the ones used to play board games.  The little pyramid, four-sided die looked odd, but not nearly as odd as the diamond shaped eight-sided die or the ten-sided die.  It blew my mind when they handed me the twenty-sided die. Admittedly, I was completely overwhelmed and Butch could see it.  He decided that I would just hang on to the d20 as he called it and he would roll the rest of my dice for me.

The only thing that I had to do was come up with a name, so I chose the name "Barad".  It sounded to me like something you would hear on the other Saturday morning cartoon that I enjoyed, Thundarr the Barbarian.  That was the extent of what I knew about barbarians at the time, except for the Conan comics my uncle owned that I wasn't allowed to read because they were mature.

The game went quite well.  Butch unfurled this amazing story full of adventure and intrigue.  We worked our ways through several traps and a few monster encounters.  Dentye and their friend were searching corpses and finding gold, healing potions and other treasures. When Butch told me I had taken damage, he told me to mark off my hit points.  They were getting pretty low.

Finally, our characters walked into an old laboratory.  There were empty potion vials and tubes everywhere.  I started to get an idea of how this game was played, so I told Butch I wanted to search one of the tables he described.  There was a potion bottle resting there with no stopper on it and the ooze inside was green and putrid.  He cracked a little smile at me.  He knew I needed a healing potion and I jumped to the conclusion that he was taunting me, testing me with that sarcastic smile under his silly little straw hat and unlit corncob pipe.

I needed the healing.  Dentye and his friend had been scooping up all the treasure.  It was time for me to get into this game.  I declared that I wanted to drink the potion.  Dentye and his friend protested.  I knew I had made the right decision.  They wanted the potion for themselves.  Surely, it wasn't gonna kill me.  This was my first time playing and Butch seemed like a nice guy.  Plus he gave me that curt smile trying to send me some kind of signal.  Bottoms up, my character inhaled the vial.

Butch looked at me and said, "You seem like a nice guy and a smart kid, so I'm going to show you a bit of mercy.  The taste of the liquid is vile and you feel like you want to puke it from your mouth before you swallow."

This was some ploy, these guys were fooling with me and I knew it.  I said, "Nope, I want to swallow it."  I mean, why would this guy kill off my character?  My hit points were low and I would most likely not make it through the next encounter anyways, so what could I possibly have to lose.  Dentye and his friend smacked themselves in the face with what is referred today as a facepalm.

Butch explained to me that the poison was creating damage to me at one hit point per round for the next twenty rounds. I had six hit points, which would mean that in six minutes, I would be at zero hit points and be rendered unconscious.  And just because he felt sorry for me, he would allow me to go to negative ten hit points before I could not be healed or resurrected.

Dentye and his friend scrambled.  They knew we had almost completed the dungeon.  The Cavalier dragged my character's unconscious body in front of the room of the final encounter of the adventure, where the big bad boss was waiting.  He explained to Dentye that there was no time to detect and remove traps and so he threw my limp, unconscious body through the doorway where I took enough damage to reach negative ten hit points and died permanently.

Yes, that is correct.  My very first role-playing experience lasted for just a little over two hours before my character's death because I was not only new to the game, but I was also a complete idiot.

Dentye and his friend slew the master in the chamber and looked around to see if there was anything to rescue me.  They believed Butch put something there because he gave me extra time.  In fact, Butch just wanted them to get creative and use me to complete their mission anyway.  His friend did just that when he used my character's broken body to disable the traps.

Dentye and his friend paid an homage to my character and his stupidity.  They removed a finger in case they could find a priest who could resurrect me from it.

At the end of the night, Butch walked over to one of his bookshelves and handed me a novel entitled "The Crystal Shard" by R.A. Salvatore.  He explained to me that although my character died in my first game, I shouldn't give up playing and I should do some research.  He said that once I read this book, he would consider letting me play another barbarian because Barad was dead, buried and gone.

That was my first role-playing experience and how I discovered my favorite writer who inspired my writing.



  1. Great post! As a roleplayer myself this sounds like exactly something that would happen in a game of DnD. I laughed out loud at that scene where your first character died in your first session. lol if a DM asks are you sure, you should never say yes.

    I don't remember much about my first roleplaying game. I don't even remember my race or class. A fried of ours in high school wnated to play DnD so you asked a bunch of his friend and we eventually had a big enough party. But it was his first time DM'ing and none of knew anything from the game, so yeah it wasn't the best campaign ever.

    Eventually we started another campaign with another DM, which lasted longer and was more fun were I was a half vampire thief called Iana who liked cute things, she was a fun character to roleplay. I haven't roleplayed in a while as our last rolepaying group fell apart.

    Thanks for sharing your first roleplaying experience, it was fun to read!

  2. If Butch, the DM of my first game, had not dressed up the way he did to "make an impression", I probably wouldn't have remembered as much about it.

    That vampire you role played sounded like a lot of fun. I love characters that have quirks. Makes them memorable!