Sunday, May 05, 2024

How I Was Introduced To Dungeons & Dragons

I have spoken on this topic before, but I want to approach things a little differently this time. I was a 16 year old high school freshman (having been held back in both the first and eighth grades.) I was scrawny and immature, and despite being the target of some fairly constant ridicule, I wasn't introverted. I was quite the opposite to a probably obnoxious degree. All this to say, I fit right in, at least on an emotional development level with the 14 & 15 year old children who were my classmates.

Mr. Lock, my science teacher invited me to participate in an after school science club. This really excited me. At home, I spent a lot of time "hiding" in my room, either drawing or reading comic books. It was a habit that I developed from living with an abusive, alcoholic step-father, a man that my mother left just under 2 years before. It was a habit that I would continue to embrace for many years to come. I mention this because it shapes the lens through which I viewed the world.

I read comic books and had a very "comic book" view of right and wrong. I loved stories of the fantastic, and fantasy, and science fiction. I loved Star Trek and I still do, and because of this, I was "interested" in science (sadly the connection between science and math eluded me.) I paid attention in science class and I tried and succeeded in doing well. So, I was invited into the "Science Club."

This as it turned out was really code for, "playing D&D after school." Mr. Lock was a young teacher fresh out of college on his first teaching job at a tiny high school in the middle of nowhere. He grew up in the Chicago area and was terribly homesick. He had played D&D in college and was just looking for some way to live in the small town of Coulterville without going crazy. 

I was super excited about this whole thing. I had heard about D&D because of a full page ad in my comic books. That meant that whatever this was, it was going to be cool. And it was. Sadly, or perhaps fortuitously, the Science Club only had 3 meetings before the school shut it down. Playing D&D in school was not acceptable. (It was 1981, playing D&D was not acceptable, full stop.) 

I said, "fortuitously" above because we had a taste of this new game, and we wouldn't be stopped. We just moved from the school to our homes. This was great for me, because I was suddenly being invited over to another kid's house. For the first time in my life, I had friends. Mr. Lock DM'd for us at our parents homes at first, but was admonished for his inappropriate relationship with his students. He stopped playing D&D with us, and at the end of the school year, he quit and returned home to Chicago. I never saw or heard from him again. 

My friends from this period who stuck around were the few whose parents were cool enough not to make them quit D&D. My mom was one of these. She was thrilled that I had friends and encouraged our past time. The friends that stuck around were, Sam, Peyton, Mike and Jon. With me, that made five of us, but Mike was a senior and left that summer. 

It was the fall of 1981 when the Science Club started. It was the summer of 1982 when Mike left, but me, Peyton, Jon and Sam played D&D almost evey day that whole summer ... every day, in the sweltering heat in Peyton's garage which had a table made of 2 saw horses and a huge piece of plywood that formed a table big enough to facilitate our group. 

My Sophomore year, things got a bit more complicated for me. Mr. Lock was gone, and I got this weird idea in my head that because I had friends now, I would somehow become more welcomed in school. Sam was the only student in my class and he was the smartest kid in school. I on the other hand had never excelled in school and was relegated to the most remedial of classes. We never saw each other. School hadn't changed, but I had. My expectations had changed. What I wanted had changed, and I was never going to get it. 

I began cutting classes. I would leave home as though I was going to school, but I wouldn't go. I would wander through a nearby woods, or go hide in Peyton's garage alone. Anything but school. When I did go to school, I didn't engage. I failed all of my classes. I didn't care. I wasn't extroverted anymore. My D&D summer was over and it felt like the end of the only joy that I could remember having in my life. 

The friends that I made that summer are very dear to me. But, as I sit here feeling introspective and nostalgic, I think of my friend Jon who passed away last year. I think about how elated I was to see Sam at the funeral. Reunited after all these years, only to discover that Sam had grown into the worst kind of misogynistic, self entitled, white privileged prick. The conversation was so poisonous that Julie and I left the funeral reception early. 

Mike passed away a few years ago from heart failure. Peyton and I are the only ones left. (Sorry, but I'm writing Sam off.) I am friends with Peyton on Facebook and we played D&D twice over video, but that didn't work out. I don't know why I feel this need to hold on to that past the way that I do, but it's a thing, and I still hope that Peyton and I will be able to reconnect more substantially in the future. 

Writing about RPGs is another way that I connect to that past. It's another reason that this blog exists. I still play D&D. Since that summer, D&D or other RPGs are how I have connected to the world. Whether it was running Champions at a comic book store in Tulsa or running a D&D campaign at a game club in Muskegon, this hobby has given me the means to connect to my world.

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