Thursday, February 26, 2015

Throwback Thursday: 1983 Nostalgia

Nineteen-eighty-three… I was ten years old. A lot happened that year. Ronald Reagan was president, Return of the Jedi was in theaters, the A-team promptly escaped from a maximum-security stockade, Michael Jackson was thrilling us, and I learned about Dungeons & Dragons. 

It all started when I was invited to an amusement park with my best friend and his mother. Just like the kids in the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, an amusement park would end up taking me to a new world of imagination. We had about an hour ride that day and back then there were no Kindles, smartphones or any other sort of technology to distract us. Instead my friend and I would spend the time talking about things we liked and the excitement of our destination. 

As we sat in the back of that Mercury Lynx station wagon, my buddy Ike started to tell me about this cool game he played with a relative recently. He went on to explain how there was no board; no playing pieces just imagination and some really cool polyhedral dice. Polyhedral? Wow that sounded like something from outer space! Soon the constant hum of the road and even the car radio playing in the background faded into nothingness. Ike told me he battled some goblins and found a pile of gold and other treasures during his adventure.

I was enthralled by the idea of this game since I was craving distractions from my home life. You see my idyllic suburban childhood was being torn apart, because my parents were divorcing. It was a time of great confusion for my ten year old mind and I desperately needed an escape. On the way home from the amusement park that day I kept probing Ike with inquiry about this game he coined Dungeons & Dragons. I think at one point he may even have become exasperated with answering my siege of continued questions.

You never forget your first game session. I know I recall mine with great ease. It was in the den of our house and I had enlisted my younger sisters to play. As a child I loved to draw and spent an enormous amount of time sketching knights, dragons and anything fantasy related. I did not have any published Dungeons & Dragons material and in fact had not even seen it yet. My grandmother gave me a pack of 3x5 cards and I created my own version of the game, based purely on my conversations with Ike.

It was nothing special. Just some monsters and treasures penciled on the cards. We used some silly random mechanic to flip the cards and lots of imagination. I wish I still had them today. It was then that I fell in love with role playing games. Life at home was chaotic. Spinning incredible tales and stories in fantasy play with my sisters was a great buffer. Soon however they became disinterested in my silly card game and summer was fast approaching.

With family life spiraling out of control, my aunt invited me to stay for two weeks with her during the summer. This sounded great since I really enjoyed spending time with my cousins and my aunt was an awesome cook. Add to that being able to stay up later than normal, and being exposed to a stable household was all a good thing. 

But there was another reason for my excitement. My aunt was notorious for having a massive collection of board games in her house. This may be my big break. If anyone was going to have Dungeons & Dragons on the game shelf, it was her. 

I still remember being dropped off that day and feeling as though I was on a quest. After the formalities of hugs and kisses were dispensed with I was eagerly greeted by my cousins. I think we may have played outside for a bit and then settled in for some lunch. As I drank Hi-C from an E.T. mug my gaze was drawn to the basement door. The games were down there.

After lunch I asked my aunt if I could go downstairs and look at the game collection. I will never forget opening that creaky door covered in family photos. Down the stairs I went. My stomach was in knots. Would my quest be realized on this day? There were literally three huge shelves filled with board games. My eyes darted to and fro and just as hope dwindled... I saw it! A red box which proclaimed Dungeons & Dragons Set 1: Basic Rules.

Much to the dismay of my cousins, I spent almost the entirety of that two weeks engrossed in the red box.  I must have played the solo adventure a dozen times and created an equal amount of characters. I was now officially a gamer. This was a rite of passage. I was using my imagination and learning words like portcullis and quarrels. Math was suddenly not that bad as I carefully purchased equipment for my characters. This was cool. 

Later that summer I had my eleventh birthday, and I my aunt and grandmother had a surprise for me. I was the proud owner of the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide, Player’s Handbook and Monster Manual. I tried playing with some older kids in the neighborhood but was quickly turned down because of my age. But that did not stop me. Instead I decided to make my own world. An amalgamation of everything I loved at the time. Soon Ultanya was born and I was running games after school inside the family garage.

Eventually I would move away when our house was lost because of the divorce. For a suburban kid in the 80s this was devastating, since there was no way to stay connected with friends when distance was involved. But Ultanya came with me and I made new friends everywhere I ended up hanging my hat. The one unifying thing about those friendships is almost all of us came from broken homes. Every kid seated at that table was looking for an escape. With our characters and adventures, we were getting through some tough times together and did not even realize it.

I will always standby the fact that I met all my best friends while gaming. The great thing about games, whether an RPG or just a card game, is they transcend everything. My friends come from all walks of life and a myriad of backgrounds and experiences. My wife is a gamer and so are our children. I would have it no other way. 

You could almost say that was the foundation for creating the Game Tavern. I wanted a special place to gather and play games with friends and family.  As a matter of fact this Saturday night I will be running a session for one of our current ongoing D&D campaigns. Oh and remember my buddy Ike who introduced to me to Dungeons & Dragons over three decades ago? Well he will be present along with his wife ready to roll some dice and spin a tale!