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Discovering Magic Amongst the Ruins
I love pen and paper role playing games. Always have. And like many rpg players, my very first role playing game book had the words Dungeons & Dragons in strong, bold letters on the cover. I say book but the copy of D&D basic that I had was more like a large pamphlet to be honest. But there were fighters and sneaks and magicians confronting some of the weirdest monsters to ever spring forth from human imagination and in the tradition of many kids before me, I loved every second of it.
I devoured every D&D book that I could find. I still have every role playing game book that I’ve ever managed to acquire, including D&D basic, AD&D and various original adventure modules by Gygax himself. Looking back at it now I was pretty lucky to get any RPG books at all back then. They weren’t popular, which meant they simply weren’t available in any brick and mortar stores in my area. Worse still the term ‘brick and mortar store’ wasn’t really in the vernacular since the internet barely even existed. So how do you buy something that isn’t available for retail? Op shops. Many, many op shops.
Op shops, AKA opportunity shops, are basically junk shops wherein all presented stock has been donated or otherwise acquired by the store owner for practically nothing. Primarily these types of stores exist for clothing people who are dirt poor, which is why our family frequented them constantly and to the exclusion of all other stores (besides the cheapest local grocery store). Most people, when writing about their own impoverished childhoods, say that they didn’t really know they were poor at the time. They say ‘we were just kids and we loved our families and didn’t realise that other people lived differently’. I understand why that’s such a common statement. Back then I was pretty happy and focused on whatever toy I was playing with at the time. But I if I’m being honest; I always knew we were poor as shit.
I guess though, as a kid, you just don’t care that you’re poor. Sure you see cool toys and other dumb shit on TV and you ask your parents to buy it for you. But you want your parents to buy you fifty new things a day. You don’t actually expect them to buy every single one. In fact as a poor kid you probably wouldn’t even ask them, since you know they get barely enough money to put food in your mouth, but you just haven’t developed that sense of self hatred that kicks in when you are an adult that tells you not to get excited at every colourful thing that you see. I think part of the job of being a poor, single parent is trying to pick out the cheapest things that your kid seems excited about so that you can provide them the same feelings as other kids, just not the same material possessions.
I wish I could say that I remember the exact moment that I found each original D&D book that I own buried deep in some pile of National Geographic magazines and huge sun-bleached cook books from the 50s and 60s at our local Saint Vincent De Paul store. I wish that I remembered the exact cute-little-kid phrasing that I used to persuade my mother to actually buy the things for me. But unfortunately another thing that comes with having a poor childhood is that you go through a phase, somewhere around the age of 20 for me, where you decide that your life will no longer be what it once was and you actively try to focus on the future and forget the past.
Even more though I wish I could remember the first time I cracked the books open with my little kiddie friends and played our first adventure, eventually losing the game to Gygaxian monsters and puzzles. But in that case the problem isn’t repression or the gradual fading of memories. In that case I simply never did. That’s not to say that even though I own all these books I’ve never played them. I’ve played every D&D system that has been made, besides the latest one which I’m sure I will get around to trying out at some point. (This is barring 4th edition, which I did test out a little but seemed horrible in its own right in addition to coming out just as I made the realisation that I would never play D&D again if I could help it. I still might play it for real one day just so I don’t have to make this addendum in the future.)
My first real experiences with D&D came about when I was about ten years old. I had managed to scrape together enough of these magical tomes from random finds in bargain basements that I actually had enough information to run a game. No one I knew had ever played D&D, which seemed like a problem, but I was still reading the books over and over and over again. So much so that, even at that age, I would have made a pretty decent Dungeon Master. As most people know, even those who’ve never tasted the crack-flavoured-magic-candy that is a pen and paper role playing game, the Dungeon Master is the person in charge of a D&D game. The Dungeon Master controls the monsters, the story (assuming there is one) and basically everything else one might find in a Tolkien novel besides the main characters. It’s everyone else at the table who gets control of the main characters. And here is where most people find the first major problem with role playing systems like Dungeons and Dragons.
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