As a kid, I was completely fixated on Dungeons & Dragons. I don't remember where I first heard about it, not really. It might have been from that cartoon in the eighties. Did you ever see that? If you're a geek of about my age, you probably remember it fondly. And surprisingly, unlike many of the cartoons of my youth, this one still holds up. (more after the break!)
The cartoon was the story of a handful of kids who, during some sort of treacherous amusement park ride, got sucked into the world of Dungeons and Dragons. There they were given weapons by this Yoda-type guy, the Dungeon Master, and they had to fight evil, including one of the best cartoon villains ever, Venger.
It was probably this cartoon that sparked my curiosity. Maybe it was the occasional advertisement on the back page of some Marvel comic. Maybe it was even this weird, somewhat sinister commercial!
But most likely? It was the news reports. Yes, back in the eighties, Dungeons & Dragons was all over the news.
Why? Because of Satan.
You've probably heard this, but if you haven't? Yeah, people thought it was a gateway to Satanism. I'm not sure where this started, really. It was probably that dumb son of a bitch on the 700 Club. Somehow, this game, which was exploding in popularity, became demonized by the religious right. They believed that kids were losing touch with reality and turning to the Prince of Darkness.
Here's the wiki for controversies just about D&D.
People were losing their damned, monkey minds. I mean, listen to these soft-headed, walking miscarriages:
The panic even spread to 'legitimate' news sources like 60 Minutes!
Naturally, young Jason thought, "Wait. People are killing themselves and others and worshipping Satan because of this game? I gotta get my hands on this!"
The problem was, I couldn't. I lived in a small, Texas town. I didn't have access to any of that stuff. The one friend I had that owned some of the source material? His dad made him take the books outside and burn them. I had one friend, Randy (no, not that one), who had all the cool toys and had seen all of the cool movies. He had played D&D once. For a few minutes. When I found out about his experience, I grilled him about it. I asked him about every detail, as though I'd just learned he had been visited by aliens.
I was enthralled. It was like a creative shot of adrenaline. I spent time fantasizing about this game - the stories, the monsters, the rule set.
Whoa! And I just remembered something! Something pivotal.
One day, I went to the grocery store with my mother. Immediately, I went to the magazine racks, as usual. There were a few comic books, along with some paperbacks. And I found this . . .
This was D&D's version of the choose your own adventure novel. I can't even count how many times I read it. I was so fascinated with this that I started taking chapters and segments and challenging my friends. I would read the stories aloud and they would have to make the choices.
And that's when it hit me. I could make my *own* Dungeons and Dragons.
So the work began. I drew maps, came up with NPCs, spells, weapons, storylines. Of course, being a kid, it was all cribbed from what little I knew about D&D, along with other stuff that I just thought would be cool.
"Hey, I should put Conan on here somewhere!"
"What if the players could use the Force??"
"Oh man. I'm gonna make a quest where my players can find the Glaive from KRULL!!!!"
There were other, more . . . embarrassing . . . additions that I made, but I'll save those for another time.
Over the next few years, I built upon this foundation. I gathered a core group of friends and together, we made this unholy kludge of rules, worlds, and characters. It was glorious. It was an amorphous, ever-evolving game.
And it was important.
It's been said before, and using words far more eloquent than mine, but Dungeons and Dragons gave me and my group of misfit friends a purpose. It drove us creatively and helped us forge our own social group. We were allied in our weirdness and our love - no, our obsession - with this game. In a time in my life where I didn't really have a place and felt like a damned alien, D&D helped me make a place for myself. It was our bulwark in this backwards little town.
We started playing it as children and kept playing in that same world until we were into our thirties. As is the case with most die-hards, we developed our own short-hand, our own in-jokes. And even though we haven't played in years, we still reference things that happened - to our imaginary characters in some imaginary land - nearly thirty years later.
I still have the box of stuff. All of the maps. All of the spells. All of the stories. It's sitting in the back of a closet, collecting dust, but it's at the top of the list of "Things I'd Save From A Fire".
And we never worshipped Satan. I promise.