Saturday, September 05, 2009

Nostalgia Trip(s) Part II - Damsels in Distress and Slaying Orcs

At the time when I first started getting into wargames, I was in a hobby shop and saw this book that was just about the size of a magazine with very thin poster board covers. It was black and had a black and white photo of some people dressed up like people from the Middle Ages. Well, more like cheap movie props, but you get the idea.

I looked inside of it and saw some rough drawings of maps, along with more polished looking maps on graph paper. Each room had a letter or a number in them and there was a section in the book giving a description of what the room looked like, what was in it, etc. It was only a few dollars, so I convinced my mother to buy it. That book was the Book of Treasure Maps by Judges Guild - For use with the Dungeons and Dragons game.

I really had no idea what it was all about. There were cryptic codes like AC, HP along with lots of numbers . I was clueless as to what it all meant, but I enjoyed reading the description of the rooms in the various dungeons and imagined exploring them.

My friend who got me into wargames had heard of Dungeons & Dragons and even had some basic rulebook for it. He went ahead and tried to learn how to play it, then ran me through some basic dungeon. Wasn't much to it and I wasn't very impressed.

It didn't help that in games you always play to win against an opponent. I remember asking what I had to do to win in D&D. The answer was you don't. Huh?!? How could you play a game where there was never a winner? The only objective in it is not to die. If you die, the game ends. Ok, so I could lose, but I couldn't win. This was a completely new and radical concept in gaming.

Well, how does it end then? It doesn't. Double huh?!? How can it not end? Well, you get experience points for the adventures you go on and gain levels which make you more powerful. Ok then, how many levels are there? There is no limit. What? There is no board. There are no playing pieces. You just have your character and their stats written on a piece of paper.

Apparently he wasn't very impressed with it either because he went ahead and gave me the rulebook. In retrospect I think it had more to do with us being clueless about the whole thing! Besides, I was addicted to wargames and building up my collection of Avalon Hill stuff. Shortly thereafter, he ended up moving away.

I can laugh about all this now. As a very young teenager, these new ideas just seemed ridiculous to me. I was used to the rigid rules of wargames, somehow this open ended freewheeling Dungeons and Dragons stuff seemed a bit wishy washy to me.

Low and behold, I eventually moved and met a guy in my German class who had actually heard of Avalon Hill. He even had a few of their games. Finally! Someone to play wargames with. We would frequently play various games and even found another player as, like all teens, you develop a circle of friends.

The only difference was that they also played AD&D (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons). Remembering my previous experience with D&D, somehow the idea of an advanced version of it didn't impress me. I was invited to game with them, but wasn't interested in anything that had to do with a game you couldn't win. What was ironic is that I remember playing Squad leader by myself and thinking how cool it would be to play an individual soldier without the limits of a hex-based map - where you could make your own decisions and go where ever you wanted.

I finally gave in one day because I was feeling left out with them always talking about their adventures. There is a huge difference between playing a game of AD&D as a single player who doesn't have a clue and playing with a group of players who "get it".

There is something about the camaraderie that takes the games to a whole new level. It also helps playing with those who know how the game is played. That first game was a module which has always held a special place for me. Its the adventure that got me hooked. That module was Horror on the Hill.

The die had been cast. I was now an AD&D player fanatic.

To this day, I can still smell the pine trees and feel the soothing forest breeze on my face. There is no limit to just how far your imagination can go when you release it from any pre-conceived constraints.

We continued playing throughout our high school years bouncing back and forth between AD&D and wargames. They were great times filled with adventures and stories. Iron Maiden, Motley Crue, The Scorpions and Van Halen (Pre Sammy Hagar) filled our ears.

When I finished high school and went straight into the army, I thought for sure it was the end of my AD&D adventures. Turns out nothing could be further from the truth and the best was yet to come. Addiction and collecting games would take on a whole new meaning...

Next up: The Hobbit

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