Dungeons & Dragons #4

As I've been looking back over some of these old D&D books, magazines and gaming materials, it really has made me realize what a great past-time it was back in the early eighties. My fingers are itching to role those strange looking dice once again.

First of all, let me be perfectly clear: I am not a fan of fantasy.  Watching the LOTR Return of the King was torture for me.  I was praying for Sam and Frodo to die in that stupid volcano.  I was rooting for the orcs and the big dumb eyeball.  This movie had two problems: (1) no Smokey and (2) no Bandit.

That being said,  D&D was a blast even for a non-fantasy aficionado.  It wasn't a solitary activity like video games often are - you played it with a bunch of friends in the basement.  And I know D&D folks are often portrayed as social misfits, but back in 1981-83 I didn't find this to be the case at all.  We had many guys in our group that were not geeky at all.

It was a great use of the imagination, and it had all the things boys love: monsters, hot dames in distress, and battle axes. Plus, life is a bitch in junior high - lots of rules and tons of social awkwardness.  D&D provided a nice escape.

And who can forget those dice: the 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 and 20 sided die.  I remember using them to create my D&D character and it would literally take all night.  I mean, we gathered in the basement for hours on end to just make an effing character sheet! You'd think it would've been a chore coming up with all that data, but the funny thing was, it was a blast.

It had its own language. For instance, you could have a half-orc character that was "chaotic neutral" with 15 hit points and an armour class of +1.  If you get the following joke (from Dragon magazine), then you know exactly what I'm talking about.

But then, somewhere along the way, things got dicey (pardon the pun).  Tom Hanks was in a made for TV movie called Mazes and Monsters which warned parents against the dangers of D&D - your son may wind up really believing in this fantasy world and kill somebody!

The news was quick to seize on anything that appeared to impugn the reputation of the game...

If memory serves me, there was a Geraldo Rivera special on the dangers of Dungeons & Dragons.  If these journalists would've actually sat in on a single game with your typical bunch of pre-teens, they would have quickly seen this was 100% harmless.... probably healthy, really.  But then, they never really were after the truth, just sensationalism.

Truth be told, I think this sensationalism boosted sales.  It seems like, for a while there was a million different role playing and fantasy themed games flooding the market (many of them by the creators of D&D, TSR).

I actually had this one.  The picture in the ad could have just as easily been my family.  I didn't play it with friends, but Dungeon! was laid out on a table in the rumpus room many a Sunday night.

The role playing games that hit the shelves of B. Dalton's and Waldenbooks from coast to coast came in seemingly infinite varieties.  There were WWII, Star Wars, comic book hero, James Bond, Old West, and 1930s gangster games.  You name the genre, there was a role playing game for it.  Click on images to enlarge.

.... and then D&D began a serious decline in popularity.  It's still played today, but its heyday is long since past.  I've heard people say the 10th edition (or whatever edition they're on now) is better than it's ever been.  But the collective imagination is gone - our basements are no longer filled with pre-teens rolling dice.

What happened? I can't help but wonder if the flood of role playing games played a part in its decline.  Isn't that the way it always is? Once something becomes hugely popular, you know the end is near.

But I suspect the primary culprit was video games.  In the end, funny looking dice just couldn't compete with the arcade.  And once the arcade moved into your living room via the Atari 2600, the fat lady had sung.

1 comment:

  1. I played D&D one time. I liked it a lot, but didn't own a set. I loved fantasy and sci books and later played Star Trek the role playing game, Star Fleet Battles and Marvel Super Heroes a few times. I remember around 80-81 going into our local store "Bobby's Hobby Lobby" and staring at the D&D stuff. Although it was all shoved into a dark corner because this store's main focus was model trains and rockets so they occupied most of the store's space. Nowadays many comic book stores host role playing game nights and sell all of the stuff as well. My two local comic stores both currently have weekly D&D nights.