Dungeons & Dragons #6

I was recently on a plane that had been directed to idle on the tarmac for an unspeakable amount of time. Together, a few hundred strangers and I shared the same claustrophobic, humid, and increasingly smelly environment.  Thankfully, the flight attendant allowed us to use our electronic devices while we waited.

As I turned on my phone, about to dig in to Whitley Streiber novel (Wolfen) on my Samsung, a loud, booming voice began to emanate from the passenger diagonal from me.  An overweight fellow in a muscle shirt was talking on his cell phone.  I was instantly annoyed... but my annoyance turned to rabid interest as I listened to his conversation.  He was talking rather enthusiastically about an upcoming game of Dungeons and Dragons.

...and he was talking about it like he was trading cattle futures on the floor of the stock exchange.  It was loud and it was proud.  This guy was the Dungeon Master, and by the time our plane powered back up, I was an expert in his campaign.  I knew about the temple and the creatures that  populated his imaginary world.  I wanted to tap this fat pasty fellow and the shoulder and say, "I've got a 20 sided die.  What say you and me make this plane trip one for The Ages.  Let's do this."

But I didn't have a 20 sided die, actually.  Haven't had one since I was a wee lad.  But his enthusiasm inspired me to break out some old White Dwarf magazines and walk down memory lane.... or should I say, explore the magical realm of yesteryear.

Herein lie scans from that wonderful fantasy role playing magazine from the 1980s. Let's get started.

There was, of course, a lot more than Dungeons & Dragons.  D&D is the TSR brand of fantasy RPGs, but there was a whole host of other varieties: HP Lovecraft, Judge Dredd, Star Trek... you name it.

To give you an idea how long long it's been since I've played D&D - I played before TSR released the popular DragonLance stuff.  This ad is from 1984.

I recently listened to a Nerdist Podcast where the host interviewed George R. R. Martin. (Game of Thrones).  Martin was going on and on about his days playing RPGs, in particular this super heroes game.  I thought that was pretty amazing - that the indisputable heir to Tolkein had his start playing stuff like this. These games really do force your imagination into hyperdrive, so I guess it shouldn't be too surprising.

Does this look even remotely fun to you?  This ain't Grand Theft Auto, folks.  You've got to be a particular type of person to get enjoyment from something like this.  On the one hand, it's immersive and only limited by your imagination... on the other, it's so full of rules, it'll make your head explode.

Back in the day, the two big names in gaming were Gary Gygax (creator of Dungeons & Dragons) and Steve Jackson, creator of all sorts of crazy shit.  That's Steve in the picture below (on left).

Most of these games couldn't be found at your local B. Dalton's.  You had to go ta an actual gaming store.  I lived in Dayton, OH during my D&D days, and we had a couple such places.  They were manned by Prestige Level 55 Nerds that wouldn't presume to speak to a stupid gradeschooler.  Your comic shop douche-bags of today have nothing on those guys.

IMHO all fantasy, whether it be gaming or reading, has been steeped in Tolkein until George R. R. Martin rolled in with his series.  It was inescapable.   They'd try to maybe put a new spin on dwarves, or elves, or whateverthefuck... but it always had that Tolkein ring to it (pardon the pun).

Of course, Tolkein borrowed the mythology himself, so I'm not criticizing.  Suffice it to say, a lot of RPG campaigns began with a bunch of dwarves banging on a "halfling's" humble door.

I never really got into the science fiction based RPG's.  For some reason, it was fantasy that cornered the market.  Something about that genre just harmonized well with role playing.

Never heard of Sorcerer's Cave or Talisman.  In fact, as I page through these old White Dwarf magazines, I see that there were shit ton of RPGs that I've never heard of.  Screw Skyrim - give me something to immerse in, and most of all enjoy doing with friends.  Fantasy gaming was not a lonely endeavor.  It was a nerdy endeavor, but it was not a solitary activity.

There was a library of books you had to own as well.  Any Dungeon Master worth his salt had a collection (I say "his" because there has never been a reported case of a female dungeon master).  The Monster Manual, The Fiend Folio, Deities and Demi-gods, The Dungeon Master's Guide, etc.

Holy crap.  I had that Vampyre "mini module".  I'd love to have a look inside for old time's sake.

Well, I'll leave you with this.  Why?  Because those of you who have no interest in D&D have stuck it out to the end should be rewarded.

Oh, and a message to the fat Dungeon Master on the plane:  You keep rollin' those dice, brother.  Roll 'em till you can't roll no more.

The End.


  1. The model on the last image, on the ad for Gamma World, I believe to be Gary Gygax's daughter.

  2. There were two Steve Jacksons in the early RPG/wargaming days: the American one who founded Steve Jackson Games (OGRE, Car Wars, Illuminati, GURPS, etc.), and the British one, who co-founded Games Workshop (Warhammer, Warhammer 40,000, etc)

  3. Talisman is actually a board game. I currently have the latest edition. RPG nerd from way back, I played most of those shown.

  4. Back in the 80s in my hometown, comics and RPGs were sold at the same place. Those guys were AWFUL. Must be the RPG part that makes them that way. The Simpson's 'Comic Book Guy' used to be an accurate stereotype of those guys.

    I went back to comic book stores in the early 00s after a 15-year layoff and was shocked at how pleasant shop personnel were (and are), nationwide. I guess videogames supplanting RPGs got those awful D&D guys out of there. Good times!

  5. I lived in Germany from 1976-1981 (Dad was in the Army). I initially started playing without the original "boxed set" (not available where we were) but with the Greyhawk and Blackmoor expansions. Made for a unique version of the game.

  6. GuRPS is the only one I still play.

  7. I was a DM for a long time and handed the reigns to my daughter when she went off to college. I started playing in 1979 and still have my original books. My ex-husband and I would drive up to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin every 6 months to play in the store where Gary Gygax sold his original product. I met him once and considered him extremely sullen for a guy who co-created this game I loved. I saw him at a mini-convention about a year before he died and was told by one of the organizers who was a friend, that he really hadn't changed.

    Some of the best times of my gaming life were spent in long sessions over a large table with copious amounts of food and beverages, rolling dice and figuring out if that was a hit or a miss. As the years went by and people moved away, the books were put on the shelf and, while not forgotten, not chucked in the garbage bin, either. I was thrilled when my daughter and her friends took up the game and wanted me to bring my long dormant level 17 druid along on campaigns. Those kids, who sat in my living room laughing, shouting, imagining, now include a medical doctor, a lawyer, a staff sergeant in the Marines, a banker and a minister. My daughter has moved away but still runs the occasional game for a new set of friends. She's a fantastic DM and she will often post to FB that she has come up with a new way to kill the party.

  8. How funny you should post this today! I'm actually off to a game of DnD now. BTW the next guy you see in a muscle shirt talking dnd might turn out to be Vin Diesel, he's a mad fan of the game!

  9. Regarding Steve Jacksons, the one listed in the Fighting Fantasy/Talisman of Death book cover is the UK one and the one in the photo is the USA one.

  10. I was a player, too, way back in the day, and I believe it helped my writing career. It did spurn the imagination into overdrive. I was usually the DM, and I loved it. I'll share this little tidbit with you. In one game world I made I had created a magical device that was essentially a slot machine of sorts. It had three windows in it. Players would pull the lever and in those three windows any combination of numbers from 1-6 would appear. (I would have the players roll the six-sided dice 3 times to get the combo -- yes, this was back in 1980s before the game was only played with a 20-sided die). I had worked out some event for EVERY combination of numbers. It took forever. My players almost didn't find it, but I had spent so long creating it that I just had to guide them to it. They loved it, until one combination made a character switch genders. That pissed him off royally.

  11. My version of DnD was a game called Starfleet Battles... Equally nerdy and with big rule books! I just found the old girl while looking for xmas wrapping paper the other day, and its battered edges told the story of many a Sunday afternoon spent with friends waiting for Plasma Torpedoes to charge while maneuvering to up to Federation ship's weakest shield (in between pizza bites). I think its kinda' great that people still play the original games and eschew the digital alternatives... a bit like people holding onto their vinyl records in the face of MP3s, perhaps?

  12. Gamma World was my favorite back in '81/'82. Ton of fun.