WotC's re-release of Gary Gygax's Advanced D+D's Dungeon Master's Guide has psychologically shifted my focus back to my early days of gaming. Do I have one word to sum up the bizarre, (yet strangely inventive), days over summer vacations and long Christmas Holidays, spent knee deep in dice throwing mind games ? No, not really. Nostalgic doesn't cut it. A while back, I went to a convention for pop culture artifacts: classic toys, collector cards, action figures, board games, movie posters, and display shelves filled with memorabilia from my childhood. It was like time traveling, but through the power of memories, instead of a time machine. Although one name comes to mind every so often: Christopher Livingston.*
I'm the notorious middle child of five in my family, and, growing up, we usually moved into neighborhoods with other large families; each with wildly different family values. So, we'd blend in with our various counterparts in ages. Middle kids "teaming up" together has always come with a weird price (vandalism, pyromania, shop lifting, and ill conceived romances, that went spectacularly bad, to name a few). I should say it was also some of the most exhilarating and action-packed times in my life (re-enacting scenes from the summer movies of 1975 to 1983: The Godfather, Jaws, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Martial Art action flicks etc).
Dressed as rebel pilot, or as Han Solo, (depending on the day) with Patricia, an old friend of the family.
It wasn't long before I was involved with the older kids, and their crazy life experiences. Somebody was always 'lip synching', singing, or playing stuff off of the radio (ACDC to the Beatles, to Led Zepplin to Queen, to Tchaikovsky to Verdi). And, through my older sibling's connections, I spent many summer nights watching and playing with the older girls (chasing each other around the nearby fields, woods, and basketball courts). I heard the early Steve Martin and George Carlin albums on my friend's older brother's record player. If it sounds like a wonderful life, it's because I'm editing out all the humiliating and ambivalent hours I wasted. Those terrible details and bad decisions are for the novel, I'll write in the next life.
In ninth grade I met up with Chris. His family lived in 'the nice part' of the neighborhood- you'd have to hike up four long hilly streets to get there-where doctors and lawyers lived in large houses around lush arboreal cul de sacs. He was in the 11th grade and we were both in the chess club. We played a few games (he knew my older brother), but I lost interest and dropped out a month later.
That fall, I was invited to play a D+D game, up at Chris' house, (held down in the basement, which had been converted into a carpeted covered 'game room' with comfortable chairs, and a 10' long wooden table, with eight to ten kids sitting around it, from ages 10 to 17 years old). The room was loaded to the brim with board games, and D+D paraphernalia, (miniatures, models, and RPG magazines, sitting on "built in wall shelves" and inside wooden cabinets) next to a ping pong table, a TV set with an Atari console, a stereo counter, and more. There was a set of stairs that lead up to the outside backyard, where everybody would park their bikes.
The intrepid (yet camera shy) players gather before the game begins.
I discovered the Basic and Expert sets back in the seventh grade (1978). So did a lot of the boys I knew (Monsters and half naked ladies. What's not to like?) Chris had been around for the first wave with Dr. Holmes and the early low print runs of mini adventures. By 1981 he had all of the TSR modules and supplemental books, and he would sit at the head of the table and run the games like a tournament match. He'd set up the situation, (from behind the module's cover), and point to each person around the table and say, "You have 10 seconds to tell me what you're doing. Go!" Then he'd roll some fake dice, and start down the line: "You hear this…” and “You spot that...” and “You think you see something, but it's really just…You, when you stubbed your foot on a loose stone...” and “You are hungry,” and “you are..." etc. The older kids would have a comical reaction moment, usually brought on by the younger kid's shock, surprise, or disappointment (oh the disappointment) at the turn of events.
Chris had to be a referee first and a story teller second. He'd move you through a game that didn't last more than 2 hours (the intrusion factor in larger families is pretty high). I could only make it to a half a dozen gaming sessions, but they were fun. Unfortunately, three feet of snow made the hikes less appealing, and more treacherous. He was one of the few guys I knew who could actually play the game.
He went off to college, and by that time, I was running my own games, with a couple of friends after school and kids closer to home (expanding into Boot Hill, Gamma World, and Top Secret- we played A LOT of Top Secret). I hope to bring some of that quirky, unpredictable energy back when you get one of our games in the mail. Time travel via memory banks. Let's call it "Shockstalgia".
(*For legal reason, that's not his real name).