Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Fighters of Middlebury

1979: We stayed away from magic users. Early on, all the guys played fighters. A few were dwarves. Even clerics got more action in our games. Not the cleric of the Middle Ages (although we played them too), but the preferred type was the mystic shaman, who spoke to spirits, wore war paint and a wolf's head for a helmet. "A cleric dressed as a druid". When we learned what 'reversible' meant, those (ahem “wussy”) cleric spells took on a whole other dimension.

Why fighters? Well, back in 1979, we all wanted a light-saber, but there wasn't the extending (and retracting) plastic tube technology we have today. The closest we could get was a hollow whiffle ball bat, cut and duct taped onto a high powered flashlight. We didn't mind providing our own sound effects. We'd record it and "Nerd-Out". It didn't matter if the light-saber was made from an old hula hoop, or a cardboard box, just so long as you had one. Foam swords were around back then, but they'd fall apart after a few fights, and then you were out of the game. Nobody would loan you their sword ("You might break it"). PVC pipes were not as common around our neighborhood. I suspect it was because you could not "light it up".

The impact of Star Wars was pretty severe. A lot of us had read the book, while going to the movie. Sure kids had seen other movies two or three (or more) times before Star Wars (Jaws and Animal House got repeat viewings, sometimes within two weeks or less). But when Star Wars hit the dollar theater near the end of it's run, kids would see it 10 to 15 times (or more). And sure, the battle between Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi is something of a slow dance compared to the light saber battles of later flicks, but, at the time, it was pretty mind blowing. Remember, Kendo sword fighting was not a casual topic of conversation, in 1978 America, unless you happened to be a Bruce Lee fan, or a student of the martial arts (rather, a student of films, magazines, and comic books about the martial arts).     

Dungeons and Dragons was an easy transition from there. Just because the fantasy land (although science fiction related) was rendered in such detail, that it kind of deserved multiple viewings. In your down time, you'd play D+D, but it was an analogue,(a substitute), for Star Wars. It made sense. Later, when George Lucas talked about how Star Wars was a cross between a “Hero’s Quest”, in the mythic tradition, and the pulp serials of the 30’s and 40’s, we knew what he was talking about.

As a result, in game terms, we all had "acquired" a dragon slaying, life stealing, sun searing vorpal blade that could sing any song, speak any language, detect any trap, and levitate eight people at once. Without a firm understanding of the Advanced D+D rules, we'd gravitate towards the magic treasure listings in the DMG. The artifacts and powers tables always tempted my early group of gamers.That would 'jump start' real ingenuity and creative thinking, which we'd develop through imaginative play. And then we'd get carried away. Not an uncommon occurrence for seventh grade boys.

I should say we were not simply "sword obsessed". Really, we were "weapon obsessed". My brothers and I had built sling shots out of coat hangers, a wooden crossbow that fired number two pencils, shoddy bow and arrows, and grew up around kids that had hunting liscense and owned rifles and guns. We collected shurikens and butterfly knives, nunchakus, and European fencing swords etc. It's amazing to think that nobody ever got seriously injured (even playing "paint ball" like games, but instead using BB guns, because "paint ball" guns were not "invented" yet). More kids got injured playing basketball and football than they did "fighting". But don't get me wrong. You'd get hurt.


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