Dungeons & Dragons: My constant companion for 30 years

The year was 1983. I was eleven years old and I’d made a new friend at high school.
His name was Richard, or Spud to his mates, and he lived in the manor house up Norton.
It was a huge, wonderful old building which was fascinating to someone like me who had only ever been inside a three-bed semi.
What’s more it was next to a graveyard where we’d lark about playing hide a seek and chucking crab apples.
I quickly became best mates with Spud and ‘the manor’, as we referred to it, became my second home for the next 15 years.
Spud had an older brother, Gary, who was cool on a number of levels: Firstly, he had a black leather jacket which I would have given my right arm for; Secondly, he had a quality stereo system and a stack of rock albums and CDs.
But it was Spud’s other older brother, Chris, who was to have the greatest impact on me.
One evening I saw him sitting in the dining room reading something and scribbling notes. On the table in front of him were a couple of dozen tiny, metal figures and some funny-shaped dice.
I asked him what he was doing and he told me about Dungeons & Dragons.
A week later Spud and I were playing the game – using rulebooks, miniatures and dice borrowed from Chris.
I remember exactly how I felt during that first session of The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh. I can even tell you what happened to the characters involved.
It was as if all my Christmases had come at once. It didn’t matter anymore that fat asthmatic yours truly was last pick for football.
This was the game I’d been waiting for. This was a hobby I could properly invest in.
All I needed was a few pencils, some dice, the rulebooks, my imagination and my mates.
I am now just a week away from my 40th birthday and I’m still playing the game which was actually created in the U.S. in 1974 but which really took off around the world in the mid-Eighties.
It spawned a cartoon series, a stinker of a movie starring Jeremy Irons and is now firmly established in popular culture as the sole preserve of geeks.
Dungeons & Dragons – or DnD – as we players call it, is the daddy of all roleplaying games (RPGs).
Every single best-selling computer and video RPG – from Tomb Raider, Resident Evil and Final Fantasy series to mass multi-player online sensations such as World of Warcraft – owes a debt to DnD’s simple tabletop concept.
It is estimated that more than 25 million people have played the game and as many as five million are currently involved worldwide.
Not bad for an 80s craze which has received its fair share of negative publicity of the years – including its alleged promotion of devil worship and witchcraft and for the naked breasts in drawings of female monsters such as harpies and succubi in the original rulebooks.
So what is DnD? Well, do you remember when you were a child and you’d watch a cowboy film or a space adventure movie and then run outside wanting to act the part of the hero?
Basically, DnD allows its players to do just that – in their heads that is.
It is set in a fictional world of swords and sorcery where magic is real and monsters exist. (Think Lord of the Rings and you’re not far wrong).
Players take on the role of a character such as a warrior, a thief or a wizard and work as a team to overcome puzzles, challenges and villains in a series of never-ending adventures.
As I’ve told my dad more times than I care to remember, there is no ‘winner’ in DnD. Your character survives, grows more powerful and gains fortune and glory – or it doesn’t.
Players use those ‘funny-shaped dice’ – four, six, eight, 10, 12 and 20-sided – and their characters are represented on the ‘floorplan’ or ‘battlegrid’ by miniature figures.
The game is controlled by the Dungeon Master, or DM, who acts as the storyteller cum referee.
Over the years yours truly has played dozens of games with scores of people – usually at someone’s house.
But I’ve also taken part in huge four-day conventions all over the UK where hundreds of players meet up for tournaments.
I don’t care that people take the mickey out of me. The fact is, I owe DnD a lot.
In school it helped with my history, maths and English and fuelled my love of creative writing and fantasy fiction.
And my knowledge of medieval weaponry? Second to none.
Crucially, as well as providing me with enormous fun, it has helped me to stay in touch with a great circle of friends.
I’ve spent literally thousands of pounds on my DnD collection and am now teaching the game to a new generation of players – including my own children who absolutely love it.
I’ve even started writing games and supplements which are being bought by other players around the world.
What’s more, for my 40th birthday I’m fulfilling a long-standing ambition by jetting off to the States to take part in the largest roleplaying game convention in the world: Gen Con Indy.
Yes, I am that nerd…

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One thought on “Dungeons & Dragons: My constant companion for 30 years

  1. Mark Walton says:

    Hello Martin,

    Your article turned up among a batch of Vale cuttings from The Sentinel. My dad regularly posts up to me. I left D&D and other role-playing games behind many years ago but they still exert a massive nostalgic pull on me and it’s reassuring to see I wasn’t alone. So I thought you’d appreciate this brief article I wrote for the paper I now work for in Cumbria after Gary Gygax died a few years ago.
    http://www.newsandstar.co.uk/opinion/2.1793/the-dungeons-of-my-youth-1.56868?referrerPath=home/2.1962

    Mark, an old Nortonian Vale fan in northern exile.

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