I don’t remember exactly when I became aware of Dungeons & Dragons. It may well have been the cartoon show that debuted in 1983. In any event, the first D&D product I owned was the “Black Box” edition, published in 1991.
I saw this on display at Walden Books, right at the front of the store. I lusted after it even know I didn’t exactly know what it was, but it looked cool. The back of the box promised a cool dungeon and little figures to move around.
So I asked my parents for this game as an 8th grade graduation present. The planets aligned, and I did indeed get the game. I eagerly opened it…and summarily couldn’t make heads or tails out of it. The concepts of an RPG that I take for granted now were completely foreign to 14 year old me. I did not have the benefit of video games with RPG elements (no Zelda on NES for me), board games with characters that had attributes, CCGs with concepts of attack strength and defense. All those things that help inculcate the core concepts that comprise an RPG just didn’t exist in my world at that time. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. The game sat on a closet shelf for three years, collecting dust. It wasn’t until I joined the workforce and met a coworker who Played D&D that I was reintroduced to RPGs.
Matt and I became friends while working at a grocery store. It was my first job and first foray into the real world and Matt was a recent transplant from Iowa. At some point he mentioned D&D and I said I’d always wanted to try it; In fact, I had a D&D box set, but couldn’t figure it out. So he invited me to his little apartment and there, huddled around the coffee table, Matt, his wife Amy, and I played a D&D adventure. I was instantly enamored. It was like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, but you weren’t limited to the choices presented on the page.
Within a few months, I brought Cory into the fold. Cory and I went to school together. It was a small school, so we had known each other for years, but didn’t really become friends until our junior year (and, as it turned out, we learned later we were related!). I gathered from our conversations that he had some nerd tendencies and I brought up D&D. He was down for trying it. Our group was growing! Adding Cory also meant Matt’s wife, Amy, didn’t have to play. God Bless her, she was a trooper. She would play when we didn’t have enough people, but it really wasn’t her thing.
In all honesty, we really didn’t play that much now that I look back. We never had an epic campaign that saw our characters grow to heroic levels. It was hard to even just find players back then. The internet pretty much consisted of AOL and D&D still made you a social pariah at the time. And although not at the height that it was in the 80’s, there was still whiffs of the Satanic Panic in the early 90’s (Cory’s Mom was one of those–he would poke the bear by asking her, “Mom, have you seen my sacrificial dagger?” Good times). It’s why it stands out in my memory the time we had 5–yes, five!–people once for a D&D session. There was Matt, Cory, myself, Matt’s friend, Larry, visiting from Iowa, and Emily, a friend I invited from school. It seems silly now, but back then having that many people was a big deal to us.
It wasn’t long before our obsessions would switch to other things, like the newly introduced CCGs, but that time playing D&D was the foundation from which all other nerd pursuits would spring. And more importantly, I finally got to use that Dungeons & Dragons Black Box edition.