Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Bugbear Changed My Life

I'm not sure if  mentioned this before on the blog, but my roots in gaming are more RPG than board and miniature wargames. I played my first roleplaying session during Christmas holiday way back in 1978. It was a game of AD&D, a year after it was published. I was in high school at the time and had never heard of AD&D or roleplaying games. My buddy's brother, a  late-era-hippy English major in college, was home from Christmas break. He had been playing AD&D that semester and brought home all his books. I was spending the weekend next door at a mutual friend's house. Late that evening, I found myself in my buddy's rec room next door, the lights turned low. There the four of us sat on the floor--myself, my two buddies, and the college kid Dungeon Master.

Then the explanations began: Dungeon Master? There was an odd term I had never heard of! Oh, like a referee whose also writing a novel. And we're characters in this novel. Ok, and our motive is what? Killing everything in sight and stealing as much loot as possible while getting out alive. Ok. Sounds logical. Oh, and the dungeon is full of bizarre monsters and crazy traps. Kind of like a death trap. It will be a blast! Ok....

Having finished his (really sketchy) explanation of what roleplaying is and what his role is, the DM instructed us to roll up our characters. I never remembered actually picking the Magic User as my character class, but for some reason I wound up with one. I don't even remember his name. All I remember is rolling a '4' for his Hit Points, whatever those were. And that I had no weapons other than my awesome good looks (I think I rolled really high on my Charisma) and one useful spell that I could cast once--the famous Magic Missile. Wow. Needless to say, I spent the entire evening in the back of the party saying things like "Don't let the (fill in the blank monster) kill me!" I found this to be a rather useful tactic.

Though I cowered in fear most of the evening as goblins, spiders, kobolds, and waves of giant rats sprang from dungeon chambers, I had a blast. I really had no idea what was going on! We could have had the worst DM in history for all I knew, but I was having fun imagining all the happenings. It was like I was in one of those radio dramas that I used to love listening to on the local AM radio station at night. (A passion that I still enjoy today.)

My evening of roleplaying ecstasy came to a bloody end sometime after midnight after the parents upstairs had gone to bed. I have no idea how large the dungeon was that we were looting--I mean exploring. I didn't bother paying attention to the scribblings my other two friends were making on the blue-lined graph paper. I was too busy hiding behind the Fighter and Thief, making sure my hair looked its best for someone with such a high Charisma while trying to stay alive. Then it happened. We barged into one too many a dungeon room. It was our "A Door Too Far" moment. Years later, I would come to learn than a group of three Level 1 characters does not stand a chance against an entire room full of bugbears and that only a DM who wants to go to sleep after playing way too late into the night would spring such a trap.

Needless to say, his tactic worked. We rushed into action--a thief, fighter, and a handsome magic user against the odds. One last desperate stand. For the treasure! In all the chaos and angst of a party knowing it's going to die, all I remember is finally getting off my one magic missile. It there ever was a time to launch that (not very) powerful bolt of magic something-or-other at a hideous beast it was now! I announced my attack then waited my turn in the initiative order. Not being very quick--but rather dashing nonetheless--I stood and watched as the bugbears smashed to death the fighter and then the thief, morningstars splitting leather armor like it was some sort of weak clothing instead of armor. Then is was my turn to attack! Let loose the magic missile! I rolled my die. What did I need to roll? A what? Oh whatever, here it goes. The die rolled across the indoor-outdoor carpeting, past the half-full soda cans, coming to rest along side the empty chip bags. Did I hit it? Did I? I waited for what seemed like hours to hear the results of the one amazing attack that I had made all night. So did I hit and kill the bug-bear-thing? The DM looked up at me. missed...and the bugbear kills you. Well, thanks for coming over! It's been fun! I'm going to bed....

Wha? I missed? And was killed by a bugbear? Awesome!!!

Though I did little playing that evening other than hanging in the rear while sending out encouraging waves to my fellow dungeon crawlers, I had one of the best times of my life. The evening was emblazoned on my memory, as the cliche goes.

A few years later, I found a copy of a boxed out of print D&D set at a local toy outlet. It cost me $4 and was the first boxed Basic set, with all the blue books. Though I hadn't played an RPG session since that fateful evening when a bugbear split my magic user's skull, I grabbed the box and took it home. It was Christmas 1981. I had graduated high school but had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, going to work in my father's clothing store. Years later, I would learn that D&D saved my life. But that is another story for another time.

Happy New Year Everyone!


  1. I think we got started in much the same way. I remember the first time I ever saw the Holmes Basic Set. I was thinking, "Holy moly what is this crazy thing and how do I get my own copy!?"