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My Red Box Experience

12 January 2011 by

About a month ago, I read this blog post by Arcane Springboard at This is My Game about how the original D&D Red Box was the catalyst to some of his longest lasting and most meaningful friendships.  His post caused me to look back at my first Red Box experience, and the impact D&D has had (and continues to have) on my friendships.  Looking back I found a common thread running through my life.

D&D, Computer RPGs (and other computer games) have either been a catalyst in creating friendships or something that cemented existing friendships for a lifetime.  D&D wasn’t the catalyst or sealant on my earliest friendships in grade school (that didn’t come until college), but I do remember my first exposure to the Red Box

I was in 4th grade.  A friend and I were staying the weekend with our “surrogate grandparents”, and he brought the Red Box.  I remember opening it up and looking at the maps and reading the books about elves, dwarves and monsters.  I’m not sure we actually “played” the game.  I think we just went through and drew the dungeon on graph paper.

Even without understanding what we were doing, I was enthralled with what I was reading and seeing.  I remember seeing the Red Box and other AD&D books and modules in bookstores after that.  I remember being in awe of the art on the covers, and spending countless hours perusing the racks of modules and shelves of books. (Remember when stores like Walden Books had a large D&D section?)

I got my first real chance to play AD&D in 6th grade.  I was hanging out at a friend’s house (Monty Janak).  I knew him from Scouting, and he was a few years older – 10th grade I think.  He had two other friends over (Dusty West and Theo Langner), and they were going to play their existing AD&D campaign.

I was looking through the books, and I was excited to just watch the game in action.  I was beside myself when they offered to let me join.  I don’t remember anything about the game.  I remember that Dusty was the DM, and that I made a monk.  (Ninjas were all the rage back in the 80’s, and I have no idea how many times I watched the movies staring Sho Kosugi.)

I made the character while they started playing, and they worked me in when I was ready.  What I didn’t realize is that my 1st level monk wasn’t the killing machine I imagined in my mind’s eye.  And, I didn’t realize that a monk wasn’t designed to “tank” like a regular fighter.  I think I had my 6hp ass handed to me within two or three rounds.  I had spent far longer creating the character than I spent playing him – but I was hooked.

I didn’t ever get to play D&D with them again (though I really wanted to).  Monty and I remained close friends through his years in High School.  We migrated to playing the King’s Quest and Space Quest games (we had forged our friendship over KQ1), Wizardry and Ultima II.  Monty and Theo were also instrumental in me becoming a huge Prince fan (much to the chagrin of my mother and my wife).

I saw both Dusty and Theo a fair amount as well over the next few years.  I remember them being really gracious and willing to chat, even though I was 5-6 years younger.  While a lot of that has to do with the fact they were just nice guys, I really do think a large portion was due to that time (however short) playing D&D together…

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