On a cold November evening in 1976, in the basement of the downtown library, I met my watery end. My flagship was spotted, attacked and sunk carrying all hands down to their doom. Sighing, I rose from the carpeted floor and congratulated my opponent, handing back to him the tape measure and the little ship figures. I was out of the battle, and now adrift within the meeting of my high school’s War-game Club. So what to do now? It was only 7 pm and my Mom would not be coming to pick me up for another hour, at least. All the other club members were happily engaged in their respective Avalon Hill pursuits leaving me odd man out.
Walking around the tables I noticed that there was a small group of club members off in the corner. They must have been getting ready to play something, since they were all talking, yet I saw no maps or counters or morale tables strewn about on the tabletop. Since they weren’t yet arguing, it was obvious that the game had not yet started. Maybe I could jump in, even if I had to play the British?
Walking up and taking a second look, It became obvious that they already were playing something. A few of them had pencils and 3×5 cards in front of them, and the guy at the end of the table (probably the referee) had a small selection of pamphlet-sized books which he consulted once in a while. One of the fellows noticed me as I stood there and asked the referee if there was room for one more player. The referee nodded and the fellow told me to sit down. He placed a pencil, a 3×5 card upon which he scratched some words, some dice and some marbles in front of me. He told me to roll the dice.
They were all dice, but dice like I had never seen. As the game went on around us, he explained that these round objects were “twenty-sided” dice. I must have looked blankly at him, because he laughed and told me to roll the three regular six sided dice and that we’d worry about the rest of them later. He showed me on the 3×5 card where to put each of the totals of the dice I rolled.
I rolled the dice and mumbled the total to myself, jotting the number down next to the STR notation.
The table suddenly went silent. I looked up, wondering what faux pas I had committed? All eyes went to the fellow at the head of the table as he asked: “He rolled a 16?”
Suddenly I was everyone’s friend. Then slowly, I got the story. It seems that in the weeks that they had been playing the game, no one had rolled such a high total. That score, that sixteen, entitled me to have “bonuses” to my “character”. It also entitled me to stand in front of the rest of the players for the rest of the game.
Eventually, I learned what this game was all about. It was intriguing. It took place all in your head. And it did, at least for me. I could close my eyes and almost reach out and touch the big Jello-like thing that the “dungeonmaster” told us was sliding down the corridor towards us. Turns out, touching it was not a good idea, and my “character” that everyone had so coveted, was no more. I again was eliminated from the game.
You see a pattern here?
But this game was different. I could simply jump back into the game by “rolling” a new “character”, which I promptly did. He promptly died as well. Seems I needed to learn a little more about this “Dungeons and Dragons” thing.
And I did.
And still today, in a frame on my wall, is a yellowed and wrinkled 3×5 card with a name and some numbers scratched on it. Every once in a while I look at that card and think about how my life branched off in a different direction that cold November night. I am pleased that it did.
(The preceding is dedicated in loving memory of the fighter “Caspart ’76″, the best sixteen I’ve ever rolled)