I have been able to get a view of my kids and their friends from a vantage point that I don’t think many parents get: sitting around a table playing Dungeons & Dragons. I’m reminded of my sixteen-year-old daughter Grace’s observation when we took a road trip from our home near Redding, California to my home town outside of Chicago last summer. She was able to meet my old high school friends for the first time. We met some of them at their houses one-on-one. We had one pizza party with a small gathering of old friends.
She said, “You guys are just like us.”
I am happy to say that I think she was right.
It would be easy to say that we were just like any other group of kids not in the popular crowd. You know what I mean <wink, wink>. But that would be a cop-out. What was a typical group of kids like?
Our group in 1980 was a collection of teenagers—mostly boys, only one girl—who were smarter than our school grades reflected and did not fit in with any of the common categories of ‘jock’, ‘prep’, or ‘stoner’. We enjoyed movie and book fiction, but especially fantasy and science fiction. We were not overextended with school activities and had a lot of free time on our hands. We gravitated toward games. Sure, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was the mainstay, but we spent a lot of time playing just about any interesting non-mainstream game. Several of us loved historical wargames like Squad Leader, Third Reich, and Dawn Patrol. We continued the adventures of the United Federation of Planets in Star Fleet Battles.We navigated post-apocalyptic America in Car Wars. We ran campaigns of so…many…role playing games in addition to D&D! Gamma World, Boot Hill, and Top Secret, all from TSR. Twilight 2000 by Game Designers Workshop (GDW) was very popular with our group. Our go-to sci-fi RPG was Space Opera by Fantasy Games Unlimited.We all loved fast paced card games such as Nuclear War, Naval War, and yes, even Uno.
When we got together to play, our main goal was to enjoy a good time together. A ‘good time’ always involved insulting each other, and the raunchier the insult, the better.
I was the guy in the group with the strictest parents as far as securing permission to go anywhere. I couldn’t just say “I’m going down to the Pegasus. I’ll be back around dinner time.” Oh, no. With my Mom, I had to ask if I could go, and I had wait for an answer, and I was told what time to be home. If my corporal-punishment wielding Mom said 5:00, she did not mean 5:01…and the time was always measured according to her clock, which was always roughly five minutes fast.
Another guy in the group, Scott, had the strictest parents as far as the gaming life was concerned. They were religious and always had their suspicions about D&D. In 1980, unfounded concerns regarding D&D had arisen in some circles…circles that made a lot of front page headlines around the country. The game supposedly led to mental and emotional breakdowns, and even to demonic possession. I have to admit that Scott’s parents were cool enough to let him play, but they did not want the books in their house, so I kept his D&D books at my house.
My kids’ group in 2015 is made up almost exclusively of home schooled kids, which I suppose puts them into a special ‘nerdiness’ class all by themselves. Almost half of the group are girls. They wouldn’t fit into the ‘jock’, ‘prep’, or ‘stoner’ groups, either. They game to have fun together, which includes insulting each other, and the raunchier the insult, the better. Some of them have strict parents as far as both securing permission to go and religious parents not crazy about D&D.
I taught Josh and Grace to role play about ten years ago with West End Games’ Star Wars RPG. Josh was eight and Grace was six. Josh learned enough in a couple of months to start running his own games, even at eight years old. For a long time, it was only Josh, Grace and one other kid growing up on the hatchery in their gaming group. About two years ago, my kids were meeting all kinds of other home schooled kids in the Redding area, and Josh put together a Star Wars campaign of his own design using Wizards of the Coast’s Star Wars Saga rules. I had not role played with the kids since I first taught them to play, but I had been telling Josh war stories from ‘back in the day’ for years, so Josh had a great idea of the possibilities of running games. The Star Wars game was wildly popular with their group.
This year, I started feeling the storytelling itch and decided to get back into RPGs. I investigated and discovered that Wizards of the Coast was releasing a new D&D edition, 5E. I had heard about the D&D incarnations since the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons that we played in the ‘80s. I had heard mixed reviews of them from players, so I toyed with the idea of looking for the old AD&D books on eBay and sticking with the familiar. After researching some more, I felt comfortable picking up the 5E Starter Set. For less than $25, I could get a good look at the game before spending the $150 necessary for the three books comprising the complete 5E system.
Now I needed players. I could have just played with my kids, but I asked Josh, “Would your group be interested in playing D&D?” I got a big, “Oh, yeah!” for a reply. We got most of the players from his Star Wars campaign together to play the Return to Phandelver campaign that came with the starter set.
It was just like coming home.
Their gaming group was just like my old gaming group from thirty five years ago. The same non-lethal trash talking. The same immersion into the story. The same dreams of fortune and glory.
We played every Wednesday night last summer at our local game shop, Matrix Cards & Games in Redding. Then I found the Icewind Dale sourcebook, which is a campaign set in the same northern Forgotten Realms region that provided the setting for R.A. Salvatore’s legendary Dark Elf novel series. Josh and I love that series. I bought the book with the intent to run the campaign at some time in the future…and then I had a different idea.
I asked Josh if he wanted to run the Icewind Dale campaign.
So now we find ourselves running both campaigns simultaneously. We still play on Wednesday nights at Matrix, and we alternate our campaigns weekly. Most of the players are the same in both. A couple of players couldn’t commit to playing every week, so they picked one game or the other. We did pick up one different player in my Phandelver campaign, an older guy we met at Matrix. Well…he’s older than my other players, anyway. He’s almost half of my age.
And I get to play every other week in my son’s Icewind Dale campaign. How sweet is that?