(Continued from Part 1 )
I lived in the same town from the year I was born until I was 28, when I raised my right hand and asked the U.S. Military to please send me all over the earth to film stuff. From the day I came home from the hospital until I moved out around 18, I lived in the same house. Thus, it's very easy for me to visualize the exact setting of my very first game of Dungeons and Dragons.
Until my brother moved out, he and I shared a room. As you entered our bedroom, our bunkbed was straight across from you, flush with the wall. We played right there on the floor, with my brother's back to our bunkbed, my back to the door, and a whole bunch of papers and dice between us.
Originally, my childhood home had two stories. At some point before we lived there, it was split horizontally and divided into two separate homes. That seems strange to me now, but growing up I easily accepted the fact that my house was actually the bottom half of a totally different house, the location of which I never thought to ask.
As a side effect of this architectural anomaly, the bedrooms had really tall ceilings. There was a rectangular window just above the top bunk (my brother's bed) that housed a model battleship and a strange plaster cube my brother made in art class that looked like something from an M.C. Escher painting. Above our heads, suspended from the high ceiling by fishing lines, were a pair of homemade, foot-long wooden biplanes. One was brown, as I recall, and the other was painted black and gold; Hawkeye colors, my brother once told me.
It was in this setting that I took my first steps into a hobby that would entertain me for years to come and help me keep my sanity through all the various adventures the U.S Army has sent me on. My brother didn't really ask me if I wanted to play D&D. He just decided, perhaps out of boredom, that I was old enough to play and he might enjoy teaching me the game. I was all for it. What little brother wouldn't jump at a chance to try out such a grown-up game?
For my very first adventure, I played a dwarf. I couldn't have been much more than 5 or 6 years old and my brother was probably about 14. I don't remember rolling any dice to create my dwarf. As young as I was, I'm not sure if I had any real concept of what a “dwarf” even was. I think my character had an ax and a beard; he may have had a name.
My brother started out by explaining that my dwarf was standing in the entrance to a long hall. I could go forward or through a door to my right. The choice was mine. Before I could make a decision, Mom yelled from the living room about some chore my brother had neglected. My memory is hazy, but I think he was supposed to take out the garbage. As he hurried out of the room, my brother gave me a stern reminder: no matter what, I was not to look behind the Dungeon Master's screen while he was gone.
The DM screen, of course, is a flat piece of cardboard that stands up on one side of the table to hide the adventure map and notes from the players. I can't remember if we were using an actual, official DM screen or just an ordinary Meade folder, propped open on one end. Whatever the case, I found the allure far too strong to resist. Crawling on my hands and knees, I peered over the top of the cardboard wall to see just what secrets could possibly hide behind it.
I wasn't trying to cheat. I was eager to know what was behind this mysterious door, dammit, and I couldn't wait the agonizing minutes it would take my brother to finish taking the garbage all the way down to the end of the driveway. Plus, I was a five-year-old boy who had just been told not to do something. I once touched the glass doors of a fireplace just because I was skeptical as to how hot it really could be. That had been stupid and reckless. This was different. Behind that screen was adventure!
Unfortunately, at 5 years old, I could barely read. What I saw lying on my bedroom floor behind the mysterious screen was a confusing jumble of lines and unintelligible writing. As I was trying my best to decipher it all, the bedroom door opened behind me and my brother returned.
I was caught red-handed, committing the ultimate sin of looking at the DM's notes, and my brother was furious! I argued that it shouldn't matter, since I didn't know how to read. (Even at that age I was too smart for my own good). My brother was unconvinced. He'd given me direct instructions and I had disobeyed them. Thus, the game was over and I could never play with him again.
Talk about a hard-ass Dungeon Master.
I think that somewhere in my subconscious, that poor dwarf is still waiting at the entrance to that mysterious dungeon. What's down that hall? What creatures lurk past that door on the right? It's the uncertainty of D&D that has always created the most fun for me as a player; You can't know what's in the dungeon until you strap on your shield and see for yourself.
My brother has long since abandoned the tabletop roleplaying hobby, but he's usually up for a game if I'm in town and twist his arm. One of these days, I should make him rerun that adventure for me. I'm sure that he has no clue what he originally intended, all these years later, but that's not the point. I think it would make a nice ending to this story, to finally open the door on the right and see what's behind it.
I didn't play D&D again for more than 10 years, but the bug for gaming had bitten. Shortly after this incident, as we'll see in part 3, my mom banned D&D from her house and inadvertently steered me toward an entirely different set of RPGs.