What Hooked Me On Gaming

This is a long and rambling post, but it goes to the core of what makes me a gamer…

When I was seven years old, I saw the cover of Sword of Shannara peeking out at me from a pile of books at a garage sale. Being seven years old, I had I beg my grandmother for the quarter it would take to buy the book. Little did she know what road she would set me on when she tossed me that shiny little coin from her purse. Why did I want this book so badly? Two words: glowing sword. I knew that swords were used to kill people and fight mighty battles. I had seen it plenty of times on the television and in a few movies. I knew that Luke Skywalker

Sword of Shannara Cover

Sword of Shannara Cover

wielded a light saber, which is pretty much a sci-fi sword. Swords were cool to me as a seven year old. Okay. I’ll admit. Swords are still pretty cool to me several decades later. Nothing much there has changed. Now, the sword I saw on the cover of Terry Brook’s wonderful book glowed with power. This made it special. This made it unique in my eyes. If a normal sword could be used to battle evil and slay minions, then a glowing sword certainly could be used to save the world and slay powerful evil. This is why I had to have the book in my hands as quickly as I could. How little did I know that my thoughts would come to life between the first page and the last page of Sword of Shannara. This one book changed my life forever, and hooked me on fantasy reading from that day forward. The year was 1980 and a great many journeys began that hot summer day.

Fast forward a brief time in my life, and we arrive at the summer of my tenth birthday. I was in the Cub Scouts and selling Captain-O Greeting Cards out of the back of Boy’s Life magazines. I was doing it more to have something to do during the summer than to earn any prizes or cash. Then things changed. In the “prize catalog” I received with my salesman packet was a small icon indicating the cover of the red Dungeons and Dragons basic box set.

D&D Basic Set - Red Box

D&D Basic Set - Red Box

On it was a dragon fighting a guy wearing a shield, minimal armor and wielding, you guessed it, a sword. I knew I had to have it. While some of my fellow Cub Scouts were trying to sell enough cards to earn a free bicycle, I knew I had to have that box set with the dragon on it. There was no question in my mind that it was the coolest prize that could be awarded to a ten year old.

I worked for weeks to sell enough cards to get the box set, an RC car and a few other things that I’ve long since forgotten. I sent in my order form and dutifully awaited the day my dragon-laced box set would arrive. Weeks passed with great anticipation, and then the cards for my customers arrived. I knew my order had been received and I would soon be battling dragons, monsters and much more in this strange game called “Dungeons and Dragons.” Excitement filled me to the point that I delivered the cards to my customers in record time.

Then more waiting with held breath.

A week passed.

And another.

Just as I was losing hope and the summer was coming to a close, I received my brown box from Captain-O Greeting Cards. The mail man had scarcely gotten out of the driveway before I attacked the box with a knife and tore it open to reveal the contents. I was dismayed, though. It was time to go through the list of garage sales my grandmother wanted to go to for the day. Oh No! I wanted to delve into a dungeon and slay a dragon or five. Fortunately, my grandfather’s calm demeanor came through, and he suggested that I just take the box and books with me. What a brilliant idea!

I piled into the third-row-seat of my grandmother’s Buick station wagon (You guys remember those seats, right? The ones that face backwards. Yeah, one of those.) While my grandmother trundled around town, I colored in the numbers on the dice. As I marveled at the different shapes, sides and colors of the dice, I realized there were some books to be read. I pulled the pair out of the box and dove into the one that was on top. Fortunately, the PHB copy was on top (or the TSR people were very smart and knew that impatient 10-year-olds would be tearing into their products.) I spent the entire day consuming the books and creating my first character: Kinol. He was an elf, but I pictured him to be more like the warrior elves of Terry Brook’s books rather than the flighty and poetry-laden elves of Tolkien’s works.

In the end, I ran through the sample adventure (I still get scared with the GM pulls out a rust monster and I love magic mouths) more times than I can remember. Each time, I changed up my character a bit to see how things would turn out with a wizard or a warrior or a dwarf (if you remember, halfling, elf and dwarf were more class-like than racial options in the Basic rules.) Even though it was just me playing through solo games, I had a blast. This lasted for about a week, when I decided to introduce my fellow Cub Scouts to gaming. Unfortunately, some ultra-religious folks intervened and put a stop to my “witchcraft” and “devilry.”  Sigh.

I still continued to play on my own and I created tons of new adventures for me to run through, and I would pretend, I didn’t know what was behind the door that lead to the 10×10 room. Two years passed and I landed in Jr. High (7th grade for those of you in a different educational system) where I met J.P., Marc, Van, Joe and Martin. We formed a gaming group and had a blast playing before school, during lunch, during study hall, after school and on the long bus ride home. During this time, I also picked up the different box sets that TSR churned out (and everyone thinks Everquest pioneered the “expansion module” concept into game. Pshah!) In the end we were playing characters of all sorts of different levels and power. We created our own races, classes, monsters, encounters, spells, modules and so much more. More importantly, we were creating memories that would last us a life time.

The first steps of my fantastic journey started in 1980 followed by sprinting into the hobby  in 1983 and I’ve not slowed down one bit since that time.

Many thanks to the dozens of people that I’ve gamed with over the years, and many more thanks to the brilliant game designers that feed our hobby with new material on a monthly basis. Everyone keep rolling those d20s and may you always find a glowing sword in your piles of treasure.