I was born into a family that regularly played D&D, so I never knew life without the game.
Unfortunately that same family did not allow me to actually play until I was 12 years old. When you’re a hyperactive little spaz of a grade-schooler, that kind of withholding can drive a person to madness.
First a little background.
Like any youngest child I was an attention-craving twit who both annoyed and idolized my two older brothers, who are 7 and 10 years older than me.
Anything they did I wanted to do. I watched the same movies. I listened to their music. I read their books. I dressed like them.
It would have been pretty creepy if I hadn’t been so frigging adorable.
The greatest birthday gift I ever received from them was this “coupon book,” like the kind couples give each other when they have no money, or if they’re copping to the fact that they are frequently inattentive.
The coupons my brothers gave were along the lines of: “We’ll let you play with our toys for 1 hour,” or “We’ll play G.I. Joes with you in our room for 30 minutes,” or “You can borrow one of our cassette tapes for a day.”
Unlike the vast majority of “coupon books,” I actually used every goddamn coupon (much to my brothers’ chagrin).
Dungeons & Dragons was another mythic thing that my brothers did… but there was no D&D coupon. I was not even allowed in their room during a session. D&D was far too sacred.
Our house was the location of their weekly game. Every Friday night the “guys” would come over to play D&D in the room my brothers shared, which was a converted attached garage.
My dad had built a custom D&D table in my brothers’ room, which was basically a huge, laminated 10’ by 5’ platform that the “guys” would gather around, decorating it with blocks, buildings, figurines, miniature trees, bowls full of snacks, soda cans, a DM screen, and character sheets.
The “guys” were mythic figures in my mind. There was the jokester B.J., the laconic Del, the genius Todd, the excitable Scott, the nihilistic Justin, the pleasant Don, the intimidating Bill, and the resident historian Gary.
Then there were my two brothers: the ever-gregarious extrovert Tim, and the stoic, hard-working introvert Ted.
The “guys” were, and still are, the smartest, most creative, funniest people I have ever known.
I wanted to be a part of it so bad — more than anything in the world. I memorized the 2nd edition rule books. I wrote terrible short stories about D&D. I played endlessly with the lead figures (yes, actual poisonous lead). Defying the rules, I would sneak into their room on Friday nights, hiding under the table, just to be around D&D.
Eventually my brothers relented and allowed me to sit on their bed and watch the sessions, just so long as I kept absolutely quiet.
So I sat silently and watched. I just had to be around this D&D thing. It was in my blood, along with dangerously high levels of lead and far too much sugar.
But they still wouldn’t let me play. I was just a kid. I was a twerp. I was the annoying younger brother. They kept this “quiet kid on the bed” arrangement for about a year.
One Friday everything changed. I don’t know why it happened, frankly. Maybe I reached a certain “age” milestone, such as “We’ll let you play when you turn 12.” Maybe one of my parents intervened: “You should let Tyler play because he is driving us crazy.” Maybe my brothers just got sick of me obsessing over the game and realized I wasn’t going to get bored and go away.
That particular Friday I was perched silently at my regular position, sitting Indian-style on the top bunk of my brothers’ unmade bed. The “guys” were playing through the Dragonlance campaign, following in the footsteps of the famed Heroes of the Lance from the renowned Dragonlance Chronicles Trilogy by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis. I had watched every session to that point, learning the characters’ names and watching as they faced down the dragon army hordes of Ansalon.
With little warning Todd, our DM, asked me if I wanted to take over an NPC named “Aran Tallbow” (who is apparently an obscure canon character from the books).
I think I literally leapt at the opportunity. Off of the bed.
As I say, I was a bit of a spaz.
I don’t remember anything about that first session. The group was, and is, notoriously plodding in pace so it’s likely that my NPC did nothing at all. But I controlled Aran for the next couple of months and I managed to “not embarrass myself or my brothers,” which was quite an accomplishment.
Aran was an archer, a knight, and…well, that’s about it. I certainly didn’t do much role-playing, I just liked rolling dice and being a part of it all. I’m not sure what happened to Aran, ultimately. I think he may have died at the hands of a white dragon in Icewall Castle. Or he survived and left with the other Knights of Solamnia after that section of the quest was completed. I honestly don’t remember.
It is funny, though, how I can recall those names and locations over 20 years later.
The first time I actually got to play my own character was when, under the ever-patient eye of my brother Tim, I rolled up a cleric named “Bastian ast Silvershield.” The name “Bastian” came from the NeverEnding Story. The “ast” was some kind of Dragonlance lore thing that my brother added. The Silvershield part…well…it just sounded cool and fantasy-ish.
Bastian was a war cleric of Kiri-Jolith, and he was assigned to the group by the aforementioned Knights of Solamnia to help explore the High Clerist Tower near Palanthas.
Bastian mirrored Tyler in many ways…most notable being that he was a selfish prick who tried to collect as much treasure as possible. The character quirk worked great for a while, but at one point during the exploration of the tower the group stumbled across a pair of magical gauntlets. Thinking that they were probably “Gauntlets of Ogre Strength” Bastian burst past the group, dove at gloves, and quickly donned them…only to discover they were actually “Gauntlets of Fumbling” and the battle cleric was now as useless as tits on a bull (until the curse was dispelled).
Eventually the curse was lifted, but the writing was on the wall. Bastian met with a timely and fitting end. Somewhere in the bowels of the tower there was a platform suspended over a huge shaft (hee hee), but there was a 20 foot gap between where the characters were standing and the platform. The gap spanned over a 200 foot drop.
Oh, and the platform held a massive bounty of treasure. Bastian wanted it all…because he was a greedy prick.
To reach the platform our bard cast “Leap” and jumped to the platform, trailing a rope behind him. That character tied the rope off and each party member was to cross to the platform to reach the treasure. All they needed to do was make a strength and dexterity check to cross the rope.
Naturally Bastian went first. Someone in the party asked if he wanted a safety line. He declined brusquely and hopped on the rope. Bastian had a massive 16 strength and 15 dexterity. What were the chances he’d fail?
About 1 in 5 and 1 in 4 as it turns out. I rolled a 9 for Bastian’s strength check, making it by 7. But I rolled an 18 for his dexterity check, missing by 3.
Bastian’s hands slipped off of the rope.
He would have fallen to his death, but he was close enough to some enormous vine that had sprouted in the tower.
He grabbed the vine.
Or rather…the vine grabbed him. Turns out the shaft was home to some crazy vampiric vine called a “bloodthorn vine.”
It killed Bastian instantly. Out of the frying pan into the fire.
My brother’s character Jack, who Tim has called his “Favorite character of all time,” tried to save that dumb asshole Bastian. Jack was lowered from the platform on a rope to Bastian’s position. But when Jack reached the body he was also grabbed by the vine and instantly killed. And because there were no high-level clerics in Ansalon to resurrect them, Bastian and Jack would stay very, very dead for eternity.
Thus the life of my first D&D character was brutally and appropriately ended…stupidly, and with depressing collateral damage.
I would go on to create and kill many more characters over the next ten years. It was always hard fitting in with the “guys” – they were all much older than I was by at least 6 years, which is a lifetime when you’re a teenager. They were also far more intelligent than I ever would be, which made things even harder (hee hee).
I always felt appropriately inferior when I gamed with the “guys.” But eventually I got better and smarter. I created some fantastic memories, and had a crapload of fun. Unfortunately as I got older I started to feel shame for playing D&D. I never really aspired to be tremendously popular in school, but I never wanted to be seen as a dork either…so D&D was this secret thing I did that I never even told my friends about, for fear of being teased.
After I left for college I just stopped playing altogether. Eventually I made some new friends who played regularly. I expressed interest in joining their group, but all of my free time was used up with play rehearsals, working, or spending time with my then-girlfriend…who was not so fond of any interest that took time away from “us.”
But I’m older now, and I’m no longer embarrassed by my love of this game (or anything, really). Plus my wonderful wife is “totally understanding” and “completely supportive” of this nasty new/old habit.
Either way, I’m excited to get back into the game and to kill many more characters through stupidity and greed. It should be fun.