D&D Then and Now

D&D in 1982

1982, a rainy  Saturday. Playing outside was out, and to an 8 year old that was heart wrenching. But my oldest brother Paul had recently gotten the Dungeons and Dragons Basic set and talked my dad, older brother and I into playing.

Paul and dad took the lead, and we were each handed a crisp character sheet and a piece of scratch paper. Together we rolled up characters using three six sided dice, recording the rolls on the sheet. Based on the rolls we selected the best fit based on the abilities: a fighter, thief, dwarf and magic-user. We rolled different dice for our hit points based on our class. Then, back to 3d6 for our gold. We shopped for our equipment together, to get a viable amount of goods to make the adventuring party have the best gear we could afford. Noted our class features, and less than half an hour were ready to play.

As we settled in on the living room floor we approached the Palace of the Silver Princess. As Paul narrated the intro into the Valley of Haven, and the approach to the keep I was visualizing through my magic users eyes. The story was good, and Paul, obviously having spent time reviewing the module, narrated well. It was not a monotone reading of printed words, but a delivery of the writers thoughts into a hungry audience.

The adventure began and we entered the palace, everyone got their turns counter clockwise from Paul. Dad’s fighter first, then Aaron’s thief, my magic user, and Paul’s Dwarf. We followed dads lead.

Four rooms in my first character had died. Poor spell choice (shield), only a dagger as a weapon, three hit points and my hero had perished. Everyone was gracious and I madly erased my character from the sheet. I rerolled a character. I studied the book like crazy. Fighting Man, magic-user, cleric, thief, dwarf, elf or halfling. My rolls weren’t fantastic, but not as bad as last time. This time an elf. I wanted someone with magic and weapons (though lots of pressure was on for a cleric). Having better armed myself and getting a d6 for hit points I felt more confident, though more cautious in my choices.

Exploring the palace we were amazed at some of the loot we found, the horrific beasts we encountered, and although we were greedy, the dwarf (possibly my first experience in meta gaming) had us all agree to leave most of it as we were there to free the inhabitants.

Several times we were turned around until someone (I don’t remember who), recommended that we map out our exploring so we didn’t get lost. On a loose leaf paper we tracked our progress. As we explored we added gear, treasure and notes to our character sheets. We sat, lay, squirmed and rotated a spot on the couch for comfort. We snacked on popcorn and had iced tea. And kept exploring deeper into the palace.

The lure of the dice rolls, deciding which way to go, and what to do when we got there. The interactive team work – instead of playing against each other like in other games we had played, we were working together to save Haven. I hadn’t experienced anything like this before, and even though the rain had stopped and we could have gone outside to play, this was so much fun that we didn’t.

When Dinner was ready we called it a night. We played for five or six hours, and still hadn’t completed the module. But we were hooked. It was a rare treat to have so much time with dad, and having fun playing together. We all agreed to continue the next day.

The biggest challenge was the following week. Telling friends about what a great weekend we had. None of my friends had heard of D&D. It was an experience that they couldn’t share with me. Regardless of how I tried to explain it, there was no interest from them. It became a family pass time that we didn’t talk much about with others. Both in fear of looking crazy and because we were catholic and D&D was getting negative attention.

But boy, was I hooked!


D&D 2019

2018, a sunny Thursday. I had just gotten off work, and drove to the local game store. For one year I had been coming here to play D&D. It was a central location for everyone, and had good interior space and lights (and no table fees). I live 35 minutes from town, and didn’t want to put pressure on the players to drive that far. As the dungeon master I had my backpack full. Campaign Binder, core rule books, two expansion books, screen, dice, two mini trays, markers, and also the dry-erase battle mat. This was the last session we were going to play here since we had a private location owned by one of the players in town.

Selecting our spot I set up as everyone had begun to arrive. Kharan, the half-orc/Goliath was a player from session 1/Amemnon the tiefling bard played by the same player. Bronn, the black Dragonborn Cleric from session 8. Cyrus, the silver Dragonborn sorceress was in her second session. Gorgon the half-orc Barbarian and Cythe, the Drow Druid joined some 30 sessions ago, Snudgag, a Drow Barbarian was in about session 35. Viktor, the human Monk, Drux the Dwarven Cleric, and Zru, the Tiefling warlock all gathered.

The characters are diverse. We used point buy to determine abilities to keep everyone honest and fairly equal in base stats.

Everyone has their binders, minis, several have players handbooks, some have their spell cards, and everyone has fun discussions as I set up.

I bring everyone together with a review of last week. The party has just returned to their adopted home from an excursion to the Shadowfell. As they gather for an evening meal, the council of Wizards in the Kingdoms capital has summoned them. They receive a hand made prop invitation. Additionally they are invited to take part in the capitals Shieldmeet and affirm their resolution to protect the people of the realm, again with a prop.

“What would you like to do?”

This campaign is an open sandbox; initially designed to gather players together and get a gaming group in my new home town after a cross country move. Having anticipated a story to level 7, I was delighted when the players showed an interest in getting the characters to level 20.

They all have different plans. Viktor begins construction on a brewery, and joins Kharan in building a fighting arena attached to the brewery and bar. Drux builds a chapel to his god Helm. Cythe reaches out to her parents, knowing she will see them when they visit the capital. Kharan welcomes his foster parents to the city. Bronn and Cyrus look for ways to save their deceased son. Snudgag drinks and hopes for combat. They all prepare for the journey. Cythe and Amemnon visit a Druid grove. Two spectators in the game shop stop to watch us play. One reminisces about when he played third edition. The other makes comparisons to why Magic the Gathering is better.

Everyone looks forward to seeing if the skill check rolls are successful or not. Persuasion, intimidation, investigation, and a Constitution check.

With their characters all settled on leaving the next morning, the main antagonist, a lich, pulls them from their nights slumber to the astral plane, where he, two shadow demons and a mind flayer attack. The party takes the usual route, spell casters hang back and cast, fighters rush headlong in. The party is successful in the victory, and travels back home. The experience levels them up.

The players excitedly roll their hit dice, scour the web for best feats, discuss how to best coordinate the level up to augment the characters as well as the party. Facebook, Twitter and Reddit are all informed and updated, even with some pictures. Two send me questions and plans via messenger. We begin putting our stuff away. Outside the game store we linger, the players trying to wrestle more information from me on what the defeat of the main bad guy means. We separate and excitedly agree to see each other next week at the new location.

It’s been 36 years since I first played. The game has changed. It has grown in content, popularity, acceptance and in scope. Instead of the dice determining the characters, the characters are determined ahead of time. Races and classes are often predetermined. The focus is more on the character and that characters success. As I moved into later editions this has become more and more relevant.

In my early years the goal was to adventure. The modules were the reason we gathered. To explore, and find out what evils lay behind closed doors and in dank caverns. We grew attached to our characters and hoped they would survive. Now the characters are a central component of the story. The depth of skills, feats, races, classes and equipment has grown to offer every player unlimited opportunities. And it shows. Artwork used to show the limited range of playable characters, and now reflects the multiverse plethora of options.  Limited resources meant we had to play tighter to the rules, or create content from our fertile imaginations. Now there are boundless resources available in any game store or thousands of websites.

And though so much has changed, the gathering at the table to share in story creation and telling has remained the same.

And I am still hooked.


About the Author: Joseph Oakes is a longtime D&D fan, player and DM. Find him here.

Artwork by Luciano Fleitas

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