In the days since news went ’round the interwobs about the death of Dungeons & Dragons creator Gary Gygax, I’ve come across a number of tributes to the man who was truly the Dungeon Master’s Dungeon Master. Some of these have taken the form of fond — and surprisingly candid — reminiscences about old D&D campaigns.
Two pieces in particular caught my eye: Jason Heller’s piece at The A.V. Club, about the impact of D&D on his “lack of a life”, and a piece by Wired editor Adam Rogers at the New York Times, which has some interesting things to say about yesterday’s D&D nerds being today’s Web 2.0 cyberlords.
I have a clear memory of being introduced to D&D in Grade 4. I’m fairly certain that the adventure involved an encounter with a carrion crawler (but then, show me an introductory D&D adventure that didn’t) and, possibly, a living statue. Or living ooze. Or living ooze on a regular, non-living statue. There was a statue, anyway. It may have been booby-trapped and concealing treasure.
At first I was fascinated mainly by the dice and the maps. By Grade 5 I was playing in a campaign with my friend’s Dad as Dungeon Master, and including among its players a number of guys from Melbourne University. Which was kind of intimidating for a 10 year old.
I started to get a sense of the storytelling at the heart of the game, the freedom to invent. One day while visiting my friend I discovered his Dad’s handwritten notes for an upcoming adventure, and piles of exercise books describing the campaign universe in exacting detail. The whole enterprise seemed huge, and compelling, and so much richer than regular life, or even the world of fiction. This was a fiction in which I was a player.
When I moved schools in Year 8 I discovered that people were playing D&D 550km away from Melbourne. Our Saturday night games through Year 11 and 12 weren’t dissimilar to today’s marathon internet gaming sessions in terms of duration, involvement of junk foods and surrounding air of fuggy fartiness.
I was still playing D&D a couple of years ago, playing in one campaign and running another, a gothic horror, slightly steampunk campaign set in Victorian London.
Adam Rogers’s New York Times piece describes the exhilaration of rolling up a new character or creating a new dungeon, and there’s a parallel to be drawn with the way we’re constantly signing up to new webapps:
Every Gmail login, every instant-messaging screen name, every public photo collection on Flickr, every blog-commenting alias is a newly manifested identity, a character playing the real world.
It’s true: every time we fill out a new profile and start hailing fellow internet travellers, it’s an opportunity to re-imagine ourselves, to roll-up a new character and go looking for rumours at the tavern.