December 25, 1981. Christmas morning in the small northern Indiana
town of Chesterton.
A Christmas morning like many others, however, there would
never again be a Christmas morning like that for me.
For that Christmas is the year I received the Dungeons
& Dragons Basic Set, the “Moldvay” magenta edition.
And my life was never
the same again.
In fact, that one single gift directed my life pretty much
every day since that day.
I still remember opening the gift and setting it aside on
the pile of other games and toys, then later that afternoon, belly filled and
everyone going off to rest and recover in their own way, I sat down in the big
chair in our family’s formal living room to check out that new game.
I’d seen it before, at several stores; I realized it was a
different boxed set than the one I was used to seeing (the “Holmes” set). I’d
even expressed interest in it before, but that one little book with the sacrificial
victim on the cover (Eldritch Wizardry) put my mom off the idea of my ever
playing such a strange game.
Little did my parents realize that this was that self-same game, in a new edition, written and illustrated in a child-friendly manner, and available at that most innocent of stores, Toys ‘R Us. I had read The Hobbit, and most of the Lord of the Rings (that part in Two Towers with Frodo, Sam, and Gollum was just soooo boring to a 12-year old…). I had consumed other fantasy and science-fiction books and movies in large quantities...
And so not recognizing it as “that game,” my parents
thought that some game with a dragon on the cover would be a natural fit, and as
they had a few dollars left in the budget they set for games and toys for me,
they picked it up… on a whim!
I tore open the box, opened the book -- and never looked
I was the first kid in my age group/social cadre to get D&D,
and so I of course became the first Dungeon Master of the group. Oh, the
spectacular mistakes I made! Worst example – I did not understand monster hit
dice at first, and just assumed that their hit dice were their hit points. So
orcs had 1 hit point, ogres had 4, and red dragons had 10… monster kills were
in the 100s before I figured out THAT mistake.
But the game was glorious fun. In January I picked up the D&D Expert Set. In rapid order thereafter I picked up modules B1 and T1, which
introduced me to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, the books of which I picked up
at the Hallmark Books shop in Marquette Mall in Michigan City. I rapidly
discovered that there were hobby shops dedicated to Dungeons & Dragons,
among other things. I picked up my first issue of Dragon Magazine, #57, at
B&A Hobbies, also in Michigan City, around that same time.
By April 1982 Dungeons & Dragons had become my life. My
first non-D&D game was Gamma World 1st Edition, which I received
for my birthday that month. I also decided I wanted to design and write for
Dungeons & Dragons, as I sent off a letter complete with hand-written
monsters, to TSR; some months later, I received a “thank you, but” reply, my first rejection letter at age 13.
Needless to say, it did not stop me.
I was known as “That D&D Guy” in school thereafter. If I
was not King of the Nerds, I was certainly somewhere on that court. I played
D&D in the high school D&D Club (run by the Anatomy & Physiology
teacher, Mr. Jim Strange), right up until a priest came in and convinced our
principal that D&D was satanic.
I continued playing even when I lived in Germany for a year
between high school and college; I even introduced gaming to some German
friends there. I like to think that I ran some good games there, but between my
half-assed German and all the beer, I never quite knew…
I continued playing in college. I ditched my German for Teaching
program for Anthropology and Humanities, thinking that somehow that might A) be
more interesting and B) help my be a better game designer, so I might get a job
writing for TSR (silly me, what they wanted was designers with English degrees,
to save $ on the editorial process). In graduate school I had a dual epiphany –
I hated academia and I really, REALLY wanted to work in the Game Industry.
Sneaking into my first Game Manufacturer’s Association Trade Show with some faked-up
business cards sealed the deal.
From 1995 to 2012, most of my adult life was spent (WELL
SPENT, so very, very well spent) working in the Game Industry. I never got paid
full time to be a game designer – sadly, game designers have never been well
paid, so I worked in peripheral support areas. Over the years, I worked for
Wizards of the Coast, West End Games, WizKids, Chessex Distribution, Alliance
Distribution, ACD Distribution, SCRYE Magazine, Comics & Games Retailer Magazine,
and Chimera Hobby Shop, among others. To stay in the business I did anything I
could – I worked in publishing, purchasing, marketing, advertising, public
relations, sales, and warehousing – in manufacturing, distribution, and retail.
I even got to do some design work, initially as a freelancer.
That work of which I am most proud, and which also sadly was my Waterloo, was publishing the Wilderlands of High Adventure under license
from Judges Guild and working directly with Bob Bledsaw; closely followed by working
on Lejendary Earth with Gary Gygax (the fruits of which died on the vine, and would
never see print). I got to work with two of my greatest childhood heroes – for Bob
and Gary had a stature in my heart and mind much as, say, Joe Namath or Reggie
Jackson might have in the hearts of football and baseball fans.
How many can say they lived their dreams?
All that was born on that one simple Christmas day 40 years
ago. A simple box, a simple game, from which sprang forth a lifetime of amazing
adventures, in the world of fantasy and in real life.
Life is a game. Roll some dice.