Hooee… my mundane life is finally removing its needle-toothed maw from my throat, and I can finally start appreciating the finer things again. My apologies, but when you’re a daddy you must do the things you must… like cleaning lip gloss out of cat fur. Now, like Jules Verne before me, I am going to regale you with tales of a forgotten time. A time when it took only five minutes to roll up a character, and about as long for that character to suffer a horrifying and bloody death! A time when you had to roll 3d6 and place them in the order rolled on your sheet, not 37d6, dropping everything that isn't a six, and placing the totals on your cat’s bum if you felt like it! A time when Elfing, Dwarfing, and Halflingery were jobs you could be proud of:
“How’s Elfing been this year, Bob?”
“The pay sucks, but it’s starting to look up now that I’ve gone freelance…”
I’m talking of course about the Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set… better known as “The Red Box.”
There was a lot of hoopla about the D&D 4e Red Box when it came out and it had me travelling back more than thirty years, to the first time I set eyes on the game that would forever change my life. Since hearing the name of my sanguine hued first love, I’ve found myself remembering faces I haven’t seen in years. It’s like I’m watching the history of role-playing gaming unfold in the annals of my memory, recalling the clumsy, sweaty, sticky seventy-two hour gaming sessions of my youth, and the many games and gamers that blessed my life since that first moment. I was relishing these memories on the drive over to my buddy Jim’s house, for game night. When I arrived, I mentioned those memories in passing as I was removing my chocolaty footwear (don’t ask). Jim, with a twinkle in his eye and a grin on his face only said two words, “Follow me.”
His basement was unusually clutter-free, and he brought me to a cabinet that looked to be older than the two of us put together. He said, “Behold!”, and opened his treasure chest to reveal a classic gaming enthusiast’s wet dream.
I responded, and I quote, “GHAARG!?”
Original Gamma World, Star Frontiers, and HOLYSHITSHITSHITSHIT!!! Red Box right through Gold Box! Jim said, pointedly, “Dan’s leaving the wedding early so we can play. Let’s roll us up some characters old school.”
That’s when I nerdgasmd.
Dan arrived just before 8pm dressed to the nines. Fucker didn’t even go home to CHANGE, man! My fingers lightly brushed the cover as I spread the pages open to the character creation section, the familiar bouquet of my first love caressing my nostrils. Only two weeks before, I’d found my first set of dice… the ones that came with the Red Box I’d bought during my first trip to the Local Gaming Shop. I remember the voice of the store’s proprietor like it was yesterday...
“If you’re going to purchase a product, do so and please leave the store. I don’t want you hanging around here stealing anything.”
The best part of my week was going to that local gaming shop with a pocket full of money to check out the banquet of games on those shelves… and being kicked out before I could make up my mind. How that mean old bastard remained in business as long as he did, in spite of healthy competition (which he didn’t have in those days), I haven’t the faintest clue. But... I digress.
It took all of five minutes to have three characters created, and we decided that Jim would run us through the adventure in the Dungeon Master’s guide. My character was a slightly above average fighter with an Austrian accent whose name I can’t remember (keep reading to find out why). Dan created an exceptionally average Magic User named Hugo Dyck, and Jim rolled a character that was incredibly weak but juuuuust not-weak enough, according to the rules, to justify rolling up another one. We named him Flimszi. Jim started by reading the flavour text, to reintroduce us to the world. We headed out from the Gold Dragon Inn, met a farmer who didn’t seem too concerned about the monsters in the old Keep, and reached our destination in a confident state of mind. That’s when the 8-attacks-per-round Carrion Crawler handed our first level ASSES to us on a platter. By the third round Hugo was the only one left un-paralyzed, and used his sleep spell… a first level spell that puts 2d8 Hit Dice of living creatures to sleep without a saving throw. Our intrepid band of heroes went on to merrily butcher our first victim in its sleep without having to make another roll. We looted the Carrion Crawler’s lair, and moved immediately on to the castle. Looking through holes in the wall, we caught sight of ten kobolds just inside the courtyard. I rushed them and killed one, at which point Jim rolled morale for them and they all fled. Hooray! We won!
Or DID we?
Hugo, the un-armoured Magic user equipped only with daggers, decided to give chase. Flimzi and I, being heavily armoured, couldn’t keep up. I was yelling in a nearly incomprehensible Austrian accent,”HUGO VAIT! Hugo vhat ah you doink? Vait forrr us Hugoooo!”
Holy crap! Hugo scores a hit and kills another Kobold! Hooray! Hooray! Hoo…oooly SHIT! They all turned on Hugo! I started yelling, “Rrrun Hugo! RrrrUN! Oh Hugo no… ohhhh…. ohhh…. oh nooo…. ohhh….”
In a single round the Kobolds did three times more damage to Hugo than he had total hit points. Zere vere piezes of Hugo everrryvear. At that point the kobolds noticed Flimzi and I, and it turned into a Captain Hindgrinder TV dinner, with complimentary teabag. After the TPK was over, Jim handed the reins over to me. We created three new, overwhelmingly average characters, and in five minutes we were headed out to find what became of our other characters. We got to the courtyard, seeing nothing more on the way than an assassinated Carrion Crawler, and the annoying “I told the last idiots it was a bad idea” farmer. We saw the Kobolds again through the holes in the wall, and Jim’s thief sneaked off to check a hole in the wall that looked big enough to offer passage. Meanwhile, Dan’s professional dwarf and my new Magic User, Ned “The Head” Ryerson, fiddled with the door. Jim decided to take a shot with his bow and missed, revealing himself to the kobolds. They promptly killed him, and that’s when I cast my sleep spell. Kobolds are 1/4 hit dice creatures, so even if I roll a 1 I put four of them to sleep, and I roll two dice. The b0rken spell puts them all to sleep, we butcher them, drag all of the loot back to town (including all of our former characters’ stuff), REST, and gather up Jim’s new character.
Huzzah! We finally made it to the actual adventure, and we’ve only had <doing math> four character deaths, including a Total Party Kill. After fighting a giant bat and attacking some invulnerable crates and barrels for a while (We were role-playing, and that's what people do. They attack barrels and crates.), we had to pack up for the night.
During the session we’d all had multiple moments where we laughed ’til we cried, and at that moment I felt what I felt when I’d first started playing tabletop RPGs… the feeling that’s kept me playing them for almost 30 years. True, by today’s standards the rules were pretty rough, but isn’t that silliness a part of what made the experience fun when we were kids? I've been thinking of continuing the story of Ned “The Head” and his stalwart companions here, in a future post. Go put a "Like" onto the Googly Beard page on Facebook, pr give us a like on Twitter, and let me know what you think. Feel free to tell us a story about one of your own memorable tabletop RPG moments.
‘Til next time, game on.