Journal entry: April 18, 1982 (age 12)
My thirteenth birthday is in a few weeks, and I’m looking forward to going with my mom to Fat Cat Books in Johnson City. For the past few years, I have spent my birthday loot on Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) supplies. D&D is a role-playing game that involves many-sided dice, maps, reference books, and characters that earn experience points and money by solving riddles, battling monsters, and otherwise escaping the acne-and-skateboard world of adolescence.
I guess I got into fantasy gaming through reading. My favorite book is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I also love C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, and Paul R. Fisher’s The Ash Staff. Like those novels, D&D takes my mind to a black-and-white world of good vs. evil. In this alternate universe, it’s easy to spot the bad guys. They usually have distinguishing, unwholesome features, such as huge, venomous bicuspids or a four-foot eyestalk. In the real world, it would be nice if the bullies in the lunch room were as easily identifiable as, say, a 12-foot “gelatinous cube,” or a “shambling mound” of demonic vegetation.
The game’s complexity also plays to my love of organization. Each character has his or her own set of statistics rating his or her talents, attributes, and personality traits. I have three main characters that I guide through the game’s underground adventures: a fighter named Echorine, a magic-user named Merlyn, and my top guy – a level-22 cleric named Alcarth. I just put the finishing touches on a map and detailed description of a medieval stronghold for my imaginary triumvirate. From three thrones in a center tower, they command an army of footmen, archers, and a bunch of giant-like creatures called “iron golems.” Chances are, I’ll never use the stronghold in an actual game, but I enjoyed planning and setting it up. It’s almost like having a life.
Fat Cat Books also sells miniature figurines that represent the various races and beasts in the D&D pantheon. I’ve bought a couple of dozen, and I keep them in a little cabinet that was intended to store hardware supplies such as nails and grommets, rather than half-orcs and kobolds. The miniatures are all metallic gray. I tried to paint a few with colored paints, but I wasn’t very good at it. I ended up buying metallic gray paint to mask the tragedy of my hueful experiments. Battle-hardened paladins should not have polka dots on their cloaks.
Our family computer, an Apple II Plus, allows me to play similar fantasy games in a high-tech manner. I’ve already mastered the text-based adventures “Zork” and “Starcross.” I’ve heard that they are working on games that will show upper AND lower-case letters on the screen, which would be wicked cool! But by then, I may not have as much free time. The longhaired guys who hang out and play D&D in the back of Fat Cat Books seem to have plenty of time to design upper-level dragon enchantments, or whatever it is they do back there. For myself, I think I’ll chuck it all someday, if I can find a girlfriend who speaks Elvish.