Monday, December 18, 2023


The funny thing about my involvement with Dungeons & Dragons is that it was actually mother who first brought a copy of the game – the Holmes Basic Set – into our house. She bought it for my father sometime in August or September 1979, because he'd been talking about D&D a lot.  Dad had always been an avid reader and he'd been reading stories about the game in newspapers and magazines. Though I didn't know it at the time, his interest in the game had been sparked by the disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III in August of that year. As my mother explained it to me, she had bought a copy of the boxed set, thinking that Dad would find it interesting. She was mistaken in this, because my father never even opened it. The set, still in its shrink wrap, was then placed in the upstairs linen closet, because that's where lots of items that had no obvious place to put them in our house were frequently stored.

And that's where it remained until the Christmas holidays, when my friend Mike received a copy of a boardgame called Dungeon! Back in those days, it was tradition among my friends to spend our Christmas vacation making the rounds at each other's houses, showing off the presents we'd received and pronouncing judgment over which of all the gifts we deemed the best. That year, without question, the winner was
Dungeon! We played it many, many times and we all agreed that Mike was the victor in that year's "competition." What clinched it for us were the monster cards, which included all sorts of bizarre creatures we'd never heard of before, such as a "black pudding." We found the whole thing faintly ridiculous, honestly, but that very ridiculousness also kept us playing and, like some kind of narcotic, we wanted more.

That's when I remembered the D&D Basic Set in the linen closet, which I then took out and unwrapped. I gleefully took the rulebook over to Mike's house to show it off and we then attempted to figure out how to play the damned thing. I'm not ashamed to say that we failed utterly in our attempts – not that that stopped us from "playing" Dungeons & Dragons anyway. Our early "adventures" were weird things. We used Dungeon! to "clarify" details we didn't understand in the rulebook and, because my boxed set was one of those that didn't include polyhedral dice, we played using only six-sided dice. I even have a dim recollection of using the board game's playing surface – it wasn't really a board – to run an adventure or two.

Eventually, Mike's older brother, who was a surly teen metal head saw us with the Holmes rule book and listened to our feeble attempts to play the game. He'd never taken much interest in us before, except perhaps to terrorize us with his loud music or to punch Mike when he "got out of line." When he saw us with the D&D book, though, he took some measure of pity on us and tried to help us, in his own
condescending way, to play the game "properly." Of course, Mike's brother didn't play D&D by the book himself; he used lots of house rules and variants and so we adopted them as Gospel truths until we knew better. It was nevertheless a strange turning point for us, because never before had Mike's brother ever treated us so nicely. He still beat up Mike, of course, but a bond, however tenuous, was forged through our mutual love of D&D.

I bought the Monster Manual sometime in early 1980, using money I'd received from my grandmother at Christmas. I ordered the book through the Sears catalog and was absolutely captivated – and occasionally frightened – by its contents. I vividly recall the illustration of the Night Hag being particularly unnerving to me. Over the next six months, my friends and I acquired other AD&D books and modules, which we used in conjunction with Holmes – and then Moldvay when it came out the following year – so we probably never played a "pure" version of the game, not that anyone cared. We were having the times of our young lives, creating characters with abandon and inflicting all sorts of monstrous tricks and traps on one another. By popular acclaim, I quickly became
the Dungeon Master. With the rare exceptions of when Mike's brother or father would run us through a dungeon, no one else really took to the role as I did and it's a role I've pretty much had most of my gaming career. I'm not a terrible player, mind you, but my gifts, such as they are, naturally incline me toward refereeing and so it has remained for the better part of the last four decades or so.

Every year, as Christmas rolls around once again, I find myself recalling these events from my childhood. Even today, they're among my fondest memories, because they, quite literally, changed my life forever. There is no way I could have known, in December 1979, that the "weird new game" that my friends and I discovered almost by accident would become the foundation on which I'd build not just a lifelong hobby but also many more friendships. To this day, some of my oldest and dearest friends are those whom I know only because we share a love of roleplaying games. That's why, even though I didn't, strictly speaking, get the D&D Basic Set for Christmas that year, I nevertheless consider it among the best gifts I've ever received.


  1. What a great article and memories.

  2. I just stopped by to glance and see what you had to say about Christmas. Didn't expect to get lost in the story. Great essay!

  3. Awesome. I can relate to that story in certain aspects. This type of experience has already been lost with Critical Role and videos showing how the game "should" be played.

  4. Christmas 1979 was where it started for me, too. All those monsters! For you it was the black pudding, for me it was the gelatinous cube. Maybe our families had similar looking refrigerators. B1 was what got me going. Reading all those room descriptions made the world come alive for me in a way I never quite knew this one to be. I was hooked (until Gamma World came along, three months later).

  5. I love the box art of that Dungeon! game. The later box art for it was all pretty bad.