On the 40th Anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons

Our book comes out in mid-March (get your pre-order copies here), which is coincidentally the 40th anniversary of the release of Dungeons & Dragons. When I found out yesterday about the upcoming anniversary, I started reminiscing about the first time I played the game.

I purchased the infamous Dungeons & Dragons red box Starter Set in 1985. When I got home, I tore off its plastic wrapper, and dumped the contents on the floor: a simple single-player adventure, a thin rule book, some character sheets, and the odd-shaped dice. I can’t remember must about the solo adventure, but two events stand out in my mind.

Creating my Paladin

I’d always dreamed of playing a Paladin, one of the shining heroes who swooped into dire situations because it was the right thing to do. I was always drawn to that idea of play, although looking back upon it I suspect I felt that way because the hero is never supposed to die.

When I finally had the chance to create my heroic character, it didn’t take me long to plan his arc (although if I recall, the closest I could get to a Paladin in the Starter Set was a Fighter.) Eventually I switched my character’s class (I know, I know!) when I started playing with friends so that I could fulfill my dream.

(For those who must know if karma ever caught me for switching classes: It did. My 40th level Paladin was unceremoniously killed when he crashed through a door, and fell into a pit filled with poison stakes. No saving throw; just death.)

Finding the Carrion Crawler

One of the first beasts to be slain in my Starter Set adventure was this weird critter. I don’t know why I remember the first thing I killed in a dungeon adventure, but I sure do. As I recall, the Starter Kit had a picture of the beast, which I didn’t enjoy because it pulled me out of my imagination and placed me in somebody else’s visual of the story.

That Starter Kit was great because it gave me the chance to play RIGHT OUT OF THE BOX, but it also convinced me that I needed to find a group of like-minded players.

The Brilliance of D&D

When we’re inevitably asked why we began our story about computer games with a story about the early days of this pen-and-paper game, the answer is easy. We began our story there because that’s where so many game developers first learned to tell stories.

The magic of D&D wasn’t in the rules or the iconic creatures. Instead, its brilliance was that it allowed you to create a world of adventures in your head, and it put you in control of bringing those adventures to light. Your experience with the game was only as good as the people around you. You had to commit, and you had to put the time into the process to make it worthwhile.

Otherwise, you just had a long, meandering series of events that went nowhere. I still have two Starter Kits. One I keep in my house for those times I get nostalgic and want to fiddle with the game, and one I keep in my office at Ball State University so that I can demonstrate to my students how you learn to tell stories.

We began our tale with D&D because the game and its spirit endures.