Monday, January 30, 2012

Design Decisions: Gnomes and Halflings

So, I'll just get this out of the way upfront, but I hate the "small" races in D&D - gnomes and halflings.

Okay, if you're still here, I'll explain a little bit.  There's really no rational reason for it, any more than there is any good reason for someone to prefer playing wizards or to hate druids.  Some things are truths. "Star Trek: Wrath of Khan" is the best of the original cast movies, followed closely by "Star Trek: The Voyage Home." "Empire Strikes Back" is the best of the three "Star Wars" movies (because, of course, there are only three).  There is only one "Highlander" movie. These are absolute truths that can't be argued with.

With gnomes and halflings, when I say that they suck and I don't like using them, I get that that's just an opinion and I don't begrudge people who like them.

I know exactly where my loathing of the small races began, but I'll start at the beginning.  In terms of fantasy literature (and not mythology, like Norse dwarfs and elves and such), my first exposure to the idea of the small races was The Hobbit in 5th grade, around 1981 or so.  Of course, there's really only one Hobbit in the book, but the book isn't about him being small as much as it is more about the idea of someone leaving a more simple life and being exposed to a bigger, more complex world, and figuring out his place in that world.

This was all well and good and I liked The Hobbit a lot as a kid, and even enjoyed the Rankin-Bass animated version that came out later.  A couple of years later, in 7th grade, I began reading the Lord of the Rings (which sadly, I didn't actually ever finish until about 18 years later, just before the first of the three movies came out, but that's another story).  Hobbits are, of course, more involved in this story and a good deal of the action actually does revolve around the idea that they are small and therefore people might tend to underestimate them.  Even though I never finished the books until later, back in 1983 when I started them I already had a pretty good idea of the story and I understood the role that the Hobbits as a small race played in the narrative.

And then it happened.  In 1983, a little movie called "The Return of the Jedi" was released, and it remains to this day, hands down, my least favorite of the three Star Wars films.  By a wide margin.  Almost to the point that, say, if there were any other Star Wars movies made, I might like some of them better than ROTJ. Why all this anger toward Episode VI?  One word.


Ewoks destroyed Star Wars for me. Now, I get that six years of my life had gone by between the first Star Wars movie back in 1977 and the last one in 1983.  I was nearly twice as old as I had been when the first movie came out, so those six years represented a significantly long period of time in my life. So, I was older - a teenager, in fact, and I don't think the Ewoks were supposed to appeal to me.

But it was worse than that.  All of the seriousness, the darkness, the hopelessness of the Rebellion... all of those themes that were so well done in Empire were, in my mind, just completely undone by a bunch of Teddy Ruxpin wanna-bes running around in janky-looking, matted fur suits with molded, inexpressive faces and singing stupid songs.

Lucas really took the theme of the smaller, primitive race of people overcoming bigger people with technology and drove it home with a hammer. It seemed to me to be kind of a rip-off of one of the themes from the Lord of the Rings, and more important, the Ewoks were just dumb. Not cute.  Not funny. Dumb. Stupid and out-of-place.

Not too long after that, another Lucas film called "Willow" came out, and featured as a main theme a race of small, somewhat primitive people, and a sort of reluctant champion who rises to heights greater than any of his kin to become the hero that saves the entire land from the Big Bad Evil Guy.

Um... sound familiar?  It's no surprise that I hated that movie, too, despite some somewhat funny parts featuring a young Val Kilmer in the Han Solo role. 

All round the time that these movies came out, I was getting more and more involved in AD&D and I remember reading the race sections in the Player's Handbook and not really getting why there were both gnomes AND halflings.  I got why halflings were in there - they were an homage (if not outright copying) of the hobbits in LOTR. And I was fine with that, even though I personally never wanted to play one, because they came from some of the source material for the background of the game. But gnomes?  I didn't get it.  I still kind of don't.  Gnomes just stray way too far from the early Sword & Sorcery influences of the game. Even Elf and Dwarf characters stretch the bar a little much, but given their prevalence in LOTR, can be forgiven. But gnomes just seem... "cute."  I never got the niche they were supposed to fill.

So, all of these years later, when I finally was getting my world ready to start my long-running World of Samoth campaign, I decided to eliminate gnomes and halflings from the playable races.  In their place, I did allow goblins, but I even changed those from small to medium-size (they're around the same height as dwarves in my world). I just can't get past my prejudice against the small races.

I did have one player right at the very beginning who really wanted to play a halfling rogue, but I had to explain to him that I don't have halflings in my world so he simply switched his character to an elf and that was that.  It hasn't come up since, and I don't think my world lacks depth because of my omission. 

What about everyone else? I suspect I'm in the minority here, but I'd love to hear people's thoughts on why they do, or don't, like (or use) gnomes and halflings in their games.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Fun With Any Edition: AD&D 2nd Edition

Continuing my series on having fun playing any edition of D&D, I'm finally getting around to 2nd Edition AD&D.  As a reminder, I'm going backwards, starting with 4th Edition. 

This one for 2nd Edition is going to be a bit of a cheat because I never actually played 2nd Edition D&D.

How did that happen, exactly?

Well, my family moved from Sandy, Utah, to Southern California in the Summer of 1986, which was about three years before 2nd Edition came out.  So, I lost my gaming group and had to start from scratch.  I finally did meet some guys who games, and we actually played a short-lived Warhammer Fantasy RPG game in the Summer of 1988, after my Senior Year of High School.  The GM of that campaign is actually currently a player in my long-running World of Samoth campaign and also is running his own Pathfinder game campaign currently.

After our Warhammer game fell apart, everyone kind of just drifted away from gaming.  Everyone, that is, except me.  I was still really into D&D, and still looked forward to my Dragon magazine showing up in the mail every month.  During my Freshman year of college, I started to read in Dragon about how a new edition of AD&D was coming out soon, designed by the guy who pretty much wrote the 1st Edition Oriental Adventures book.  And, I'm gonna say it - I loved that book.  I know that's not a popular thing to say in the OSR Community, but whatever.  I totally dug Oriental Adventures and was really looking forward to a new edition of D&D because I thought it would incorporate a lot of things from that book as well as stuff like Unearthed Arcana (another book that I really liked).

As I've mentioned before, during my Freshman year at college over Winter Break, I had the chicken pox and spent pretty much the entire break working on a new campaign setting that eventually morphed into my World of Samoth. I spent a lot of time developing new sub-classes and tweaking the races and everything, all based on 1st Edition Rules.  But, again, I had no group to play with.

When 2nd Edition finally came out, I rushed by buy the Player's Handbook and... I guess I'll just say I was underwhelmed.  People can be fickle and hypocritical. I was excited at the thought of a new edition of D&D, and yet I thought it was too different, if you can imagine.  It's really not all that different from 1st Edition D&D when you look under the surface.  But, superficially, it seemed very different to me. A few things immediately jumped out:

  • No gnomes or half-orcs.  What the Hell?  I hate gnomes personally, but why take them out of the Player's Handbook?  Shouldn't it be up to the DM to decide if he wants them in his world or not, instead of up to TSR?  I did like half-orcs and it really bothered me that they were no longer part of the core rules. [EDIT: See comments below - I now realize that gnomes were in the 2E Player's Handbook. I guess I just dislike them so much that I completely forgot.]
  • No assassins or monks.  By this time, I had been exposed to the original sources of the classes via the OD&D Blackmoor supplement, and I was annoyed that this "history" of the game had been excised from the core rulebook.  
  • No Unearthed Arcana classes or Oriental Adventures classes.  This one really grinded my gears.  What happened to all of this new material that had just come out over the past few years?  Why were these classes missing?
  • The ugly light-blue section headings and the font.  Yeah, this might seem like a minor detail, but I was really of the mind that the texts should look old and difficult to read.  Every RPG product I had read up until that point had a small point size for the text and minimal layout. They were atrocious to read (well, except for the Moldvay Basic book, which I started with, but had at this point in my life set aside as being too "childish").  The layout and fonts in the new book seemed to "mass market" to me - too polished.  This is really hard to explain but it really bugged me.
  • No more Gygaxian text.  This was another huge problem for me.  Gary tended to write in long, run-on sentences and used tons of words I'd never heard of before, and his writing really seems to have been stream-of-consciousness.  There is no attempt, for example, in the 1st Edition Player's Handbook to organize the content of each character class in the same way.  Yet now in the new 2nd Edition PHB, we were missing all of the fancy words and every class description had the exact same layout.  Looking back on it, I think the layout part, especially, was a huge improvement.  But, back then it bothered me because it seemed to much like they were making it look like the Moldvay Basic book and that meant more "kiddie" in my mind.  I'll also say that by taking out all of the big words that Gary used, it basically created a corporate mentality that "People aren't smart enough to understand this stuff."  It's a mentality that's creeped into a lot of media over the past few decades - a constant under-estimating of the intelligence of the audience.  
I'm not even going to comment on the DMG or the horrendous three-ring  binder Monster book because I never purchased those.  Years later, I did pick up the hardback version of the Monstrous Manual and I actually thought it was a decent book, but of course I never actually used it in play.

There were  two things that I did really love about 2nd AD&D.  The first was the idea of character class kits.  There were hundreds of these things, published over the entire length of 2nd Edition's lifetime, in books like the Complete Fighter's Handbook, the Complete Book of Dwarves, and even some odd ones like the Complete Ninja's Handbook and the Complete Barbarian's Handbook (each of the last two introduced new classes as well as new kits).  I got almost all of these books, even though, again, I wasn't actually playing the game.  But, I used them a ton to create new kits for my campaign world.  It was so much easier than designing a new class or sub-class from scratch.  If you're not familiar with kits, the idea was that you picked a character class, like a Fighter, and then you could pick a kit, such as Noble, Peasant Hero, or Wilderness Warrior.  Each kit gave you ideas on personality and role-playing tips, as well as a little bonus and a little hindrance or penalty.  Sound familiar?  These started to become common at the tail end of D&D 3.5 as new rulebooks gave ideas for swapping out standard class abilities for others in order to create a new concept.  Pathfinder uses this idea rather extensively in all of their rulebooks, and I think they're an awesome idea.  I loved the idea of kits in 2nd Edition.  They did get a lot of flack from people, however, because they were wildly uneven - no two kits were equal in power.  Some designers also did things like not giving a particular kit a penalty.  Most of them involved role-playing penalties but provided a mechanical in-game bonus, so abuse was common.  This was really the start, in my mind, of people being obsessed with game balance and that every bonus had to come with an equal penalty.

The second thing that I really loved about 2nd Edition was the proliferation of campaign worlds.  Tons of really cool, unique settings first made their debut with this edition, including Dark Sun, Spelljammer, and Planescape.  I loved reading about these settings in Dragon magazine and actually bought Dark Sun under the auspices that it was for a "school project" (more about this in a separate post).  These new settings were so imaginative and went way beyond the standard Tolkiensian fantasy as presented in the settings of Greyhawk, Dragonlance, and Forgotten Realms.

So, even though I didn't actually ever play 2nd Edition, I got tons of use out of the stuff that I owned (mainly all of the Complete Book of... series) because I used them as inspiration for beginning to more fully flesh out my campaign world.  I've found that one of the easiest ways to explain a culture in a fantasy game is to say "their fighters fight like this" or "their priests act like this."  In 1st Edition AD&D, I found this was somewhat harder to explain because all clerics were the same.  A cleric of Odin, a cleric of Osiris, and a cleric of Ishtar, in 1st Edition AD&D, are all going to wield maces, wear plate mail, and turn undead.  In 2nd Edition, I could use the Complete Priest's Handbook to distinguish these clerics and create unique religious organizations specific to my campaign world.

I should also point out that, of course I'm a total hypocrite, because while I thought that AD&D 2nd Edition was too different from 1st Edition AD&D, I immediately fell in love with D&D 3rd Edition, and that game is of course light years different than 2nd Edition AD&D.  Go figure.

What were your experiences with 2nd Edition?  What or didn't you like about it?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Zak's GM Questionnaire

Yesterday, Zak over at Playing D&D with Porn Stars put a questionnaire up.  While I don't normally participate in stuff like this, this one looked kind of fun. Every link in the questionnaire, with the exception of the very first one, leads to a post on my blog where I actually went into more detail about that particular topic.

1. If you had to pick a single invention in a game you were most proud of what would it be?

I guess it would be the d20 book I wrote, the Quintessential Aristocrat.  I did a ton of research on nobility and the aristocracy of various cultures throughout history.

2. When was the last time you GMed?

July of 2011, although it looks like we're finally set to play again this Saturday.

3. When was the last time you played?

Friday, 1/6 in my friend Brian's Andalusia II campaign.

4. Give us a one-sentence pitch for an adventure you haven't run but would like to.

A wizard character capable of limited time travel moves throughout time to recruit a "super team" of other heroes (knights, soldiers, scientists, etc.) to defeat a powerful entity intent on destroying the galaxy in the past, but has to contend with enemy agents out to stop him from recruiting the heroes.

5. What do you do while you wait for players to do things?

Look at my notes for upcoming encounters and go grab a drink.

6. What, if anything, do you eat while you play?

For day-games on weekends: grapes, cherry tomatoes, carrots, marcona almonds, pita/hummus or chips/salsa, and beer. Oh, and chocolate chip cookies.

For Friday night games: pizza, beer, and ice cream.

For all day "game days": depends on what my friend Cal makes.  But always with lots of wine.

7. Do you find GMing physically exhausting?

No.  I guess I'm lazy.  But I do find it mentally exhausting.

8. What was the last interesting (to you, anyway) thing you remember a PC you were running doing?

I was playing an English Lieutenant-Colonel and a World War II Savage Worlds game and was handed a piece of paper by the GM in the middle of a combat that basically said that I was actually a "White Wizard" and that all of my technical equipment was actually magic, but I had to role-play to the rest of the players to convince them that there was nothing amiss and that all of my seemingly magical equipment were simply experimental technological items made by British secret agencies.
9. Do your players take your serious setting and make it unserious? Vice versa? Neither?

Once in a while, but it's totally okay.  D&D for me is more about the social aspects, which includes goofing around and having fun.  If we're not laughing and having a good time, then why are we playing?

10. What do you do with goblins?

They're pretty rare in my campaign world, but are used to point out examples of racism and human-centered bias.

11. What was the last non-RPG thing you saw that you converted into game material (background, setting, trap, etc.)?

Lots of background stuff from a History Channel International special called "The Dark Ages."

12. What's the funniest table moment you can remember right now?

In a 4E one-shot game (the only time I played that edition), my friend Cal, the GM, assigned me a character with the opening line: "You are the right head of a pygmy ettin."  Another played at the table was in charge of the left head. We had the same physical stats, but different mental stats and even different classes.  We split our movement in half, but other than that, we each got to take our full actions each round. I was told that I hated my "brother", so I put a spiked pauldron over his shoulder to "protect" his arm. It was actually there so that when I slapped his (left) head with the arm I controlled (the left arm), he would slap me back with the right arm that he controlled but would accidentally hit the spiked pauldron instead. Good times.

13. What was the last game book you looked at--aside from things you referenced in a game--why were you looking at it?

The 2E Arabian Adventures book.  I was looking at descriptions for the new non-weapon proficiencies introduced in the book for another project I'm working on.

14. Who's your idea of the perfect RPG illustrator?

I always liked the pulpy feel of stuff by Frank Frazetta.  Yeah, I know he didn't illustrate RPGs, but he would be my "perfect" RPG illustrator.

15. Does your game ever make your players genuinely afraid?

Not afraid in the traditional sense of the word, but some of them get anxious about their characters dying.

16. What was the best time you ever had running an adventure you didn't write? (If ever)

I recently took a group through module S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.  I'd owned it for over 25 years but had never played nor run it.  It was a lot of fun except that the ending was kind of rushed.

17. What would be the ideal physical set up to run a game in?

A really big table that can fit a battle mat plus everyone's books, notes, pens, and dice, as well as all of our food and drinks.  I'm not picky. 

18. If you had to think of the two most disparate games or game products that you like what would they be?

Speaking strictly about RPGs, I actually really like Pathfinder, but I also like the simplicity and openness of old school 1E Gamma World.

19. If you had to think of the most disparate influences overall on your game, what would they be?

Real-world Earth history and Frank Herbert's Dune.

20. As a GM, what kind of player do you want at your table?

Someone who gets into the world and plays their character based on their character's knowledge, not their meta-game knowledge.

21. What's a real life experience you've translated into game terms?

Many of the political relationships between various countries in my world are based on friendships or disagreements I had with people over the years. 

22. Is there an RPG product that you wish existed but doesn't?

I would love a true mythical fantasy version of India for a D&D based game (any version but 4E). Not just "fighters belong to the kshatriya caste" but actually taking inspiration from India and creating a cool, fully fleshed out fantasy setting.  And no psionics or yuan-ti allowed.

23. Is there anyone you know who you talk about RPGs with who doesn't play? How do those conversations go?

One of my co-workers. We used to go on a lot of business trips together so on the plane ride I would explain to her about the game and why I played. Over time she came to understand that it was really no different than her being hugely into the Dodgers and having memorized lots of stats and getting excited to get together with her friends to watch a game.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Game World Inspirations for the World of Samoth

I've talked about some of the influences for my World of Samoth campaign before.  You can search through the "Inspirations" tag on my blog here to see a list of them, but the main ones I've written about so far include the World of Conan, B/X D&D's Known World, and true Earth history. I also touched on it a little in my "Game Memories" post about Supplement I: Greyhawk last year. 

I had planned to write a post about the next major influence on my campaign world, but I thought before that I'd take a step back and write a little about all of the influences, in general, that have helped me shaped my world over the past 25+ years.

These "Game World Inspirations" posts are an attempt to get more into the real influences of the campaign and start a dialogue with people about their experiences with this source material.  Most of these influences will be familiar to many of you, while some might be a little obscure.  Who knows?  You might discover something here that piques your interest to go seek it out.

How do you start talking about the influences of a campaign world, when such a thing is constantly evolving?  Back in May of 2001 when I started my World of Samoth Campaign, I wrote a campaign influences section of a World Primer that I sent to all of my players.  Later on, I re-wrote it slightly for publication on the first World of Samoth campaign website (hosted by the late Yahoo! Geocities).  I have reproduced the Campaign Influences section of my primer, below. 


The World of Samoth will be at the same time very different, and very similar, to fantasy worlds that you may have encountered before through literature, movies, or other games.  My influences for the creation of the world include the following.

Fiction: Tolkiensian fantasy has actually very little to do with my world.  The main literary fiction influences include Robert E. Howard's Conan and Solomon Kane stories (including the Marvel Comics adaptation in the 70s and 80s), the Dune series, and a book of short stories called Liavek.

Movies: No single movie has had a big impact on the flavor of the world since the majority of the fantasy movies out there have been pretty terrible.  [Editor's note: Remember, this was May of 2001, before Jackson's LOTR films had come out]. For a good idea of what a typical large urban area looks like in the western part of the world, the city of Acquitaine from the movie "Ladyhawke" provides a good example.  The village in "Brotherhood of the Wolf" provides an example of a smaller village on the borders in the west.  

Historical: Actual earth history is the main source of inspiration for the campaign.  I like world history and have therefore attempted to use this influence to create believable cultures.  I like the juxtaposition of different eras of history as well as different world cultures, so you can expect to see Renaissance, Medieval, Byzantine, ancient Chinese, feudal Japanese, ancient Middle Eastern, ancient Egyptian, and medieval African cultures in the campaign.  The level of technology across all cultures is roughly equivalent to early renaissance Europe without the firearms.
Game Worlds: I began the World of Samoth about 15 years ago by basing my world roughly on the World of Greyhawk.  The campaign has altered greatly since then and bears almost no resemblance to this game world any more.  The "Known World" of the basic D&D game and the world of Hyboria (from the Conan stories) have had a large influence on the political structures and cultures.  I have never played in the world of the Forgotten Realms, but recently purchased the 3rd Edition Campaign Setting for this world so there will be a few influences from this in the world.  Lastly, I am constantly buying campaign settings from Wizards of the Coast and other 3rd Party Publishers, all of which have constant, subtle influences on the world.  Two of the main sources from these are the 1st Edition Oriental Adventures and the 2nd Edition Arabian Adventures from TSR, both of which were helpful in fleshing out the Asian and Middle Eastern areas of the World of Samoth.
How many of these influences have you all used in your campaign worlds?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Viewing Life Through the "Gaming Lens"

I'm sure I'm not the only one of you who does this, but a few days ago I was driving home when I passed by a local smoothie shop with the unfortunate name of "Maui Waui."  It's got some kitschy Hawaiian-themed decorations, making it look like a sad knock-off of an Island's restaurant, but something in the window caught my eye - it was a small wooden sculpture of a somewhat tiki-like representation of a warrior with a club. 

Upon seeing this, I was reminded of a trip I took to the Bishop Museum of Cultural and Natural History on the island of Oahu in Hawaii.  My dad was transferred to Hawaii while I was in college, and he and my mom moved there for what was supposed to be five years but which ended up being only about 18 months.  I stayed here in California to finish college but went to Hawaii several times to visit them and help them house-hunt and also to spend the holidays. 

During one of my visits there, we took a family trip to the Bishop Museum, which is full of tons of really interesting and cool artifacts illustrating the history and culture of Polynesia, and of course Hawaii in particular.  This is a part of the world that, at the time, I knew very little about, because of course it was pretty much ignored in all of my history classes at school.  Growing up when, and where, I did. "History" meant "Ancient Egypt-Greece-Sumeria-Rome --> Dark Ages/Middle Ages --> Renaissance --> (HUGE GAP) Colonial America and American Revolution --> American Civil War."  That's it.  If you were lucky and in the "Advanced" history classes, we sometimes got to deal with the very beginnings of World War 1 before the end of the school year came.  There was never any talk of China and Asia, Africa, or South America.  And Australia?  Forget about it.  So, obviously Polynesia was skipped over as well. 

I tried to supplement this lack of education by reading through my parents' collection of old World Book Encyclopedias, which they had acquired used from a friend who no longer wanted them.  All of the photographs were in black-and-white and they were published during the short period of time that Kennedy was actually still President, which is kind of cool when you go to the section on "Presidents of the United States" and you see Kennedy's picture with "1961 -".

Yeah, I know that's a ton of background to bring this back to gaming.  I usually write my blog posts by the "stream of consciousness" method and I rarely go back and edit them to tighten them up like I probably should.

So, I'm at the Bishop Museum and seeing all of these really cool exhibits and artifacts like old weapons, jewelry, clothing, boats, maps of different kindgoms, and reading about different customs and rituals for all of the varied peoples of Polynesia and the surrounding areas. 

And the entire time, my main focus was on trying to remember everything so that I could figure out how to integrate it into my D&D campaign.  One of the first things I did when I got back to our hotel was start jotting notes in a green Steno pad I had brought with me, and I ended up creating a group of Hawaiian-style islands off to the Western sea of my campaign world at the time.  

That's what I mean by the title of this post - "Viewing Life Through the Gaming Lens."  Ever since I learned to play D&D (or more specifically, when I started creating my own campaign worlds), I have a tendency to look upon any new learning experience through a sort of lens where I ask myself, "How can I take this knowledge and apply it to my campaign world of Samoth?" 

That's why, a few months ago, when I read The History of the World in Six Glasses, I thought about ways to incorporate what I learned into my game.  I've practiced this odd way of looking at things at museums, libraries, bookstores, while looking at items on display at friends' houses, while watching TV and movies, while listening to stories on NPR... the list goes on and on.  One time as a young teen while driving through Yellowstone National Park with my family, I spent most of the trip looking out the window and working on a way to adapt the landscape and animals to my Gamma World game.

I've always felt that looking at the world this way has helped to enrich my gaming experiences, but sometimes I wonder if I'm actually missing out on "living in the moment" because instead of just enjoying what I'm looking at or listening to, I'm figuring out how to incorporate the cool elements into my games.

Anybody else have this "problem"?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Game Stores: The Mythical "Lost Game Shop"

When I started playing D&D back in the early 80s in Sandy, Utah, there really weren't too many "true" game stores.  My test back then of whether a game store was a true, real game store was whether it showed up as one of the retailers listed in an advertisement in Dragon magazine. Back in those days, many of the ads carried in Dragon (usually for miniature figures) listed the names of several game stores, by state, where you could buy the products shown in the ads. 

To say that none of the ads back then featured any stores in Utah is putting the matter lightly.  None of the "Mountain States" ever had stores listed in those ads - Colorado, Utah, Nevada... nothing.  I visited Nevada once in a while because my Grandma lived in Reno.  Where there any game shops there listed in the ads?  Nope.  My dad went to Colorado at least once a year for business, and my family often made a vacation out of it.  Surely Denver had a big game store I could visit while I was there?  Nope.  Or, if they did, somehow it wasn't listed in the ads in Dragon

As a reminder, this was before the Internet, of course, and people didn't just have access to random phone books for cities (or states) they didn't live in.  So, if you couldn't find it in your local yellow pages, you were pretty much out of luck.

Utah was pretty dry when it came to game shops.  Sure, we had Hammond's, and there was the eclectic Cosmic Aeroplane.  But, we didn't have an honest-to-goodness game shop that sold miniature figures.  That was sort of my second acid test of defining the mythical game shop: they had to sell miniature figures, and be featured in an ad in Dragon magazine.  To this day, I've actually only ever visited two stores, both in California, that match that definition. But, more on that later. 

So, around 1985 or so, I'd been playing D&D for two, maybe three years.  I had collected a few miscellaneous issues of Dragon magazine, mostly as gifts.  One of my first issues was #72, which featured the debut of a new official character class, the Cavalier.  This was a HUGE DEAL because, as the old-timers will remember, the only true "official" character classes up to that point were the ones in the Player's Handbook.  Dragon had published a ton of classes over the years, but they were always billed as "Non-Player Characters."  They weren't official.  But, here in issue #72 was a new class by the creator of the game himself, and he specifically said it was official.  Woo-hoo! 

Then, I started to read more and found out that he had written two other official classes - the Thief-Acrobat in issue #69 and, the one I really coveted, the Barbarian in issue #63.  I really wanted to get my hands on issue #63 and read that Barbarian class.  It sounded so cool.  But, none of the shops around me had the issue any longer.  It was more than a year old, and had sold out.  I checked Walden's, B. Dalton's, Hammond's, and even made a special trip to Cosmic Aeroplane.  Nothing.  No issue #63.

That Summer of '85, my mom, sister, and I went to visit my Grandma in Reno while my dad was on a business trip.  Part of the trip involved heading over to Northern California, where we had used to live, for a little mini-vacation.  We were heading to Sacramento and going to spend some time going through Sutter's Mill and checking out the State Capital building.  But, I was excited about something much cooler - there was a store in Sacramento, called the Dragon's Den I believe, that was listed in an ad in Dragon magazine!  And they sold miniature figures!  Surely they would have a copy of Issue #63 in some forgotten corner of the shop!

I brought my magazines with me that listed the ad, and then for "ease of reference", I jotted the store address and phone number down on a piece of paper that I folded and kept in my pocket for the entire trip.  I was finally going to get to visit a real game store!  

We spent a few days in the Central Valley of California, around Modesto (where I had lived for a while as a young kid) and then headed to Sacramento.  We did all of the touristy stuff my mom and grandma wanted to do.  And then my sister and I were subjected to one of the great horrors of our childhood - the fabric store.  My mom and grandma both loved to sew and stitch and needlepoint and cross-stitch and all that kind of stuff.  So, to them, finding a new fabric or sewing store in a different city was a very exciting adventure very much akin to my search for a real game shop.  They also had the feeling that they were going to find some new pattern, bolt of fabric, or string of lace that they could use to make.. something.  Most of those "somethings" never got made. 

After a day of being shuffled around to fabric store after fabric store, I had had it.  I knew we were leaving that day, and I wanted to go to the game store before we headed out of town. My mom had said that we would, but that we needed to be patient with my grandma because she was getting tired and didn't move as quickly as she used to. 

I got very agitated seeing the minutes and then the hours tick by, and my frustration was supported when it was eventually announced to my sister and me that we were leaving now to head back to Reno.  No other stops were coming.  I wouldn't be able to go to the Dragon's Den after all. 

I was crushed.  I was mad.  And I was hurt.  I felt that everyone knew how important this was to me, so how could they just so casually push it aside like it was no big deal?  I sulked for weeks after that, like a typical young teenager would do. 

I of course eventually got over the "betrayal", but to this day I never have acquired a physical copy of Dragon #63 with the barbarian class.  Oh, sure, I eventually got to see the class in Unearthed Arcana but it just wasn't the same.  I wasn't experiencing the class in the raw, unedited form it originally appeared in.  The sense of the quest was missing - being able to buy the class in a hardback book that was readily available at pretty much any book and toy store that year seemed like cheating. 

I also never got a chance later in life to visit the mythical Dragon's Den in Sacramento.  I have no idea if it's even still around.  But I suspect that if I were to visit, my reaction would be much the same as when I eventually picked up Unearthed Arcana to finally read the barbarian class description - a sense of being underwhelmed and sort of let-down.  I've put up the idea of the Dragon's Den so much in my imagination that no game shop ever could ever do it justice. 

That pretty much sums up many things in life, doesn't it?

Hanging: Home office on the laptop.
Drinking: Nothing.
Listening: "The End of the Game" by Sting
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