Thursday, July 12, 2012

First (Character) Loves

In my quest recently to clean my home-based office, where I run my boutique ad agency from, I came across my old plastic file cabinet into which I had stored a bunch of old gaming notes, stretching back to when I first got started playing RPGs back around 1983.

I have a strange habit that I pretty much never throw anything out - at least, not things that I have created. I'm great at throwing out junk mail, receipts, paper bills (since I pay them online), catalogs... I'm fine with getting rid of those, because I absolutely hate clutter. However, I've always had an aversion to throwing out anything that I've made myself, including stories written for school projects, old sketch pads with drawings dating all the way back to 4th and 5th grade, and more. This little quirk includes my gaming notes, so as a consequence, at one point, I filed every character sheet, every map, and notes for every game I tried to create, all into a neat little folders and then put those into a big plastic file box when my wife and I bought our house about five years ago.  When I did the filing, I came across things that I hadn't seen in 20 years or more, but we were busy in "putting stuff away mode", so I didn't really get to take much of a trip down memory lane. I just filed them away and stored the box in the office, and kind of forgot about it.

As I mentioned, I'm trying to clean my office a bit because it's gotten somewhat out of control, and while doing so, I came across the box, and had a feeling of nostalgia that I'm sure many gamers have gotten when coming across that long forgotten box of gaming materials, whether it's a copy of the 1st Edition Dungeon Masters Guide, the Moldvay Basic D&D Set complete with box, or the original three Traveler books.  

For my part, I've actually always kept all of my purchased game books and boxes neatly on my bookshelves in every house and apartment I've ever lived in, and I've referred to them constantly over the years as reading and inspirational material. Although I enjoy them, because I've had access to them so frequently, they don't necessarily evoke feelings of nostalgia in me. Instead, my feeling of nostalgia came from finding my old notes that I wrote, on the back of ancient dot-matrix printer paper that my dad had brought him from his office for my sister and me to use as scratch paper.

While going through the box a few days ago, I came across my very first character sheet for Moldvay Basic D&D - the first iteration of the game I started with. My character's name was Dovirr, and he was a fighter. That's a trend that I've continued pretty much up to today - I tend to prefer fighter-types over magic-using types for some reason.

Dovirr was Lawful and had some absolutely amazing stats which clearly did not come from rolling 3d6 - the DM for the game, a guy named John Stireman (who was also the guy who taught me the game in the first place), assigned me my stats after I picked my character, so I technically wasn't "cheating."

In my odd handwriting mix of printing and cursive (another habit which continues for me even today), I see that he had a "normal sword" and something called a "sheild" which is odd because I've always considered myself a good speller.

I also like that he has the standard adventurer's gear that people often forget to note on their sheets these days - 30' of rope, a water/wine skin, exactly 6 torches, a "gold cross" (I remember that I didn't really understand how religion worked in the game but I just assumed that he was probably some kind of knight, like a King Arthur type, and so probably would have a cross), a lantern, and one of my favorite touches, a "key (found)".

Also, miraculously at 1st level, I had already amassed a "gem of true seeing" and a "di genie" that would fight for me on command. I also had an invisibility jewel that I could use up to 10 times. John had a great imagination, as I remember, and I'm sure made up quite a few things like this in the games he ran.

I remember being so excited to create this character sheet by hand (we didn't really have access to a photocopy machine and goodness knows we couldn't afford to actually buy pre-printed character sheets).  The yellow marking on the top isn't actually from the sheet itself - that's from my scanner, which has clearly seen better days.  However, I kind of like it - it makes the JPEG look old and weathered.

I also remember keeping exact track of Dovirr's coins, every item he picked up along his travels, his languages, and his gear.  I was very much a "by the book" type of player, to the point that at one juncture I told John that if he continued to allow another player in the game, a magic-user, to use a mace (which was forbidden by the rules - magic-users could only use daggers or staves), that I would quit the game  in protest. John's very curt answer was, "Go ahead." That was one of my first life lessons in not being a jerk and demanding that things be exactly the way that I thought they should be, but it has been a hard habit to break. I still have a very deep sense of "This is how things are supposed to work, so why can't people adhere to the rules?" streak in me.

Mostly, I fondly remember playing Dovirr during class with John. We would pass notes back and forth and I'm sure I still have some of the notes somewhere (probably filed in the box).

Dovirr never made it past 1st level. We only played Moldvay Basic for a short period of time, and John was a little stingy with giving out XP at that time, so even after a few sessions, I was still slogging it out as a 1st level Veteran.  Then we moved on to AD&D and I didn't play B/X D&D again until just a few weeks ago (using Labyrinth Lord rules).  After I discovered AD&D as a kid, I felt that Dovirr was just too, well... basic. With AD&D, I could be a half-elf ranger or a gnome illusionist or a half-orc assassin or all kinds of cool things that just seemed more grown-up and sophisticated than poor little Dovirr with his gold cross and his Lawful alignment.

Looking back, I kind of miss Dovirr. It'd be interesting to know what kinds of adventures he would  have gone on had I kept playing him all those years ago.  As it is, I like to think that he tired of the adventuring life, even though he was only a 1st level Veteran, and he retired to a life of relative peace and tranquility as the owner of a pub somewhere near the Keep on the Borderlands. Perhaps one of your characters will come across him one day.


  1. I think it would be interesting to dig out our old characters and lay them today as is, with no updating or modification.

    Alas, all my earliest characters are lost to me, but I do still have a bundle of sheets from my brief time gaming at university, including an ape-like Gangrel based on Hank McCoy I created for the one and only time I played Vampire; I'm not sure I understood the game. ;)

    1. I remember Vampire... my friend gave it to me as a birthday gift one year. I think it's one of the 1st Editions (I have no idea what edition they're on now). I never played it - I thought the concept of the different "houses" of Vampires and the internal politics was cool, and thought it was neat that it was the inspiration for that show "Kindred: The Embraced" back in the mid-90s (although I never watched it).

      The reason I have all of my old character sheets and stuff is because my parents and grandparents through EVERYTHING out, so as a consequence I have very few things with their handwriting or anything like that - no diaries, no papers, nothing. My parents are still alive and well but all of my grandparents are gone, and I think I've missed something by not having some tangible little pieces of their lives that I can look back on to try to figure out "What kind of person was Grandma when she was 17 years old?"

      So, I have this little idea that by having all of these things and keeping them organized, one day, my descendants could dig out one of my old character sheets, folder of hand-draw fantasy maps, or sketchbook with my designs for a superhero team I was creating, and have a good sense of who I was.

      I know - it's kind of weird. I'm sure my daughter will just throw everything out when she's older. :)

  2. I love that you have this. I would imagine if we all were as organized as you, it would temper our nostalgia and recollection. with a bit more objectivity. Great stuff.

    1. Ha! Thanks, Dylan! See above as to why I keep all of this old stuff. But, you may be onto something. As a consequence of keeping my materials easily accessible and referring to them somewhat often, I never really got bit by the "nostalgia bug", because, for me, I'd never set them aside.


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