“Mister F. wants to know if we would play D&D with them sometime,” my son said to me, referencing his best buddy—little Mister F.—who is the son of Mister F. “Sure, sounds like fun, I’ll text him and say that we’re in”, I responded.
Mister F., should you not know him in real life, is a mysterious, curious man who lives in the neighborhood, in a home adjacent to our backyard. I can get away with the descriptive moniker of Curious Man because it is, indeed, mysterious in itself—just like Mister F. Really, Mister F. is quite a cool person, a true introvert by nature, which is what I love about him, but his passion in life is that of board games. If there were a thing that was true to me and my character, and other people would instantly equate that with who I am (i.e. I’m thinking of photography), that would be the equivalent of gaming to Mister F. Everyone knows that his passion is for gaming, specifically board gaming.
I text Mister F. and arrange a Dungeons & Dragons session for a few days out into the future—yes, Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. I’m a huge fan of D&D, even though I’ve never played the game before, ever, in my life. Yes, I know it sounds like an oxymoron.
Step into my personal Wayback Machine, as we travel the delicate pathways of time. Engines engaged, time and space continuum properly violated, engines disengage, doors open: the year is 1982, and all of the kids in my peer group, living in the upscale cookie-cutter neighborhood, are playing Dungeons & Dragons.
There’s talk of Dungeon Masters, trolls, gold bounty, traps, battles, and, of course, dragons—terrifying dragons with sharp blood-stained teeth. I never joined that group of role-playing friends; I lived further away, on a desolate country backroad. But I always loved the idea of playing the game, insomuch as to purchase campaign books, paintable figures, crazy-sided dice, and hardback manuals that detailed the multitude of monsters living in the said universe. Yet, I never once played D&D.
By 1983, Dungeons & Dragons, and the subsequent Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, had become hot stuff, the bee’s knees, and fully integrated into pop culture. Book publishers jumped on the D&D bandwagon, producing a wildly successful series of Choose Your Own Adventure novels. The toy market churned out products to meet the growing demand, including plastic resin figures and playsets, designed to encourage imagination and play at home. I fondly remember many of the action figures that I once owned, but, sadly, I never saw them once I moved out of my parent’s house for my college tenure.
Saturday mornings offer a special kind of nostalgia for me. In today’s culture of On-Demand-Everything, the concept of Saturday-only programming is a foreign concept. Sometimes, just sometimes, I believe that there is value in committing memories to pen and paper, because someday I will not remember my sense of nostalgia or moments of my childhood—today’s narrative falls into that category.
Fear not: Ranger, Barbarian, Magician, Thief, Cavalier, and Acrobat. That was Venger, the force of evil. I am Dungeon Master, your guide in the realm of Dungeons and Dragons! ~ Dungeon Master, Dungeons & Dragons
As I write this story, the second monitor of my home computer setup is displaying the classic cartoon, on DVD—episode one, titled The Night of No Tomorrow. The memories are flooding back to favorite instances, circumstances, and storylines of the six main characters. I can remember my cold, cold living room, still in a Saturday morning slumber. The coals in the fireplace are stoked, sharing warmth with the rest of the room, and additional firewood brings the temperature into a warmer bracket of comfort. The glow of the fireplace is matched by that of the small color television. The Saturday Morning Cartoon line-up includes the animated classic, Dungeons & Dragons, and I am mentally glued to the screen, following the adventures of a rag-tag team of teens that have been thrusted into a fantasy universe unlike their own. I waited each week, to watch another episode of adventure; oh how I loved that show.
Real life kids and teens played the game with fervor, assuming the role of a sorcerer, barbarian, bard, ranger, or many other character classes. Your D&D group may consist of characters with varying skills and abilities, strongly suggesting the benefits of team and cooperation. The physical game of D&D was played on a flat surface, over a series of one-inch grids, much like over-sized graph paper. One person in the group was designated as Dungeon Master, and tasked with managing the storylines—including random variations based on the choices of other players—and gameplay of the other game participants. Multifaceted dice, ranging from four-sided to twenty-sided, permitted chance to enter the game, randomly determining the outcome of player actions or battles with foes.
Unlike video games, where the player is presented with a visual representation of a fantasy universe, D&D is a game that is largely played within the gamer’s imagination. The Dungeon Master provides text descriptions of the group’s environment, foes or friends, and any applicable details of the campaign; however, a player of the game is largely responsible for imagining what that world looks like—a modern concept that is distinctly absence from our current, visually saturated culture. To me, this is one of the benefits of the game.
About the same period of time, the American culture was experiencing a massive moral dilemma: do the concepts found within Dungeons & Dragons require a moral compromise to traditional, conservative, and Christian values? The fantasy game was set in a world of fantasy, where monsters and magic were plentiful. Obviously, this game of “demon worshipping” was creating an indelible, negative imprint on the youth of America. I make that statement with a heavy dose of sarcasm, as it doesn’t reflect my current opinion. Nonetheless, Parent Teacher Associations, from coast to coast, had their collective panties in one big knot of controversy, claiming Satan as the mastermind behind D&D (obviously, who else would be?—sorry, more sarcasm).
Mister F’s Friday D&D
Thanksgiving arrives, followed by Black Friday, and, after a morning session of Christmas shopping with the wife, my son and I are ready to jump into the world, Mister F’s world, of Dungeons & Dragons. We arrive in his impressive game room—the stuff of a hobbyist’s fantasy—ready for a grand adventure. I’ve always loved his dedicated gaming space, and have enjoyed many board games in this space over the last few years.
The one thing that Mister F. is known for is his epic board games. Epic in the sense of epically long in duration—based on a lesson learned from one previous, mind-maddening session of Descent, years ago—and I was sure to ask, in advance, the time requirement for today’s Dungeons & Dragons adventure. His cryptic reply was “between one and four hours” and, now that I have completed the session, I understand the reasoning for the ambiguous answer.
As our group of three (my son, Mister F’s son, and myself) are led through multiple conflicts and problem-solving situations by Mister F., the time requirement is based on how we play the game, rather than a fixed portion of time. Each decision by the group leads to a new set of outcomes, battles with Bad Guys lurking in the shadows, or another portion of the story is unfolded, unpacked for the next block of adventure. Some problems simply require more time to solve.
Our group worked through three distinct portions of the story, in a two-hour span (give or take), and the full plot of the scripted story had been barely scratched. It seems that this prolonged playing time is a well-known, and appreciated, characteristic of Dungeons & Dragons. I guess that I will have to get used to this concept of gameplay, over the next few months.
For today’s image, I snapped a quick pick of Mister F. as he read through the Dungeon Master materials, deciding the fate of our rag-tag group. My Rogue character, a master in the discipline of stealth and all-things-sneaky, hides behind a red Solo® rock face, while the remaining members of my party cautiously approach a mysterious group of monsters and men. My longbow is drawn, awaiting word from the group, and I’m ready to drive a shaft through any given foe—imagination people, use your imagination.