Exploring dungeons and slaying dragons

Medieval dungeon
[image by David Kerkhoff]

I just went through a period of nostalgia, of the pencil and paper role playing game type. To understand more, read Wil Wheaton’s posts of his experience as a Dungeon Master in Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV and some concluding thoughts. Thanks to Scott Beale for this.

Done?

Ok, I haven’t played much of Dungeons and Dragons (although I certainly owned a few of the books. Just for reference), or any of the other types of pencil and paper RPGs. But I’m absolutely fascinated by them. My first encounter was when I was 12 years old. I bought these books of the Dragon Warriors series.

For some reason, I only bought the first and third of the series. Oh right, the second one wasn’t available. My 12 year old mind didn’t think it was important. Besides, I didn’t know about the genre then. There was a book sale held at my school, and I was browsing when I chanced upon them.

They were totally awesome! There was mysterious magic, dank dungeons, hateful hobgoblins and tantalising treasure. They were different from the choose-your-own-adventure type of books, because anything can happen! The games master (the term used) can devise any manner of story plot to suit the players. The books’ content are a guide, but the games master is free to use the imagination to make the game fun.

Because I was so excited by this, I had to play it. The problem? No one’s around to play it with me. It doesn’t matter if I’m the games master or a player. I just want to play it.

Somehow I managed to drag my friend and my brother into the game. Creating character sheets was fun. Explaining some rules of combat took some time. And basically there wasn’t much of role playing, or creative use of imagination. But it’s ok. Remember, I was 12 then. Those 2 were even younger than me.

I think one of them was a Knight (or a Barbarian) and the other a Sorcerer. Now only the 2nd book (which I didn’t have) details the mechanics of Sorcerers and Mystics. But I went ahead anyway. I mean, the main attack mechanism was the Attack stat for Knights and Barbarians. There was a Magical Attack stat. Not hard to put one and one together.

The magic casting system was based on magic points. Low level magic spells cost less, higher level spells cost more. The first book provided character sheets for Sorcerers, so I had the number of magic points for a 1st level Sorcerer.

What about spells? Well, I made them up. I played enough RPGs to know the basics. There’s always some kind of fire spell, maybe a healing spell. Well, I was 12. Cut me some slack, will ya?

So my party of 2 was starting out in a basic dungeon, the one in book 1. As rookie adventurers do, one of them inevitably fell into a pit. They’re so rookie, the Sorcerer was in front of the Knight in their battle formation, so the Sorcerer fell into the trap first. No!! Spell casters behind front line attackers! *sigh*

They didn’t even think to use the coil of rope in their equipment to try to climb out. Since their role playing skills and creativity were worth squat then, I gently nudged and suggested that maybe a point of magic would allow the Sorcerer to levitate out.

I know, I know, the levitation spell is non-existent. They would also be stuck there for eternity if I didn’t intervene. Their first encounter with a pack of rats almost did them in. Then this pit. I’m no psychic, but I’m pretty sure they would abandon playing the game very soon if things didn’t pick up.

In another instance, my classmate (I’m still 12) held a game session. With 5 players. Or 7. My memory’s hazy on that. And I got to play! He used the same Dragon Warriors book 1 to play. Because I’ve already read my book to tatters, and I was a games master before, I was allowed to play, but I couldn’t make decisions until after other players did. This was to avoid spoiling the fun for others. I was basically in it to slash rats and batter goblins, which was still loads of fun.

His method of games mastering was different than mine. Maybe it’s because of the larger party, so he followed the book almost to the letter. My point is that, in this fantasy world, he controls everything.

He could add another ghoul if the going seemed too easy. He could “cheat” by making the enemies target the more prepared and healthier players, thereby allowing the weaker players to continue. He could drop hints for puzzles. He could add red herrings. He could do anything.

Then the games stopped. As in no one plays with me on Dragon Warriors anymore (or any other pencil and paper RPGs). A year or two later, I rediscovered a kindred soul… and I’ll tell you more in another article. Stay tuned.

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