Friday, March 25, 2011

Diary of a Madman

How do you learn how to play D&D the first time? Well, the best way was to sit down with somebody who already played D&D and sit in on it—because if you actually bought the thing from the word go and you weren't a gamer and you tried to learn how to play it, forrrget it [laughs]!

Caveat: this will probably only interest those who are curious about the autobiographical details of a 14-year old's introduction to Dungeons & Dragons, the mother and flagship of role-playing games (RPGs).

Nick P., a friend from that era, had received the D&D basic set (1981 Moldvay edition) for Christmas 1981. Nick had learned how to create characters, but neither of us, nor any of my close friends, knew how to play.

I kept a journal for grade nine English, my final year of junior high. My entry for Monday January 4, the first school day after the winter holidays, doesn't mention D&D; analysis of the rest of the journal reveals that I didn't have English class the next day (I had English on three days of the four day cycle), so my next opportunity to write about it was Wednesday the 6th.

On Monday the 4th or the next day I accompanied Nick to his parents' abode in Welsford Gardens, where he helped me roll up my first character, a thief named Vern; in my imaginative frenzy of anticipation, I over-equipped him. Vern was never played, as I recall.

As for the text itself, I have transcribed only the more noteworthy D&D-related entries. Errors and oddball formatting have been preserved. Subsequently-added details and comments are enclosed in brackets (aka "square brackets"). I attribute the poor writing quality to the coercive nature of the exercise; entries were rushed and sometimes padded with nonsense; hurrah, public education!

Scan of journal page

[Wed.] January 6, 82

Me, Nick [P.], Paul [R.], and Mark [P.] are going to have a game of Dungeons and Dragons with Paul Morris as the Dungeon-Master.

The basic game is to roll the dice to invent characters (Fighters, thieves, clerics, halflings, dwarves, elves, etc.) and to journey through dungeons, caves, etc. in search of treasure while fighting monsters along the way.

[My first D&D game wasn't played that day. Either our plans fell through or I bailed out. I instead purchased the rules at a local mall, as recounted in the next entry. Mark and Paul were schoolmates.]

[Thu.] Jan. 7, 1982

Last night I went to the Parkway Shopping mall and bought the Dungeons & Dragons basic rule book and Dragon dice. I think I'm missing the 10-sided dice [sic]. [sketch of dice] are what the dice look like.…

["Dragon dice"—at least I wasn't pretending to be cool.]

[Fri.] Jan. 8, 82

… I already know how to play Dungeons & Dragons basically.

[I learned the game by reading Moldvay's Basic edition rulebook. This was most likely on Wednesday evening (Jan. 6) after returning home from the mall with my purchase. It was probably on the same night or the next when I created my first dungeon, drawn on a half-sheet of paper; I used it to play my first game, as DM, with (if memory serves) the aforementioned Paul R., Nick P., and Mark P. as players. My next dungeon, which occupied an entire sheet of graph paper, was my oldest friend Steve H.'s introduction to the game. In only the first or second room, his party fled in terror at the approach of animated skeletons. As I recall, the skeletons made their presence known by slowly and stiffly rapping on a door, an idea inspired by John Carpenter's The Fog (1980), which we had both seen on the big screen. This episode illustrates the power of RPGs and is one of my fondest gaming memories.]

[Tue.] Jan. 12, 82

I know how to play Dungeons & Dragons completely and I am the Dungeon-Master (DM). It is the best game I've ever played in my entire 14-year life. In shop, I'm making a wooden box to hold my dragon dice.…

[There was no entry for Monday the 11th, as it fell on the only day in the 4-day school cycle in which I didn't have English class.]

[Thu.] Jan. 14, 82

Yesterday I was away 'cause my sister was sick and I had to take care of her while my mom was out. I also went to Don Mills and bought D&D module B1 "In Search of the Unknown". Its [sic] really amazing. On the way home the buses were very, very, very crowded—12 people to a 5x5 area approx.

[Tue.] Jan 19, 82

… On the weekend, I went to a store called "Good Stuff Games" or something like that in the Eaton's Centre to buy a new set of Dragon-Dice for D&D. They cost $1.00 each (I bought 6) and they are crystal plastic.…

[Prices are in Canadian funds. These dice, and 6 smoked dice purchased later, were literally stolen out of my hand as Steve and I were walking in our neighbourhood one evening. The thieves, who had been walking behind us, got away as I hesitated between pursuit and telling my friend what had happened. I spent the next hour or so patrolling the area, but was never able to identify the perpetrators.]

[Mon.] Jan. 25, 82

On the weekend I bought the D&D© Expert Rulebook.…

[Wed.] Feb. 3, 82

In shop I am putting the finishing touches on my CROSS-BOW which looks like [sketch].…

Dungeons & Dragons is still the thing I play whenever I get any free time.…

[Let this be a warning to you kids.]

[Thu.] Feb. 4, 82

… I designed a new dungeon, well I'm still designing it. First, the party comes upon a keep (castle), hoping to join. The castles [sic] garrison is about 30 strong. Soon the castle is under seige [sic], and the castellan (head of the castle) announces he will pay a 10,000 gp reward if they [the PCs] go through a trap door into a dungeon which leads to friendly men-at-arms that the castle desperately needs for defence. Unfortunately, the dungeon has a few lurking monsters and even if the party contacts the reinforcements there is a chance that the castle will fall anyway, ruining the reward.…

[The rest of the entry details the military forces involved. I don't think I ever ran this adventure.]

[Tue.] Feb 22, 82

In metal shop, Nick [P.] & I are making a two-handed sword. It will look like the picture on the back of this book.…

[I also made a battle axe and a short sword. The metal-shop teacher was reluctant to let us take them home.]

[Mon.] Mar. 1, 82

On Saturday I bought "The Advanced D&D Players Handbook" for $12.00 (no tax) and the AD&D Dungeons [sic] [Masters Guide] for (gulp) $17.00! Anyway, they are amazzzing!!! More details later.…

[These were purchased at the Battered Dwarf, a hobby store on Church St. in downtown Toronto. As Nick P. and I reached for the merchandise on the shelf, the shop clerk rather surlily informed us of the store's you-damage-it-you-buy-it policy; it seems his warning worked too well because the store would close the next year.]

Thursday, March the fourth 12:58:59 PM Nineteen eighty-two AD

Last night, I went to Don Mills Shoppin [sic] Centre with Steven [H.], Nick [P.], Mark [P.] & Roddy [F.] and I bought the AD&D Monster Manual for $13.98 (no tax).…

After school today, Paul Morris, Nick [P.], Mark [P.] and Roddy F. are going to play Roddy's module - B3 The Palace of the Silver Princess.…

[Roddy did DM this module for me and perhaps the others named, but I don't remember playing D&D with Paul Morris at any time before high school, which was the next year.]

Friday March the nineteenth 1:28, nineteen eighty-two A.D. James [M.] (not the actor) just blew a fart. WHEW! It carried across the whole room. [I apologize for forgetting to not transcribe that part.] So far, I have spent a lot of money on D&D:

BASIC RULEBOOK . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7.95
DRAGON DICE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2.50
CRYSTAL DRAGON DICE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.00
EXPERT RULEBOOK . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7.95
AD&D PLAYER'S HANDBOOK . . . . . . . . . 12.00
DM'S GUIDE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17.00
MONSTER MANUAL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13.95
UNKNOWN MODULE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.95
CASTLE AMBER MODULE . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.95
SECRET OF BONE HILL MODULE . . . . . . . 6.95
                    MODULE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.95
                                                                TOTAL $95.15

Last night (MARCH 30th) Roddy [F.], Steven [H.] and I played [Steven H.]'s AD&D module: TOMB OF HORRORS, levels 10-14. Boy, so far it is HARD.

[For the notoriously challenging S1: Tomb of Horrors, Roddy and I each played several high-level one-shot characters.]

Monday April the nineteenth
1:26 AM one thousand, nine
hundred and eighty-two AD

… I have finished my Dungeon A2 "Shrine of Terror" with 30 pages of description, 2 pages of maps (6), 7 pages of visual aids. It is my best dungeon ever. You start out at the very top of a pyramid, enter & descend in levels until you get to the sixth level (the dungeon) fighting monsters [and] a few mummies until you get to "Ankhamun's Tomb" where Ankhamun (a super mummy) will fight to the death.

[Obviously influenced by S1: Tomb of Horrors.]

Next: "THAC©".


  1. If you adjust your prices for the year 2011, the same materials at the same rate would now cost you $238.83. Not bad, eh?

    Brilliant, brave post. Other people need to read this.

  2. I wasn't born until 1983, but I still find this to be awesome. Thanks for posting it! I was just curious. The money that you spent did it come from your allowance, your parents, or did you have a part time job? Maybe that is a strange question, but your price list really got me thinking about how much money that was and I couldn't help but wonder where it came from.

  3. I wish I had kept a journal like that! :)

    At least I still have my first homemade dungeon, "Stoneskull Mountain"; inspired by the cutaway sketch in the Holmes Basic book. I just started posting about it a few days ago on my own blog.

  4. My mom was a waitress so she always had spare dollars. When I was 16 I got a part time gig at Dominick's grocery's to supplement the old funds. Good times....

  5. Lovely! I am envious of your journal keeping!

  6. Alexis: I know what you mean by "brave post". Ha ha. Out of curiosity, what inflation calculator did you use?

    Labyrinthian: Like JoeGKushner, I worked at a local convenience store around that time, and I also had a paper route.

    Gath: I'll take a look.

    Ragnorakk: I hate to admit it, but the credit goes to the public school system for making us keep a journal.