Jamnar, the Eisenmond Blade!
Around fifteen years ago, my older brother opened up a strange and wondrous Christmas gift: a board game called Dragon Quest. This wasn’t like that Willow board game I used to see him and his friends playing (and which, incidentally, I was never invited to join). In this game, you became a character who could do anything you wanted. He needed players for it, so our family quickly strapped on our broadswords and entered a dungeon full of lizard men and, we hoped, kidnapped princesses. Sadly, it was always more of the former than the latter, but what could we do? The village needed us.
It wasn’t quite D&D: the characters were all pre-generated, and although you could make up your own adventures after the first three that came in the box, they rightly tended to feel like you were re-treading the same ground over and over. Still, you were warriors and wizards fighting kobolds in a cellar somewhere, at the end you had to fight a dragon with a +2 sword, and if you made the DM mad you would be crushed by falling rocks. It didn’t take long for this taste to move on into real RPGs.
Ghosts of Gaming Past
We didn’t have any of the official D&D manuals, but between that intro game and our own imagination, we started playing a homebrew game of super-evolved dinosaurs with laser guns. Yes, you heard me right. So, my first “real” character was Gell, an anthropomorphic Alamosaurus with 18/00 Strength (2nd Edition!). His best friends were a Neutral Evil Stegosaurus thief and a Rhamphorynchus shaman. I distinctly remember writing on Gell’s character sheet that he wore a white shirt and black vest, because I thought every hero should dress like Han Solo. Imagine Shadowrun meets Dino Riders meets Dragonlance, but designed by some middle schoolers. I don’t know that I’ve ever had a better campaign.
Once we got our hands on some copies of the AD&D core rules, it quickly became more about magic than about plasma grenades. Gell started riding a giant dragonfly, and uncovered an intelligent +2 dragonslaying longsword, and before I knew it Gell Dragonbane was leading a rebellion against a green wyrm named Something-Or-Other and getting framed by doppelgangers for murder.
I forget what happened to Gell. Probably, we put the game away mid-combat some day and never picked it up again, having moved on to new worlds and new characters. There was that ranger, and the thri–kreen, and the genasi lightning mage, and the modron, and even that umber hulk fighter. An eclectic menagerie of adventurers has followed him, but has never matched the sheer, ecstatic lunacy of that kitchen-sink campaign. I suppose Gell is still in a notebook somewhere, hovering over an orc horde picking off the chieftain with a high-powered laser rifle, or is poised, about to run a goblin through with his trusty sword Atlima. I wonder if he misses me.
The point of all this, at the start of a new year, is a reminder to think back on what first hooked us on the games we love. Sure, we may have gotten older, and perhaps tempered our unbridled enthusiasm with slightly more sophisticated tastes, but something about that first game enthralled us, and set the stage for everything else that came later. Try to recapture some of that giddy summer camp fun, and it can only help your current games. Personally, I think a dragonborn barbarian named Gell may soon be kicking open the doors of a dungeon near you. Monsters beware!