this isn’t a book; it’s a time machine

This is how I go to my happy place.

This is where it all began for me: the D&D Basic Rules Set. When I opened this book in 1983, I had no idea that it would change my life. Back then, if you told 11 year-old me that I’d be 36 and wiping tears from my face because reading it brought back so many joyful memories, he would have called you one of the names the cool kids called him for playing it. (Don’t judge him too harshly; he’s only 11.)

My original D&D Basic set was a garage sale casualty, but the book in this picture is a first printing that I bought at a game store about ten years ago. It’s perfect in every way, except for a missing character sheet in the middle, which I printed from the PDF copy I bought from Paizo last year.

The Keep on the Borderlands module beneath it belonged to someone named Randy Richards, who wrote his name and phone number (as we so often did in those days) on the cover. I don’t know who Randy Richards is, if he cares, or if he’ll even read this, but if he does, I want him to know: your book is in very good hands, Randy, and its current owner loves it as much as anyone could.

I’ve been on a real D&D kick lately (blame the Penny Arcade podcast, and how much I love 4e) but I hadn’t actually gone back to the beginning and read the Basic Rules for a very, very long time. So late last night, after my family went to sleep, instead of watching TV or reading blogs, I went to my bookshelf and grabbed the Player’s Manual you see in this picture. I read it cover-to-cover for the first time in over 20 years, and played the solo adventure, which was the very first dungeon I ever visited. I named my fighter Thorin, just like I did when I was a kid. I made a map on graph paper, rolled dice on the floor, and felt pure joy wash over me. I scared off a Giant Rat and killed the remaining two before I failed – like I did when I was 11 – to solve the riddle of O-T-T-F-F-S-S, losing all my treasure. I tried to talk to the Goblins … before I killed them and took their treasure: 100 sp and 50 gp. I battled the Rust Monster, who was just as tough and unreasonable an opponent for a first level fighter as I remember. Thorin eventually managed to defeat it with some … creative … trips back to town to replace his armor and weapons, just like he did a quarter century ago. Luckily for him, the Rust Monster didn’t heal between battles … just like the last time he faced it. I decided to leave the skeletons for another time, and walked back to town with my 650 gp and 100 sp. When I calculated my XP, I had earned 1084 … not too shabby. I closed up my book, and went to sleep happy.

When I was a kid, the D&D Basic Rules Set was never just a game to me; it was my portal into a magical, wonderful world that I still love. Now that I’m an adult, it isn’t just a couple of books to me; it’s a time machine.

The world I live in is filled with uncertainty and occasionally-overwhelming responsibility, but for an hour or so last night, I was 11 years-old again, and I went back to a world where the biggest problem I faced was trying to save up for a Millennium Falcon. When I read “You decide to attack the goblins before they can get help…” I could hear my Aunt Val tell me “That’s a game that I hear lots of kids like to play, Willow. It’s dragons and wizards and those things you liked from The Hobbit. The back says you use your imagination, and I know what a great imagination you have.” I could feel the weight of my Red Box, which I carried with me pretty much everywhere I went, and how huge the thing felt in my tiny arms. I could feel it get heavier as I added modules and characters, and my own dungeons, drawn on graph paper. I could hear the snap of the thick green rubber band I eventually had to wrap around it, and I could see the yellowing scotch tape I added to the corners.

I enjoyed it so much, I’m going to reread the Dungeon Master’s Rulebook next, and run the Group Game adventure it contains, “for use by a beginning Dungeon Master.” Then, it’s time to go back to the Keep on the Borderlands, using just the Basic Rules, where Magic-users can’t wear armor, Fighters have 8 HP, Dwarf and Elf are classes, and everyone dies at least once before finally taking a character to second level, because that’s where it all started for me, and sometimes you just have to go back to your roots.

107 thoughts on “this isn’t a book; it’s a time machine”

  1. I enjoy reading your blog every few days Will. You sound just like me with your daily trivia (except about the acting part that is) D&D was my passion too and when I saw that picture it brought a whole buch of memories.
    Keep doing what you are doing

  2. @David – the Blue Basic Book is the “Holmes” Basic D&D book. This was started in the mid/late 70s concurrent to EGG writing AD&D. It is fairly complete as a standalone game, although it stops at 3rd level and encourages people to buy AD&D for more. It’s been discussed that Dr. Holmes wrote the Blue Book as a way of simplifying the Original D&D Little Brown Books and Supplements into a more coherent ruleset – it’s certainly easy to compare the two and see direct lineage and compatibility.
    The boxed version that I have came with laminated “chits” instead of dice. Back in 79, I used those chits. It wasn’t until I went to a game store that I learned/realized that I could get the dice locally.

  3. I am truly amazed the flood of memories that the comments on this blog have brough back to me. One this everyone is saying is that they should maybe play again. My advice to you is….go do it….just don’t say you will. It’s as great a game as it was when you were a kid.
    I put a 20 sided dice into my nephews hand when he was 1 year old and we all watched as he finally let it roll to the table. It was a 17….not bad we all thought :)
    When you were out drinking with your friends you sometimes wound up wearing that +20 Shirt of protection (it was only an illusion though). What you didn’t know is you were wearing +10 beer goggles.
    D&D is literature, it’s friends and it’s still fun. Awesome post Will.
    Here is a link to video by a group called Flashlight Brown. They have a punked up song about a bunch of guys playing D&D. It’s called “Dressed Up Ready to Roll” Give it a watch

  4. I see your book on lulu, search out your blog, and then find this! Very cool to see more people coming back to the old ways. I’ve actually been helping out with a fanzine which is highly compatible with old D&D:
    It turns out lots of people are not only playing the old games, we’re writing for them too! Thanks for the shout out on behalf of D&D, Wil.

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