Armagideon Time

My first pen ‘n’ paper role playing game experience happened — hold on, this deserves some appropriate mood music:


Okay, my first pen ‘n’ paper role playing game experience happened in the spring of 1986, during my buddy Scott’s annual birthday sleepover party. I was the only neighborhood (technically, though I’d moved to Woburn Center the previous September) kid invited to the shindig, which was probably due to the fact that I was only member of the old crew who hadn’t drifted into the realm of shoplifting and petty vandalism. The other two guests were kids from Scott’s junior high circle, a scrawny GI Joe fan named Mike and a smart-mouthed dude named Craig whose family had recently moved up to New Hampshire.

Craig had been the dungeonmaster of a D&D campaign that both Scott and Mike and been a part of, and he figured that the sleepover would be a perfect opportunity to tie up any loose ends. Since I was also around, he offered to show me the ropes and roll-up a suitable character for the session.

I picked a magic user for my character. It was a decision based on visions of Dr. Strange gliding through the skies and effortlessly smiting bad guys with bolts of arcane energy. What I ended up with was a near-invalid who could be incapacitated by a light tap and who had a single-shot arsenal of unimpressive spells. My low opinion of D&D’s magic system still hasn’t recovered from that moment of crushing disappointment.

The adventure that Craig wanted to wrap up was AD&D Module S3, the infamous Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. Originally created as a springboard for the system that would eventually become Gamma World, the adventure threw aliens, a crashed spaceship, and sci-fi technology into D&D’s world of Tolkien-inspired fantasy. As a first time player tossed into the back half of it with little explanation, it was a bit of a mindfuck.

Though I was thrilled at the prospect of scoring a ray-blaster to replace the underwhelming +2 darts and Stinking Cloud spell my character had been saddled with, my ambitions were repeatedly thwarted by the dreaded “but your character doesn’t know that” veto from the dungeonmaster. Otherwise I don’t remember too much of it, apart from a couple of confusing combat encounters and the unanimous decision that we should go and play Warlords on Scott’s Atari 2600 instead.

Whatever secrets the Barrier Peaks held would forever remain concealed from our ad hoc adventuring party.

The following afternoon the four of us ate lunch at the McDonald’s in the Woburn Mall, and Craig did his best to explain to me the basic rules, requirements and purchases to begin a D&D run. Most of it was lost on me, but enough stuck to sustain a slow-burning sense of curiosity. While I didn’t talk as much with Mike, our shared interests were enough to start a not-quite-friendship that would loom larger down the road.

When I got home from Scott’s house that evening, I was greeted by Lil Bro babbling non-stop over a thing I needed to see “like RIGHT NOW.” I followed him up to our bedroom, where a mountain of Bronze Age comics and fanzines was stacked on the middle of the carpet. My aunt’s comics-collector husband had found Jesus and divested himself of his sinful funnybooks. Lil Bro and I got the better part of that windfall, which included the entire Astonishing Tales Deathlok run along with a shitload of Fantastic Four, Avengers, Daredevil and other treasures beyond price.

That doesn’t have anything to do with role playing games, but does complete this account of the only fond memories I have of my 8th Grade year.

One Response to “Role-Playing with the Changes: Peak experience”

  1. athodyd

    There was a great WTF, D&D on Expedition to the Barrier Peaks:

    As a kid, I dimly understood the idea behind pen-and-paper RPGs and even tried to make and play a few extremely simple ones with my limited circle of nerd friends, but had absolutely no idea where or how to buy actual supplements, dice, etc. This was also Tennessee so there was very much still a lingering moral panic around the whole thing.

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