40 Years

Let me set up my tale with some details:

  • The Month: July, 1983
  • Location: Midland, TX
  • The Weather: Cook Eggs On The Sidewalk Hot
  • The Protagonist: J.T. Evans
  • Protagonist’s Age: 10 years, 10 days
  • Protagonist’s Mission: Navigate his Granny around town while she visits numerous garage sales
  • The Protagonist’s Distraction: Mentzer’s Red Box Set from TSR

Now that we have those facts established, let’s tell a story from forty years ago.

I was in the Cub Scouts, and part of these activities included a subscription to Boy’s Life magazine. The back of each issue held an advertisement for Captain O greeting cards and stationary. It wasn’t buy the paper goods, but sell them. I was almost ten-years-old when I ordered their catalog of products and prizes. Each product I sold gained me either one dollar or one point. I looked at the catalog and found that the points were much more valuable than the dollars.

One of the items I saw in the prize catalog was this amazing image on a “book” of a red dragon battling a warrior with a shield and sword. I barely saw the words “Dungeons & Dragons” at the top. I just saw that iconic Larry Elmore artwork and knew that I had to have whatever that was. I really don’t recall how many points I had to earn to get that item, but I had my eye on the goal.

After a month or two of door-to-door sales, I’d racked up enough points for this “Dungeons & Dragons” thing along with a remote-controlled car (that lasted about three hours), and some other toy-like thing that I really don’t remember. I placed my customers’ orders for their paper goods along with my prizes, and about four weeks later I made my deliveries of the various purchases. I eagerly awaited the prizes I’d earned as my tenth birthday rolled by with much fanfare from family and friends. However, my mind was on the goods that I was soon to receive.

Nine days after that birthday, my prizes arrived. The RC car came without batteries, and we didn’t have them in hand. I set the car aside for later. The Dungeons and Dragons “book” turned out to be a box with books inside! It turned out that I didn’t have a novel in my hands, but some flavor of game. This was readily apparent from the fact that these strange-looking dice came in the box.

However, we didn’t check the mail until later in the day, and my Granny had a long day of garage sales ahead for the next day. It was my job to take her listing from the newspaper of garage sales that she’d circled, map them out in a “shortest distance” order, and navigate her all over town between the various stops. I loved doing this with her because we’d always find treasures at the various garage sales together. It’s one of my fondest sets of memories from my childhood.

This Saturday, however, was different. I did my navigation duties, but I stayed in the third-row, rear-facing, bench seat in my Granny’s 1978 Buick Station Wagon while she went shopping for her various treasures. It was sweltering hot in the back of the station wagon, and I’m kind of surprised the crayon I used to “ink” my new dice didn’t melt all on its own.

That day, I delved into the solo adventure in the book and ran through it two or three times with the provided character. Before the day was over, I made my own character to run through the solo adventure. It kind of worked, but I managed to improv my way through it. The character was an elf named Kinol. It’s been 40 years since that fateful day that changed my life forever, but I still remember the summer heat, and smell of wax, and the map inside the player’s book, and the artwork, and just how thrilled I was to discover another way to escape the reality that is this world.


Forty years ago.

We’ve come a long way in that time.

Games are more wide and varied. There are many more options. There are still the rules-heavy games. There are rules-light games. There are games with a wide range of narrative and storytelling options. There are games that occupy a mere single page, and there are games you want to keep away from small animals just so you don’t accidentally drop the tome on one of them. We have games for large groups, in-person groups, online-only groups, hybrid groups, and playing purely by yourself.

We truly are living in a wonderful age of role playing games with the thousands (tens of thousands?) of options for different games. These different games provide a wide range of styles and approaches and methods of gaming. I love the ever-changing landscape of what RPGs have to offer to our community.

Speaking of changes, the games and our options aren’t the only things that have evolved. The way we approach inclusivity, acceptance of others, tamping down of bigoted and hateful concepts, and opening doors for people instead of keeping the gates closed has changed. These changes have been for the better. To add a touch of honesty here, the culture surrounding RPGs is vastly improved over what we had when I “grew up” in the hobby back in the 80s.

Now to amp up on the honesty several more notches. We (this includes me and is not a “royal we”) still have ample room for improvement.

There are still gatekeepers, but I think the door openers now outnumber the gatekeepers. This doesn’t mean it’s time to rest and relax in either getting gatekeepers to convert to holding doors open or getting them to completely step aside and remain silent.

There are still those who hold onto bigoted, misogynistic, hateful, racist, and similar concepts that come from the olden days of gaming as part of “that’s how it was done then, so we need to do it that way always.” This sewage still seeps into our modern gaming, even from the largest of gaming publishers, and we should never sit quietly as this stench fills our gaming cultures.

There are also factors of including people that are different from yourself in gaming. I might try to list all the ways people are different, but I know I’d fail and leave some factor out of my list. In short, if someone wants to get into gaming, welcome them to our incredible hobby. Don’t stop them because they are different than you in some way. Celebrate their differences because those new and fresh insights into life, regardless of if they sit at your table or game with others, can only expand our gaming collective consciousness and improve upon it.

Sounds like I’m being a bit of a downer here near the end of this article, but I genuinely believe we have improved over the forty years that I’ve been in this hobby. I also genuinely believe we can improve even more in the next forty. This gives me hope for the quality and quantity of roleplaying that I’m going to see in the future… a great deal of hope.

If I’d only know the gaming journey I would have gone on when I saw that Larry Elmore cover in the Captain O catalog of prizes…. I would have sold those greeting cards and stationary even faster!

The list of people that I’ve gamed with, learned from, fell in love with, hated (sorry, brutal honesty there), lived with, mentored, and hit all the deep emotions with over the past four decades is too long to list. There are just too many folks out there that I’ve shared the gaming table with. If you’re reading this, you know who you are. Thanks to all of you.

If we have yet to share the gaming table — and we do so in the future — I’m looking forward to meeting you while we sling some dice around the table.