Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Interview with a D&D Neophyte: Part I

I've finally gotten my hands on a copy of Moldvay's much vaunted Basic Rules for Dungeons & Dragons and I see that it was published in January 1981, just a few weeks after a friend of mine received the Holmes Blue Book for Christmas. I wonder, on hindsight, if the Moldvay book had come out a month earlier, would I have been deprived of my Holmesian roots?

Anyway, I decided to writeup yet another Holmes vs. Moldvay comparison, except this one will be different because I'm handing the Moldvay book to an 11 year old kid who's new to gaming: Me in 1981. To do this, I had to go 31 years into the past and 3,000 miles across the country.  Eleven year-old-Me agreed to meet up at the pizza place in town after school on a Wednesday in mid-February, six weeks into his/my gaming career.
Another Holmes-Moldvay comparison?  Gee thanks Caveman.

The first thing I noticed when I walked into the old pizza joint--which is still in operation, I hear--was the complete lack of video games in the place.  This would change by the end of the summer, when Space Invaders showed up and ushered in the video game age to this backwater burg in the hinterlands.

The second thing I noticed: 2 slices and a can of soda for $1.25!  I order some slices and a Mountain Dew and sit down to wait for 1981-Me to show up.

He walks in the door wearing a bulky winter coat and blue jeans that reach almost all the way down to his tattered sneakers.  Jeez, was I really that goofy looking?  He spots me right away and the look on his face tells me that he's thinking something similar.  He comes over and sits down.

1981 Me: Glasses, eh?
2012 Me: You had to have seen that coming; you're already squinting your way through class in 6th grade.
1981: yeah, but I hoped they'd have cured bad eyesight by then.
2012: they sort of did; but there's surgery involved.
1981: What about contact lenses?
2012: Yeah, you'll use those for a while in your 20s, but mainly they're too much of a pain in the ass for... us.
1981: No Silver jumpsuit?  Rocket pack?
2012: I left them at home.  Seriously though, computers and telephones are the only thing that changed all that much.
1981: [has clearly lost interest and is eyeballing my pizza]
2012: Oh, would you care for some?

[junior me nods vaguely, though I know he's vigorously disguising any sense of enthusiasm; I recall being permanently hungry in the 1980s--and the bulk of the 90s as well--so I give him my slices]

2012: So can I ask you a few questions about D&D?

1981: Ok.

2012: What dungeons have you been through so far?

1981: Uh... we played the dungeon from the book [Tower of Zenopus] on the Sunday after Christmas.  Then we went through Dave's orc dungeon.  That was on Eddy's birthday (Eddy is our older brother, he's just turned 14 in 1981).   Then I took Jessie through the spaceship dungeon.  [Jessie is our little sister, and, like gaming sisters everywhere, she showed little interest in RPGs though occasionally she was good-natured enough to humor her brothers when they needed an extra player.  The spaceship dungeon was my first ever dungeon, penned just hours after meeting Holmes.]

2012: You haven't gone through the Keep on the Borderland yet?

1981: The what?

2012: You know, that purple dungeon Kevin has? [Kevin was the neighbor kid who got the Holmes set for Christmas that year]

1981: Naw, he's working on some Demon thing for our next dungeon. 

2012: [snickering] That'll be awesome when it's done.  [As long as I knew him, Kevin was always tinkering away on a cleverly crafted Demon-infested megadungeon--though we didn't use that term back then--that no one ever set foot in].  Anyway, I'm writing up a comparison of the Blue Book that you guys are using and the red book that just came out [i.e. the Moldvay book, published in January of 1981].  That's the one I sent you in the mail last week.  Have you had a chance to read it?

(nods as he pulls the copy I sent him out of his olive green canvas backpack)

2012: What did you think?

Long Pause as he looks at the book.  Jesus, when do kids learn to speak?  this is getting painful.

2012: What about the art on the cover, which do you like better?  I know it's fantasy art so it's a new genre for you after all the Star Wars stuff you've been into.

1981: Are you kidding?  Have you seen all those black light posters at Spencer's Gifts?  And the Molly Hatchet Album covers?  And van murals??  I'm living at the apex of bad-ass fantasy art.  If I saw a poster with either of these book covers on it, no way would I hang that crap on my wall.

2012: Touche.  But which do you prefer?

1981: Well, this red one has that hot babe with the boobs, but I don't really like the way it's drawn. [I felt a certain degree of disdain for Erol Otus's work back in the 80s]  I like the dragon on the other one, really makes you feel like you're facing that dude and he's going to roast you and your magic-user friend alive.  And look at all that fuckin' treasure!

2012: Did I really say "fuckin" when I was your age?

1981: No, I'm still working my nerve up to say "shit" at this point, but I thought it wouldn't hurt to try it out on you.  Since you're me.

2012: Fair enough.  [Opening the cover] What about the introduction?

1981: Why would I read that?

[I smile, cuz, yeah, I still can't be bothered to read that kind of stuff.  I don't tell him that we'll be diagnosed with ADD when we're 26.]

2012: What about the instructions for making a character?

1981: Well, this one [Moldvay] makes the abilities seem more useful.  With the blue book, I didn't really understand what they were there for except for us all to brag about who has a higher constitution, whatever that is.  And I never really understood the difference between hit points and hit dice, so that part was helpful.  But what happened to alignment?  Why can't I be chaotic good anymore?  I don't want to just be Chaotic, I don't even know what that means.

2012: I don't think anyone has a good answer to that one.  How about the Equipment list?

1981: You can't buy helmets anymore, that sucks.  Or a silver mirror, small boat, or a horse.  Do people not travel anymore in this game?  And now they make thieves buy thieves tools; wouldn't they just steal them?  That seems like it would be the first requirement to graduate from thief school.

2012: You're preaching to the choir, kid.

[At this point, my cell phone rang--my wife asking about dinner plans. 1981 Me was very impressed with my piece-o-crap Nokia un-smart phone, though I'm starting to wonder what sort of mayhem I've unleashed by introducing this technology to an 11-year-old kid in 1981.  I guess I'll see when I get back home tonight]

I need to break up this post anyway, so I think we'll take a moment here for station identification.


Boric Glanduum said...

Completely and utterly awesome. What a terrific idea.

Of course, I can barely remember 11 years old, let alone what I liked to eat, etc. Forget opinions.

Can't wait to see more.

Zenopus Archives said...

That's a fresh spin on reviewing old D&D books!