With the passing this week of Dungeons & Dragons co-inventor Gary Gygax — and was there ever a more perfect name for the inventor of role-playing games? — I’ve reflected a bit on my own introduction to the game and the fact that I set up what I suspect was the first club ever at BYU that hosted D&D games.
For Christmas 1975, my (now-former) wife Marla had bought me the SPI science fiction wargame StarForce: Alpha Centauri, which I had been eying for some months in ads in the back of Analog. Of course, now that I had the game, I had to have someone to play it with. So I organized a club on campus — I was an BYU undergrad at the time, studying computer science — which I called, “The Strategy & Tactics Group”. I recruited a few people into it, most notably my friend Terry, a co-worker at the BYU Translation Sciences Institute, and also put up some signs around campus. The meetings, held every few weeks, were pretty casual — people (never a lot) showed up and paired off to play various map-and-chit wargames and the like.
At about the 3rd or 4th meeting, I noticed a group of four guys over at one table who were talking a lot and rolling dice. However, rather than having a preprinted map and cardboard chits in front of them, they had some little beige books and a few sheets of paper. I wandered over to see what was going on — and thus was introduced into the world of role-playing games in general, and Dungeons & Dragons in particular.
It was quite a revelation. I had been playing board games (Monopoly, Clue, Scrabble) and card games (Hearts mostly, though some War, Poker, and Blackjack) since childhood. In high school, my good friend Andrew Bos — who had previously introduced me to the Church — had subsequently introduced me to historical wargames, at which he always soundly thrashed me. And, of course, StarForce had intrigued me because of its science fiction setting, which was played out on a 3-D starmap of actual systems within 50 or so light years of Earth.
But D&D was like none of the above, nor like anything else I had ever played. Most of the game was played out in our heads, pitting us against the dice, the dungeon master (DM), and the various roll tables and stats in the D&D books. It was compelling, fun, and addictive, and for quite some time I ended up spending more time playing D&D at the club meetings than playing the various wargames that I had originally intended it for. That ended when the DM had to drop out of BYU for personal reasons, but I picked up the slack a bit sometime later and ran (as the DM) a few campaigns of my own. That continued until I finally graduated from BYU in 1978; I have no idea what happened with the club beyond that point.
My most intense D&D playing would wait until a year or so after I graduated from BYU. After spending a year with General Dynamics down in San Diego, I took a job with Link Simulations in Houston (Clear Lake City, actually) in mid-1979, working on the Space Shuttle flight simulators at NASA/Johnson Space Center. I became friends almost immediately with Bob Trammel, who had started with Ford, another contractor on the SS flight simulators, within a week or two of my starting at Link. We happened to be staying in the same motel while waiting to bring our families out — and we both happened to be LDS (and, once we found apartments, in the same ward). Bob had heard of D&D and was interested in it; he had some co-workers who were likewise interested. So I set up a rather detailed campaign, and we played 2-3 times per week over lunch for probably 4 months. I then changed jobs in February 1980, moving over the Lunar & Planetary Institute, and so was too far away from the others for the lunchtime sessions.
However, several months later, we decided to try to finish the campaign and so set up a Saturday marathon session that lasted from about 9 or 10 in the morning until after midnight. The campaigners, bless their hearts, figured out the final clues (including a partially scorched index card I had made that held the code as to how to use magical teleport booths scattered around the dungeon) and actually finished the campaign successfully, though Bob was getting increasingly unhappy phone calls from his wife Carol as the night wore on. We all had an absolutely wonderful time. I still have that burnt index card in my files.
I don’t know if that was the last time I ever played D&D, but if not, it was close to it. Most of my game playing after that reverted back to SF/F wargames, since it was easier to find one person to play with than half a dozen. I had a golden age of wargaming while working at Monitor Labs in 1981-82; the head of computer systems for the accounting department, Steven Davies-Morris, was a gamer as well, and we’d play at least once a week or so in my office. But once I left Monitor Labs, I found it hard to come up with even a single opponent, though that didn’t stop me from collecting the occasional game, something I still do. Altogether, I own somewhere from 50 to 70 wargames, mostly science fiction/fantasy, and mostly dating from the mid-70s to the mid-80s.
And I still have my little beige D&D books. ..bruce..