Friday, June 20, 2008

The Dungeons and Dragons in my Garage

The 4th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons just came out. It looks like a good system and has a lot of unique and interesting elements to it. Eventually, I'll review it. That, however, will require playing it and since I haven't got a group together, I'll have to settle for a more generalized examination of D&D as it pertains to my own life.

My parents weren't the most objecting parents around on average, but they had their things they didn't like. Mom rejected G.I.Joe as a pro-war cartoon avatar of the military industrial complex and forbade He-Man for its 'occultism' and, I expect, for its rampant commercialism. I recall several times when dad would throw what can only be described as a 'fit' over the costumes of female comic book characters. Still, I had my childhood obsessions: Star Wars, dinosaurs, Transformers, the X-Men and the various 8-bit heroes of the NES... because seriously, the Genesis? Every kid in the neighborhood with a Genesis was a dick. Don't ask me to explain it, that's just how I recall things.

But there was one thing that terrified them both. And that was Dungeons and Dragons.

Mom had an easy excuse... her church said it was of the devil (literally) and at the time she didn't question that sort of thing (she's gotten better.) Dad claimed that they both knew people who had 'taken it too far', but neither of them, when pressed, could sum up details or even names. The latter claim was rather scurrilous, given that I was born in the same year as D&D, and the supposed friends were typically 'from college' in the stories... which would date them before my birth and thus, before the invention of the game they took too far.

All this from parents who informed me, quite matter-of-factly, that the Easter Bunny and Santa were imaginary, but that I shouldn't tell my cousins because it would ruin it for them. Go figure. Like all kids with overzealous religious parenting, I was surrounded by wonderful ironies. Santa, the Easter Bunny and leprechauns (which I found more compelling than the other two put together, for some reason) were stupid fairy-tales... but Jesus, the devil, the angels and demons were all real (if you asked mom. Dad, who didn't buy into any of it outside of a Jeffersonian deist perspective, avoided such talk to avoid hacking off mom.) D&D and He-Man were evil, but Thundercats, the Hobbit and Greek Myth got a pass.

Oh yeah, Gary Gygax was peddling 'taken from real magic', soul-damning, demon-summoning, satan-worshipping darkness and that wouldn't be in the house. Of course, that didn't stop me. It made it all the more tantalizing. Anything I was explicitly denied I sneaked, and I was involved in D&D and other roleplaying games since Middle School. Heck, we even played a second edition campaign on the bus on a church field trip. We got caught, the stuff got confiscated, and the other kids, after getting the 'demon talk' wouldn't resume play, but we did it. I got the lowdown on episodes of the D&D cartoon and He-Man that I couldn't sneak from my friends at school. And I had a stash of roleplaying games as a young teen that I hid with more cunning than my collection of skin mags and racy catalogs.

After awhile, D&D became a point of natural rebellion for me. On my last church-based trip (a trip to Russia I undertook because it was a good opportunity, long after I had learned to become a 'stealth atheist' and before I shifted to 'militant agnostic') I toted around a D&D novel, for which I was proclaimed, by my fellow travelers, 'ballsy'. Eventually, I won my youthful rebellion, by no fault of my own. Mom's church, a nationally-recognized-as-a-cult assemblage called the World Wide Church of God, fell upon itself when the founder's incest, embezzlement and general malevolencies came to light. The D&D players were still standing and the paranoid, apocalypse-loving cross wavers were KO'ed.

The ultimate irony is that role-playing has benefited me greatly. My first published bit of writing was for Dragon Magazine, Octavirate draws in decent sales on our old 3.0/3.5 d20 gaming library, and I'm gearing up to write some new 4th edition stuff. The irony is furthered by more upcoming projects pertaining to other forbidden elements of childhood. I'm going to break down and review D&D 4th edition but the lesson of this article is clear:

The things I was most forbidden as a child have become what I am doing for fun and profit as an adult. Parents, let your kids play D&D and forbid them from experimenting with Pulitzer-prize winning journalism and best-selling adult fiction. That's the kind of rebellion that pays well.

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