Was listening to an episode of the Wandering DMs while doing some housework after failing my save vs. Dirty House. It was their episode on Learning D&D and they discussed their own experiences, learning from the books vs. learning from an experienced player, and how kids these days have it all so easy what with the interwebs and all.
It was a great episode, and I was reminding of my own trial by fire.
I actually learned D&D by learning Traveller first. I discovered Traveller on my own in a game store in 1982 and convinced my dad to allow me to give it shot. I grew up on a farm in rural Minnesota, and let me tell you that there were not a lot of nerds out and about in the corn fields back in the early 80s. I knew exaclty ZERO people who had played Traveller, Dungeons & Dragons, or any other game like that. But my birthday brought me Deluxe Traveller, and Book 0: An Introduction to Traveller was exactly what seventh-grade Kilgore needed.
Several months later, a neighbor back from college came to visit and I told him about this amazing game called Traveller I’d been playing with my brother and a couple of friends for a few months. And the neighbor told me about this amazing game called Dungeons & Dragons that he’d been playing up in college.
Of course, I’d heard about Dungeons & Dragons. Everybody had. It was that evil game where people couldn’t tell fantasy from reality, that evil game that had caused that poor college kid to disappear in the tunnels, and that evil game that had REAL MAGIC SPELLS in it that risked summoning a demon if you said the evil words just right.
So, of course, we played. We had the neighbor’s AD&D Players Handbook, his set of dice, and a box of lead miniatures. I played a cleric, my brother played a fighter, and we killed a vampire in the basement of a terrifying Tower of the Undead. My neighbor was correct. It WAS amazing.
A couple of days later, we played again. But the neighbor didn’t want to DM. He wanted to play. So in my second session, with no DMG, no Monster Manual, and no real clue about how to be a Dungeon Master, I was running the show.
It was glorious. A mess. But glorious.
Though we never stopped playing Traveller, and in fact I just introduced my nephew to Science-Fiction Adventure in the Far Future just this past July, D&D definitely became one of our main pastimes.
Looking back, I wonder if the only way it could have been better would have been for our introduction to have been via 1981’s Basic Set. If I’d had that book instead of only one of three AD&D manuals, our game would not have been nearly so messy.
But I suspect that it might not have been quite so glorious, either.
Though I’m 100% convinced that B/X is the best version of the game ever published, I would not give back any of those adventures when I had to make monsters up from my head and just guestimate reasonable to-hit numbers because the combat tables weren’t in the PHB.
Learning from someone might be the best way to LEARN, but teaching yourself might be the best way to EXPERIENCE IT.