Monday, August 5, 2013

The Good Old Days

When I was 11, I lived at Bathurst and Eglinton in Toronto for a year. I was in grade 6. It was 1974. My family moved around a lot when I was a kid, so I never had friends for a long period of time. Seems like I made news ones every year in a new town and then moved on. Never kept in touch with most of them.

In this particular year, in this particular location, I met Trevor. Great friend. Fun guy. We played lots of games and built models together. We enjoyed school at North Prep. We really got along well. And then my family moved again. I made some effort to stay in touch with Trevor, but in a time before email and texting and the really was tough. I made new friends in new towns, but always thought it was a shame that I couldn't spend time with Trevor again.

By chance, we ran into each other at Mr. Gameway's Arc (a game store downtown in Toronto) some years later. We rekindled our friendship for a time, but it was still difficult to stay in touch. Soon we were off to post-secondary, and our careers, and that was the last time we were in contact for a long, long time.

A couple of years ago, we re-connected (thank you email!). We started a long correspondence, trying to fill in the gaps of all that lost time. Every email was a trip down memory lane for a different portion of our lives.

Recently, Trevor wrote me about the summer of 1979. This note really struck a chord with me, as we both had identical interests at the same time...and although we weren't sharing our experiences together, upon reading this, I felt that I could have been there...I was there.

If you were born in the 60's and had a brush with role playing in the 70's...before computers and the internet...when your wild teenage imagination could only be lived through face-to-face contact with like-minded friends, then I think you'll get something out of Trevor's essay. Here it is...

The Summer of 1979.

The summer of 1979 is remembered with huge love and great excitement.

AD&D. Every single night!

So. Much. Fun!

Nothing else mattered. Days were spent reading...tracking down resources (“high impact” dice, rulebooks and manuals, Ral Partha miniatures). We would phone each other excitedly about finding a game store called The Four Horsemen out on the Danforth...or a new store called Tolkien’s World on Yonge that carried impossible-to-find modules from Judges Guild...a fantastic new shop on Parliament called the Battered Dwarf that had tons of figures and Dragon Magazines! We counted down the days until the eagerly anticipated Dungeon Master’s Guide finally arrived at Gameway’s Ark...”did you see the article about D&D in the Star?!?”...hours and hours and hours spent poring over graph paper making maps and lore and worlds of high adventure! Eldritch and arcane stuff fascinated and beckoned...used bookshops were mercilessly searched for fantasy paperbacks that Harbour said we should read...and he was (mostly) right!

We were totally obsessed. There was nothing like this. It was all we wanted to do or talk about.

“My character character that...” Bla bla bla! If we weren’t playing it then we were talking about it.

What was this thing? Was this our generation’s “Beatles?” We became reduced to shrill teens swooning at the very mention of this game.

You were either part of it or not. You “got it” or you didn’t. It wasn’t possible to explain to someone. It just wasn’t.

Oh, we tried.

Teachers, parents, friends...

Yes, we tried.

We would set up and demo for those interested to watch. Usually their patience ran out and they would rise and shake their heads...mutter something about “I don’t understand this” and leave us alone to our mad, inexplicable ‘thing’. Basements all over Forest Hill were occupied nightly by us as we moved from secret locale to hidden base...our imaginations out of control with this plaything of ours. We became a secret club of was beyond glorious!

Some mothers objected to the strong language and imagery we indulged in. Magic? Demons? This isn’t healthy... Religions? Alignments? Moral dilemma...solving problems through gratuitous violence...male sexual fetishes and adolescent power fantasies became many a mother’s worst nightmare. Or their thesis in the case of Ted Verno’s mom. She was a husky voiced leftist feminist who would listen to our rantings and provide unbidden commentary from other rooms of the house. Cal would go into lascivious and perverted details (and quite informed...he was a sea cadet!) about exactly how he would bind female captives or Sean always wanted to rescue some maiden and then have his way with her right then and there. Verno’s mum would be off in another room shrieking about us about what deranged closet rapists and misogynists we were.

Actually, I just thought it was funny. But then I was also told I was a lunatic and who am I to judge??

A great mass of humanity and media reared it’s head and roared: “This was...Fun? This was...Playing?”

And in the States there was a high profile case about a teen who went missing while playing a “live version” of D&D in the steam tunnels of a university. “This is dangerous, devil worshipping stuff!” cried the mundane.

The detractors and Bible belt types massed and screamed and damned us all.

Which made it even MORE exciting!

Oh yes. We tapped into our egos and ids and imaginations and had a grand old time. A friend wrote to me recently and drew an analogy of giving all the kids in a kindergarten class a big bag of candy in one hand and a loaded Uzi in the other.

Yeah...that sums it up nicely. Good one, Paul!

And like any addict, we needed our fix.

Some of us more than others.

The ‘game’ slowly stopped and reality took over. AD&D was usurped by other RPG’s that better catered to my friends', needs. I became a sort of Doctor Feelgood and gave these poor, broken half-formed souls the ‘drugs’ they needed. Role-playing became a psychological crutch for some of these brilliant boy/men and we were about to go down the rabbit hole into a unique kind of madness. 


  1. This story is a veritable bag of infinite holding.....good stuff.

  2. This reminds me of the time we were playing dnd at a friends house, his older sister came home with her boyfriend and did what comes natural in the next room. She got loud, we got quiet. And my friend got red faced as the rest of us giggled at the sounds and the headboard hitting the wall! He was so pissed. Probably one of my funnniest, favorite rpg related memories.