Player's Handbook

"Hi uncle Julian i was over at my friends, Tyler and Cindy's house today and Tyler is really into gaming and magic. He was teaching me how to play the bare bones of Dungeons and Dragons. But I want to learn to play really well. So since you know about that stuff I was hopping you would teach me! then i had the idea that we could talk to you, and you would really like Tyler. He is really serious about the game ,and loves being the DM, and telling us all what happens. We all want to learn as much as we can!!!!!!!

Love, Rebecca"

The e-mail takes me by surprise. My niece is a sweet kid. I love her like crazy. And she's the very last family member I can imagine getting into Dungeons and Dragons.

She's the pretty one: that girl in 5th grade who drove you nuts. Since she was about 8-years-old, she's looked like a model. Stick thin no matter what she eats. Pretty, in an exotic way, and tall. She's always been, well, just nice. I've never engaged with her on much of a level past the usual holiday family get-together. I'd ask her about school, she'd mumble. I'd giver her a Christmas present and she'd give me a hug.

She, like my sister (and myself, briefly), has always been a bit hippie artsy-fartsy. She'd make bead jewelry and sew her own flowing clothes. The closest she'd come to any interest in gaming was last year. Bored, during the lull of Thanksgiving day, she expressed a desire to paint miniatures. But I suspected it was just a chance to do something other than listen to the grownups talk about their sordid youth. She'd always seemed more into horses and American Girl than Hobbits and Orcs.

So before I respond, I call my sister.

"Hey kiddo, so, I got this e-mail from Becca. About D&D. How real is this?"

"Oh it's real. Her friend Tyler is into it, and she came home totally ramped up. It's all she's been talking about."

I experience a moment of panic. This is my turf. And she's just this kid. I know how this is supposed to go. I'm supposed to beam with pride and excitement, joy at the opportunity to infect a family member with something important to me. But I don't. I feel annoyed. Now I have to deal with this kid. I feel like Scrooge.

"Oh OK. I'll send her back an e-mail."

But what should I say? I stare at my computer screen for ten minutes. I give in to distraction. I play a little Guitar Hero 2. I check e-mail. I read some blogs. I stand up and stretched my legs. And as I pace across the chewed up linoleum of my rabbit-hole, I glance at the bookshelf. It's a black folding bookshelf -- the kind you buy in college. It's very rickety. I've had it almost collapse several times in the last 10 years, but somehow it stays together. The shelves bow with the weight of 16 linear feet of role playing books. The bottom shelf has a layer of dust that exposes not only the lack of housekeeping consistent throughout my office, but the lack of use. That shelf has every D&D core book printed before 2004. Every single one. In the lower left hand corner sits my first Player's Handbook.

I pull it from the shelf. It's covered in translucent plastic. My friends and I had taken them to the Library the day we bought them, and begged the school librarian to skin them up for us. We knew they'd see heavy use. The inside cover is inexplicably end-papered in orange, with my name in the upper left hand corner. The handwriting is nearly illegible. Past another orange endpaper is the frontispiece. For the thousandth time I read the subtitle:

Special Reference Work
A compiled volume of information for players of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, including: character races, classes, and level abilities; spell tables and descriptions; equipment costs; weapons data; and information on adventuring.
by Gary Gygax, 1978 - TSR Games.

And I know what I have to do. As clearly as I know I'd have to help a child, lost and crying in the mall, find her parents.


That's really cool!

I have all the books if you'd like to borrow them, and I'd be happy to do a little adventure for you and some friends sometime. It is indeed a fun thing."

The next morning the family and I head to the bookstore, just to drink coffee and rummage around. It's a ritual we've practiced for years. Part of the ritual is trading off who sticks with the kids while my wife and I take turns looking at books. On my turn, I head over to the few feet of the store dedicated to Wizards of the Coast. And I realize that I can't loan her my books. I can't loan them to her because I wouldn't have them on the shelf. I can't loan them to her because she needs -- she deserves -- her own. So knowing I'm blowing my game budget for the month, I grab a complete set: Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, Monster Manual.

My panic turns to embarrassment.

When I get home, I have a few hours before I'm expecting her and the rest of my family for Easter dinner. I sit on the couch with the books, flipping through them, enjoying their newness, the unmistakable smell of paper that has yet to be exposed to air. I grab a pen from the coffee table. I should write a little note saying "For Rebecca" or something. That's what you're supposed to do when you give someone a book. I write those two words on the frontispiece.

I stare at the page for half an hour. I know I need to tell her something. Something real. Finally, I begin writing.

"For Rebecca,

When I was just your age, my friend Dave introduced me to Dungeons and Dragons. There were three books then -- nothing more than pamphlets that you kept in a little rectangular box. Those three little books were, for a time, the subject of endless jealousy. I pined for my own set. Then the game became bigger, and I did indeed get my own copies, very similar to these, (but a bit simpler).

I know that opening this book will at first be like drinking from a fire hose. But don't be put off. Just take a sip here and there.

Maybe this will spur a lifelong love. Maybe you'll decide in 6 weeks, or 6 months, or 6 years that you are too grown up for it. Maybe you'll just decide you're not really into it. But don't get rid of these. Stick them on a shelf. Perhaps they will be for you, like they still are for me, a roadmap for my imagination when I have lost the way."

When she picked up the books, it was clear this wasn't a passing fad. She burried herself in them immediately. She pestered me with questions while I cooked. All through dinner we talked about the rogue she wanted to roll. I recognized all the desires of the new player. She wanted to roll dice. She wanted everything stereotypical. She wanted magic elven armor and unerring throwing daggers.

At the end of the evening, she was despondent that we hadn't finished her character. I sent her home with instructions and sticky notes on how to pick her skills, and how to buy her equipment.

She calls me four times the day after, asking me for more details, and finally, her character complete, asking if we can play right now, over the phone. It kills me to tell her I have to work. And so, in a few weeks, I imagine I'll be hosting a handful of adolescent kids in my basement. They'll be giddy, and excited. They'll discover the magic of a natural 20, and the curse of bad dice. They'll get restless when things are slow, and they'll have to stand up when things get intense.

And I'll be playing Dungeon Master, more nervous than I've been in 25 years.

After all, this is a sacred trust.


After D&D, give Mutants & Masterminds a whirl.

Only 1 book necessary, they get to create superheroes, pretty free-form chargen, it uses mechanics very similar to D&D3E.

Expect a lot of fart-based powers, but still.

M&M is awesome.

momgamer wrote:

I don't know if this is a cough or not, but have you seen The DM of the Rings? Some funny stuff, and some very good advice in there at the bottom of the comics.

Mein gott, that's marvelous. I'm just about to then end of the first movie. Thanks!

Oh, and wordsmythe just won OoCT for all time, but he didn't even label it!

I'm munnie and I don't even know it, baby.

thewanderer14 wrote:

I really want to do a dungeon crawl now... Smythe... Rocky?

Is this a portent of doom for the next S&T?

Oh BTW, my first 5 characters or so got themselves killed within the first one or two sessions. Things like, "Don't worry fellas, I'll talk us out of this!" followed by, "Hey, see these guys with me? They think I'm lying for them, but they're really here to steal your women and rape your firstborn!"

DM never liked that move. He didn't like vindictive clerics using the "wrong" spell on party members that didn't deserve healing, either. He learned to love the RP.

Nah, you don't want to see my drunk RPing. Hell, I don't want to see me drunk RPing.

rabbit wrote:

M&M is awesome.

It's great fun, though I've come to dislike the system from a gamist perspective. The damage mechanic coupled with the wide and flat d20 distribution means unconsciousness can come up too common and too early in fights. I hear in M&M2E they added another category between Stunned and Unconscious. We're still running 1st edition.

All of this talk is really making me want to somehow find a non-stereotypical group of people to PnP with. Good luck with that, right?

Great article, it brought back a lot of fond memories of playing D&D with my friends for the first time. I was really glad to see that the comments hadn't degenerated into which version of D&D was better.

What a great experience for both you and your neice rabbit. I haven't played D&D for years but was hardcore into it for many years in my pre and early teens. I recall a few "older" guys at the local library where we gamed who did a great job of mentoring us younger kids.

Your article brought back some vivid memories of my first introduction to the game. My friend insisted I had to "check this out" and dragged me along to a weekly library session. It was completely mindblowing to me and I was instantly hooked. I remember the fascination I had with the colorful miniatures and the infectious excitement during a climatic battle with a nasty pack of wolves.

Part of the attraction was the welcoming I received as a noob to that world. Everyone was eager to share the passion and as a result it was very easy for me to get into it.

I too have a hidden stash of books and miniatures in my attic. Maybe someday one of my kids will ask me about it.

(In contrast to your situation I was really disappointed a few weeks ago when my boss complained to me out of nowhere that his 14 year old son is expressing a strong desire to learn D&D. My boss was appalled by the concept and said he wanted to steer his son away from something so nerdy).

While we're on the thread, I have played quite a bit through Fantasy Grounds online. It's awesome fun, and really does recreate a lot of the tabletop feel. What I haven't done is add teamspeak to the mix.

It puts huge demands on the DM to be prepared though, even more than in person.

Rabbit, that looks really efficient. I could see a session moving very quickly and a DM getting the rug pulled out from under them pretty quick. Perhaps, Fed, a thread is in order... But where to find a DM... *rubs chin*

Edit: Not it.

Don't look at me, I'm no DM.

Did anyone try to DM eTools? I just went far enough to roll character sheets with them, but no further.

I've used all the myriad tools. Ive used PCGen for characters with great success.

Fantasy Grounds is awesome, its PC only though.

That's beautiful.

Great article Rabbit! Hope you do a follow-up article and keep us appraised of her progress.

I started out with the classic D&D Red Box, but my friends and I quickly switched over to Marvel Superheroes for several years as we had really gotten into comic books at the time. Of course, we played with over-powered cosmic characters instead of the typical superhero groups and almost all of our characters were made up (my favorite was Dar-Vill, a rogue experiement of the Celestials).

Then we discovered the Dragonlance novels and played that system for a while; loved the Solomnic Order of Knights, the Kender race and the schools of wizardly. (my character was Karien Brightblade, Dragon Knight of the Sword). Rastlin and Lord Soth are still some of my favorite fantasy characters ever.

The last campaign I played was a Forgotten Realms adventure in 1997. I bought the new 3rd edition player's handbook, DM guide and Monster Manual when it first came out but I just couldn't get into it. (BTW, I thought it was so dumb when they released 3.5 edition. It was something like, a year later? I mean, how long did they play-test the system and didn't realize there were quirks and rangers were broken?).

I totally agree on the whole 3.5 thing. I resisted buying the new PHB forever, but I'm a sucker. I do wonder whether they'd just keep making things more and more complex forever.

Although, as part of my niece-a-thon, I bought her the new boxed basic set, just to see what was in it, and despite some natural aversion I have to the movement towards just being a minis game, the new boxed set is a GREAT intro to the game, and actually gets back to some pretty fundamental whitebox/chainmail roots.

The initial box set is great, as long as you can stomach the Monopoly chests. My kids did great with it. I used to stand in the kitchen and listen to them all in the boys' room and try not to laugh out loud. Had we gone on from there straight into the books I would probably never have had to step in.

It was when we went to Champions that we ran right into a learning curve that practically turned back onto itself.

What is this Champions that you speak of, mom?

It's a role playing game like D&D, only you play super heroes. Been around since Christ was a corporal. Think City of Heroes, only lots of hex paper.

Here's some overview from the Oracle at Wiki.

Oh, I've heard of that. I was so attuned to the D&D discussion I assumed it was some D&D product I didn't know about.

Nope, though you can play in a fantasy setting if you wish. The only reason I brought it up was because of the training wheels effect from the new box set. It really is strong.

Way back in the day I used to buy Dragon magazine all the time and there were always ads for the game Paranoia. To my 12 year old, Douglas Adams loving mind it always seemed like a hoot, but I never got to play it. Did anyone ever give it a whirl?

Way back in the day I used to buy Dragon magazine all the time and there were always ads for the game Paranoia. To my 12 year old, Douglas Adams loving mind it always seemed like a hoot, but I never got to play it. Did anyone ever give it a whirl?

Hey double post, come here often?

I used to buy Dragon for the fiction. I am a nerd. I never made the pilgrimmage to Lake Geneva to play with Gygax like my friends did, at least.

Come on down to indy bro. I'm buyin' the booze.

That was odd. I most certainly didn't click the submit button twice!

rabbit wrote:

Come on down to indy bro. I'm buyin' the booze.

Enough to make me forget smelling Gary and pig farms all the drive down?

Gary? Gygax or Indiana?