"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!!!!!!!
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.
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.