Dungeons & Dragons in the Phantammeron

The Phantammeron novels have a lot of mythology in them, myth that has been directly inspired from old sources found in England, Ireland, Europe, and the ancient western world. But some of my earliest exposure to western mythology was through a simple little game that came on the scenes in Modern America in the late 1970’s – the role-playing game called Dungeons & Dragons.

My friends and I played the “old stuff”, the early Basic First Edition of Dungeons & Dragons and the later Advanced Dungeons & Dragons that came on the scene around 1979.

Dungeons & Dragons – Dungeon Master’s Screen, 1980

My first exposure to Dungeons & Dragons was as a sad, 14 year-old, teenage boy in the early winter of 1980 in Texas. My parent’s had divorced a few years prior and I have a distinct memory of my loneliness and sadness at that time. At 14 many boys are just starting to embark on their adventures as young men, their lives filled with the joy of their new found powers, and the encouragement of their parents given to them so they might explore the World with confidence.

But I was trapped in the dark depression of divorce and the fear I felt for my Mom and her sad struggles during that time. And so I often chased my own shadows alone in that old, dark, and dusty house we grew up in on Potomac Avenue, trapped alone in my room, consumed by my lonely hobbies and interests that few in my family cared to acknowledge. For I was a very sensitive and intellectual youth at that time.

My mind had turned inward in 1980. Dallas, Texas at that time was a very bad place. The schools were saturated with drugs and sex. It was a very violent time and I had grown fearful of the city. And so I was primed to explore my mind’s own wonders, not the world’s. Most of what I had once believed as far as family or hope was erased by the desire to be rid of that old house and my life there; to leave Texas behind and run from my dark past there. My sister and I had struggled to cope in the school system after Dad left, and so my Mom had moved us to much smaller town in Louisiana that August to be near her parents in the fall of 1980. That singular event cheered me up greatly, for I quickly made new friends and found joy and confidence easy to come by in that new town.

But after we left our old house in Dallas my Mom returned with us briefly to Texas in the winter of 1980 to see old friends and tie up some last minute business decisions she had made. I dreaded this return. It is then one cold and dark winter’s day my Mom left me with an old buddy of mine for a few nights who lived across the alley from our old house. That night my friend pulled out an old purple box from under his bed with the dice and gaming manual for Basic Dungeons & Dragons. And so the adventure began…

I’ll never forget the strange and haunting magic of that night as my friend took me on my first adventure through caves and caverns below a dark keep. There was nothing to see with this game, as it was all shared by dialogue and description. That such a simple game with a few dice, a good friend, a pencil, and paper could wash over my mind with such vast worlds of mystery waiting to be discovered floored me. What an imaginative game this was!

I saw clearly in my mind my fantasy ranger character with his long sword finally slaying a monstrous Bugbear in the midst of a great cavern. And the thrill of that first conquest was something new and exciting! The joy of digging through this beast’s cave to find electrum pieces strewn about the bones of his past meals, and a chest of gems lost among the rubbish was quite amazing! Next, I found myself fighting a Gelatinous Cube in a hallway. The horror of watching myself fail a dice role to see if my sword and armor melted from his terrible acid bath slung at me in combat was shocking! Without a weapon or armor, this slimy monstrosity was sure to melt me into jello. And that he did. But I was not saddened by my first loss of life in this game. It stimulated me to discover more!

It is then I felt the full power of what role-playing and imagination could be for a young and curious mind such as my own. After my visit to Dallas I soon purchased my own Dungeons & Dragons beginner set from a hobby store in town. Over the next 5 years I embarked on a long and exciting journey as “Dungeon Master”, leading my many friends in Louisiana on great adventures I mapped out in depth. Such became my first exploration into the myths of Mankind and my exploration of what those myths and monsters might become for me through this incredible game.

I now credit Dungeons & Dragons as a singular source of my long journey into the study of ancient mythology since then. Yet in 1969, as a three year old, I remember my mom reading to me vivid fairy tales from books she had collected. And so I cannot say Dungeons & Dragons was my seminal mythological stirring. No, that must have happened much earlier as a toddler listening to fairy tales my mother read to me.

But this game certainly set me on the path to greater exploration and eventually my long library research into ancient myths that would form the foundation for the Phantammeron stories. But I thank Gary Gygax and so many others for creating such an amazing game. Dungeons & Dragons formed the foundation of my discovery of my own imagination and all that it would become for me as an author later. For I would harness these early experiences as Dungeon Master in my own desire to explore even greater worlds in the Phantammeron novels.

Early Module

Here is an example of one of my old Dungeons & Dragons modules: I recently found this mint condition 1981 Judges Guild module (see image) for AD&D called “Dragon’s Hall”. As you can tell we used to play the old stuff, the weird and rarely known stuff. I probably bought this at a hobby store in 1981. I think this company went out of business in 1985. The very early role-playing games used to be highly imaginative and creative – often based on pure adventure, monsters, and treasure, not the convoluted rule sets that would overly-complicate the game after 1990. The beauty of the original game was its simplicity and focus on monsters and treasure…not ego, fame, or status.

Dungeons & Dragons has evolved to immense popularity since 1980. Its wide adoption by millions of people and hobby groups over the years means it has now become a truly vast multiverse of games, versions, film, conventions, and social engagements. Its purpose has moved way beyond the simple imaginary role-playing game between friends on the weekends with pencil and paper and into the realm of big money and major corporate competitions. Huge egos and fortunes are at stake with thousands employed by its various licensed gaming systems and films world-wide. Its inspired games like Magic the Gathering, though these groups deny it.

Sadly, in my opinion, Dungeons & Dragons today has lost its original charm. The kids today seemed too focused on power, greed, rule books, and social engagements instead of the wonder of its mystery and magic. I think it’s those aspects that drew me to the game, originally. Today, I would be bored by its complicated and power-hungry role-playing machinations, the aggressive ego-driven competition among strangers at conventions, and the complex rule sets that play less on the imagination and more on one’s intellectual dominance and status over others. Honestly, I could care less about any of that competition stuff. Its humanity and fun has long since been stripped away and gutted from the game.

The beauty of the 1970’s First Edition Dungeon & Dragons will always be its connection to one’s own vast imagination created in the mind of the adventurer. I think a few of the older players that remember the 1970’s version still cling to those first edition memories and the magic of that earlier version of the game that was purely about adventuring. But few of those players and their views remain. Even fewer understand my fascination with the more primitive ideas behind the early game and its true value; its ability to engage a child’s mind with monsters, myth, and treasure….nothing more. Its very hard to explain that simple value to kids today. They don’t get that.

The golden age of role-playing games has passed, in my opinion. Even the incredible online video games today cannot quite compete with the fantastical things I saw in my mind in 1980 as a child. For the Human mind contains vast worlds and creatures yet unfathomable by anything artificial constructed onscreen gaming experience or detailed rule book. It is the Realism of young people today in 2020 that’s destroyed those monsters and magical realms in most people’s minds. The magic is gone…

By drawing back the curtain or mystery, the mists have receded and left but a hollow circus showman working the levers of our modern minds for us to ponder. Without those dense “mists of mystery” our mind’s close in and imagination greatly diminishes. In truth, imagination dies. That is why I have encouraged my readers and writers to explore ancient mythology in our libraries instead of participating in the failed video game and role-playing game worlds of 2020.

For the true source or fount of inspiration must come from ancient Man and our ancestors who lived with Myth – myths not used as just a rationale for poorly designed games, or as a crux for science, or as some debunked religious faith, but as a spiritual experience in perfect harmony with their Life, with Nature, and with their Mind……something Modern Man has now completely lost.

– the Author

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