I got up early yesterday morning and checked the mail. There was nothing there, so I went back to sleep for an hour. When I woke up, I checked the mail again, and then went back to sleep for a while. When I got up again, I checked the mail, and then played guitar for a while, occasionally going out to check the mail. I didn't end up getting what I was waiting for, which was a Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook. (I realize that the fourth edition comes out in a few months, which will render this edition of The Player's Handbook obsolete, but I couldn't wait. I only spent a few bucks, buying it used over the internet.)
When I finally got around to going online and seeing what was coming through the tubes, I immediately learned that Gary Gygax had passed away just hours earlier. For those of you of less inclined towards nerdism, Gary Gygax was the co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons, and considered by many to be the father of role playing gaming. He was the only reason I had any friends at all in middle school.
I first discovered a shelf of Dungeons and Dragons books at a bookstore when I was in third grade. I was familiar with the cartoon, but didn't know what the game was. All the thick, hardcover books filled with charts and tables and illustrations of monsters fascinated me, though. I immediately asked my mom, "Can we get Dungeons and Dragons?"
"What's that?" she asked.
"It's a computer game," I told her, oblivious to what it really was. I couldn't imagine it could have been anything else, especially with all the tables full of numbers.
"We'll see," she said.
One of my fourth grade teachers was an avid gamer, and he explained to me how Dungeons and Dragons and other role playing games (RPGs) work. It's basically story-telling, with each of the players controlling a single character in the story, except for one player, who controls the world the story takes place in and all of the minor characters. Dice are thrown to determine the outcome of events, like whether or not your character is able to slash an orc with a sword, and how much damage is done if you succeed. Dungeons and Dragons was even cooler than I imagined. I quickly became an RPG enthusiast, buying the first complete game I could find and was able to afford, D.C. Heroes. (I wanted D&D, but it required the purchase of several expensive hardcover books and a set of dice. D.C. Heroes was self-contained in one box.)
I wasn't yet playing Dungeons and Dragons, but my teacher taught me all kinds of cool things about the D&D universe. I had always been a monster enthusiast, and I suddenly found myself being more and more fascinated by the denizens of fantasy worlds like the ones created by J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis. I traded a couple of action figures for a Dungeons and Dragons book full of monster statistics, and then began drawing my own monsters and making up statistics for them. Since I didn't have the D&D rule books, I made up my own rules for using the statistics in my own role playing game.
My class in fourth grade was less than 10 kids. We were in a windowless room, once a storage room attached to the library, in a middle school. We were secluded from the rest of the students because we all had behavior problems too severe for them to let us interact with the normals. Because of this, my friends were probably just my friends because they were the only kids I could have been friends with, and they were only friends with me for the same reason. Still, we played D.C. Heroes and the games I would invent to go with the monster statistics I made up.
In fifth grade, my aunt gave me a $20 gift certificate from a comic book store. When I went to the store, I saw that they had a role playing game section. I found the only self-contained RPG I could afford, Call of Cthulhu, and bought it, thus beginning my lifelong appreciation for H.P. Lovecraft, whose stories I had never even read before.
In fifth grade, they started bussing me for the first half of the day to the local elementary school, where I was put into the smart kid class. I didn't really have any friends. One kid, Brett, tried to befriend me on the first day. I ended up following him around for a couple weeks before I realized he didn't really want to be my friend. I didn't want to play sports with him and all the other kids, because they laughed at me when I pathetically tried to kick or throw a ball. Brett thought D&D was stupid because it involved too many dice. I began spending recess alone on the swings, occasionally talking to kids but never really hanging out.
I was relieved every day when I went back to the crazy kid class, where I had friends. They had nobody else to be friends with, so we played Call of Cthulhu. As a reward for good behavior, my teacher bought me the Dungeons and Dragons Rules Cyclopedia, so we were able to play D&D, too.
In 6th grade, I was almost fully integrated into normal kid school. I got to spend one cherished study hall period per week in my sanctuary of spazzes and miscreants. The rest of the time, I was an outcast, and walked to class alone, where I sat and waited silently for class to start, my head buried in a D&D book most of the time. I would try to act cool, but mostly only succeeded in feeling awkward. I wanted to be funny, but nobody laughed at my jokes or antics. I resigned myself to authoring adventures nobody would ever play, full of monsters nobody would ever fight and treasures nobody would ever find.
It seemed like forever before I made a friend. When it happened, it happened suddenly. A kid in my science class, Mike, saw my D&D Rules Cyclopedia on top of my schoolbooks one day.
"I don't get Dungeons and Dragons," he said.
"You should come over to my house, and I'll teach you," I told him. He agreed.
It was a big deal to my parents for me to have a friend from the world of normal kids. It had been years since I had had a friend over who I didn't meet in one of my social-retard programs. I had been in "special" schools and classrooms since second grade. My parents seemed to do everything they could to impress Mike and his parents so that he would keep coming over. He did, and we kept playing Dungeons and Dragons.
It was a good thing that Mike noticed the book when he did. When my science teacher, who was very popular with all the cool kids, discovered my love of fantasy worlds of monsters and wizards, he disliked me even more than he previously had. He told me not to bring Dungeons and Dragons or any other fantasy books to class. I later found out that he was among the many idiots who believe that D&D is all about Satan worshiping.
The next friend I made was Gordon, who I had always admired. He was sort of a class clown, and I often tried to emulate him, but failed miserably. People liked him. They didn't like me.
"Oh, no, not one of those books again!" he said, pointing at my Rules Cyclopedia on top of my English books. It turned out that Gordon had received some Dungeons and Dragons books for Christmas. Once again, I had made a new friend just by having a D&D book in my possession. Being friends with Gordon made people like me more, and I was able to talk to more people and make a few friends through him, though I was still a nerd. Through Gordon, I met Eric, who told me, "We used to see you walking around by yourself wearing your jacket all the time. We didn't know what your deal was."
The oddest friendship I forged in 6th grade was this stoner kid, Tim. He was a badass and a thief and popular with all the tough, stupid kids. Tim made almost all F's on his report card, with a D in gym class. Tim was friends with an even more popular tough, stupid kid, a stoner named Alex.
To get a good spot in the lunch line, I went straight to the cafeteria after class without stopping at my locker. There was a shelf in there where I could stick my books. One day, after lunch, my binder was missing. My schoolbooks were there, but my binder, which was a black vinyl thing that was popular at the time, was gone. I went to study hall, pissed, and noticed Alex sitting in the corner with the same kind of binder that I had just lost. He was drawing all over it with white out, and kept turning around to look at me.
I immediately knew the binder was mine, and knew how to prove it, assuming he didn't throw away my folders. Inside the binders were some folders that I had decorated with collages made from cut up comic books, and then laminated. My name and address was printed on a label inside of each one. I asked around and somebody told me that they had seen folders like the ones I described. I told the principal, who made Alex give my binder back. He had written all sorts of stupid, nonsensical shit like "TRIPPLE XXX" all over it, and ripped my labels out of my folders.
The day after I got my binder back, I was at my locker with my books on the floor, fishing out a book for the next class. Tim, Alex's friend, came up and grabbed my binder off the floor. He was about to walk away when he saw my D&D Rules Cyclopedia.
"Whoa! You play Dungeons and Dragons?"
He handed my binder back and I had a new friend and an in with the tough, stupid kids who did drugs and stole stuff. People liked them because they were badasses. Suddenly, the badasses accepted me. Some even liked me.
I used to look at the cool, popular kids standing in circles talking between classes. I always thought they were doing drug deals. One day, I found myself standing in one of these circles. Holy shit! I thought, I'm standing in a cool circle! It turned out that nobody was dealing drugs, they were just talking about boring bullshit, but they were fucking cool.
Dungeons and Dragons earned me a few friends in 6th grade, and with those connections I was able to make more friends, though my core group was always the D&D nerd group. I don't think I had a single close friend in 6th or 7th grade that wasn't a gamer nerd.
In 8th grade I went to a new school. I was ready to make friends with nerds, but somebody recognized me as the kid who cussed out Mrs. Norris in fourth grade and got permanently removed from school on the first day of class. I was instantly popular and friends with the tough, stupid kids. I carried around my Rules Cyclopedia for a couple weeks before one of my best friends shamed me into being less of a nerd and more of a jerk.
"Dungeons and Dragons: Nerd Encyclopedia!" he said, and then, just to clarify, "That's what it is, you know. It's just for nerds. The nerd encyclopedia."
I didn't play Dungeons and Dragons again for years.