How I Started with D&D

Our friend Ash reminded us about David Chapman's RPGaDAY 2022 over a his Autocratik.com blog. In particular, the daily prompt for Wednesday of last week (the 3rd of the month) asked, "When were you first introduced to RPGs?" -- which leads to a short anecdote I've been meaning to share for some time. (Also, it answers a handful of other questions for RPGaDAY 2022 at the same time.)

I've said a number of times that the stock dogma of, "everyone needs a mentor to learn D&D" doesn't apply in my case -- indeed, I learned from the printed books and nothing else. Here's the full story:

By September/October of 1978 (when I turned 8 years old), my great uncle was laid up after a medical scare, and someone had given him a subscription to a new publication, Games magazine. He lived in a house nearby with his two elderly sisters, and they already had a good stock of puzzle books, math texts, games, and the like. Supposedly at some earlier time he'd been a pretty sharp poker player -- and his sister was one of the first women in the country to get a higher degree in math, wrote questions for the first SAT test, etc. (I still have her copies of college algebra & calculus texts dated 1929 and 1933, now with handwritten notes from both of us all through the margins). So all that's pretty well in character.

Anyway, my uncle was handing off his issues of Games to me once he was done with them. At this point TSR Hobbies was running full-page ads for Holmes Basic D&D on a regular basis... it caught my eye, but very conservative with money as we all were, it would take more than that to make the jump. This came in the November/December 1980 issue when the editors included it in their first-ever Games 100 feature of their current favorite games. Dungeons & Dragons was included on their alphabetically-ordered list. Here's the entirety of what they said about it:

D&D is actually a series of books and rules to help players design a fantasy world replete with treasures and perils. A Dungeon Master (DM, or referee) creates the world, which players explore under his direction. The more players, the merrier.

Dungeons & Dragons photo and blurb from 1980 Games 100 in Games Magazine

That clinched it -- I asked for this particular game for Christmas, and did indeed unwrap it that holiday. (Complete with chits -- this being the crunch where dice weren't available - so for quite some time I was spending hours pulling paper out of cups, with the idea polyhedral dice still only a flight of fantasy in my mind. At some point my mom surprised me with a set of dice and that still might be the best, most unexpected gift I ever got.)

Anyway, to this point in my community I was the only person who's ever heard of Dungeons & Dragons. I read the Holmes rulebook & Gygax's inserted Keep on the Borderlands adventure intently, and -- never imagining there was any other option -- started running my friends through games based on those books, teaching everyone I knew how to play. Everything I knew came from the printed text. 

As I look at that 1980 blurb for D&D, I'm a little surprised but how deeply that exact pitch is still the root of what I expect from a D&D game today -- "a fantasy world... treasures and perils... DM or referee... creates the world... The more players, the merrier". Also, it bears reflection on how much harder it was to discover, learn about, and acquire niche media like D&D in the past -- often taking several years, as it happened for me. But it was worth the wait!

Ad for D&D from TSR Hobbies in Games Magazine, Sep/Oct 1978
Ad for Dungeons & Dragons from TSR Hobbies in Games Magazine, Sep/Oct 1978


  1. This is the same edition I started with - first played at my friend's 13th birthday, Holmes, keep on the borderlands, chits in a cup! Went out and bought my box set later that month and have not looked back -42 years and counting!