I grew up in the shadow of cooling towers, in a small village that bordered a power station located in northern Kwa-Zulu Natal. We were encircled by kilometer-long strings of pylons that anchored us to an industrial town about twenty minute away. Surrounded by rivers and bush, there was all manner of things a teenage boy could get up to when the sun was out. But on those days that it rained, we played D&D, and when I say we played, we played for hours...
The story on how I came to discover Role-Playing I’ll save for another day, but it involves boarding school, shoe polish, Adolf Hitler, a Union Jack, the Vierkleur, and a weekend of detention. But I digress.
The town where I went to school had a really nice library which was surprising for somewhere so provincial. Usually the good stuff was kept for the larger metropolitan areas, like Durban, or ‘Maritzburg, and we would be left with the dregs, (like battered copies of Wilbur Smith, or tear-stained editions of Mills and Boon), but luckily for me they had all the books a 13 year old loves to read. Stephen King, Phillip Dick, Clive Barker, Anne Rice, Orwell, Le Guinn , Susan Cooper, Bukowski, Herr, Kerouac, Bradbury, the list went on.
Anyway, one day I was down there after school picking out something to read before taking the bus home, when I came across a book called, ‘The Dungeon Master’ by William Dear.
Now, I knew what a DM was (obviously), but I didn't know if this book was fact or fiction, so I took it out anyway and I devoured it that night. What can I say, I was young, and it was about a boy who ‘disappeared’ while playing D&D. It had Steam Tunnels, Mysterious Tables, Paper-Mache Heads, live action Role-Playing. Then there were bonfires, Tolkien societies, and an actual example of a D&D game... I thought it was great. The fact that it spawned a horrendous fekkin’ movie called ‘Mazes and Monsters’, was lost on me, and also, how it literally, projectile vomited, the ‘dangers’ of D&D into every living room across the globe, was lost on me too.
What stuck with me however, was the example of play found therein, especially the introductory portion of the game that Dear himself played; arriving in the town of Hann, being accosted by beggars, a shadowy figure making off with a box under his arm while being pursued by the local Watch. Then pinching the box from under their very noses and heading off to a local tavern, that not only had an escape tunnel, but one that led to a dungeon...pretty heady stuff for a teen.
Over the years when called to run a game on the fly, this is what I run. Sure, my version deviates significantly from what you’ll find in the actual book, but the spirit of it is there, especially the beginning.
So, when we finally got around to getting a monthly 1st Edition AD&D game off the ground, I decided to kick off the evening with my version of what I had read in that book all those years ago... homage if you will.
That first evening found the three characters wandering in the town of Hann looking for a place to have a quiet drink and plan what they were going to do next. There was Greenslade Fane (the Ranger), Pyus Doomsayer (the Cleric), and Shade DuMond (the Thief). Our MU was already AWOL on the first night, but has since been embraced back into the fold.
So, there they were, strutting their stuff until they got surrounded by beggars looking for coin or food. The beggars became pushy and Shade felt more than a few fingers dancing in his pockets. They heard a commotion that focused everyone’s attention on a man being chased by the Watch; he was coming down an alleyway that ran between the tavern and an inner bailey wall.
As he made the turn he slipped in a pool of water, and lost his grip on the box that then went sliding toward the players. Miraculously, no one seemed to notice this...except for Shade of course who kicked the box under a pile of fishing nets, drew down on the beggars, and told them in no uncertain terms to F%$k off.
The beggars fled and Shade picked up the box. One of the guards spotted what was going on, gave a shout, and summoned his brothers-in-arms to give chase. The PC’s legged it to the tavern, paid the inn-keep a gp, and headed for the booth that housed the secret door leading to the tunnel.
They made it just in time. As the guard pulled back the curtain to the snug, Shade deftly closed the secret door. They then padded down the tunnel to a larger room filled with empty wooden crates, and decided to open the box. Long story short, they found a necklace, tried it on, summoned its owner , and under pain of death, had to delve the local dungeon and return with the Ring of Karn...or else. (Can you say chugga-chugga-choo-choo? Yes I know it's all railroady as hell, but hey, what you gonna do?)
They accepted their miserable fate then headed off into the darkness. Their first encounter was with a plague of giant rats. It did not go well for the players; but for the rats? For the rats it went swimmingly. People were losing fingers to the feral little fuckers. Pyus nearly lost his tongue as one landed on his face and tried to burrow its head into his mouth. Shade lost most of his nose and there were several bouts of high pitched screaming too... Oh, how we laughed!
With the rats dispatched (finally), and Shade pried off the wall, they decided to quit while ahead and barricade both doors before calling it a night and tending to their wounds. Pyus was a busy lad and healed whomever he could before catching some Z’s. In the morning it was more of the same before heading deeper into the dungeon.
They came across a Carrion Crawler nibbling daintily on the body of a pig-faced orc. It was just on the edge of their torch light when they discovered it, and luckily for them, it was facing the other way. Greenslade got a few pot-shots in with his bow, which missed. This alerted the CC to their presence and the shenanigans began.
The ranger took several flailing tentacles to the face and failed his Saving Throw which left him comatose on the dungeon floor. Shade swears he climbed the wall to ‘get around it’, I think he was trying to, ‘get away’ from it myself, but hey, over the coming weeks I'll let you be the judge of that.
Anyway, that left Pyus going toe-to-toe with the beastie. He was dodging left and right, making saves, and dealing damage. Shade jumped off (fell off?)the wall onto its back and did a fair bit of damage.
However, he got a gout of thick, black, Carrion Crawler goo in his face and mouth, and proceeded to spend the following few rounds vomiting up everything he had ever eaten. That left the Cleric to fight it on his own.
His god must have been smiling on him that day, because he dispatched the creature with ease. Eventually Greenslade woke up, Shade stopped being sick, and they pilfered the body finding some Elven Boots of Silence tucked into the dead orc's belt. Then they headed up the tunnel regretting ever coming to this poxy town. It was round about here that we called it a night and made arrangements for the following month’s game.
It was only a few days later that I realised our first night of gaming had been on the exact same day James Dallas Egbert had actually disappeared, thirty odd years ago... weird, huh?