Jae joins us to talk about RPGs, inspiration, growing up in the 80s, storytelling and BADD.
I blame The Hobbit. So does my mother, but that’s besides the point. Growing up, I was an angry kid. I was also a lonely kid, and spent most of my time reading, getting myself lost in imaginary worlds and making up some of my own. In the summer of ‘88 I received a used copy of The Hobbit before being forced to endure two weeks of mandatory fun at a beach that smelled like dead fish. I hated that place. I’m was an indoor kid from the Cincinnati suburbs. I wasn’t cut out for swimming, fishing, and that frozen cardboard they called ice cream.
My mom’s plan was simple, pick up a book that will keep me quiet for two weeks, and maybe she’ll have two weeks of peace. Yea, that so didn’t work. I was finished by the time our nine and a half hour drive to the sea ended. For the next two weeks all I could talk about was hobbits. I drew sprawling maps and sketched out a series of increasingly complex hobbit holes. I mean, why wouldn’t a hobbit want a room completely filled with bouncy balls? Not wanting to suffer my endless chatter about hobbits for the rest of my summer vacation, my mom did, what appeared at the time, to be the only sensible thing. She bought me Dungeons & Dragons.
There was something magical about that red box. Between the Player’s Guide and the Dungeon Master’s Handbook, it had everything I needed for epic quests. Besides dice. There were no dice. It was supposed to come with dice, but for whatever reason, mine did not. Pencil in hand, I wrote to TSR about this oversight, explaining in great detail why it was imperative that I, the eight year old that I was, needed dice. They never got back to me, and I imagine my dice are still out there at the bottom of a Wisconsin lake. But really, the dice didn’t matter. I had the framework for everything I would ever need to create my own adventures.
Finding people to play with, well, that was easier said than done. None of my friends from school lived in our subdivision. My mom suffered halfway through one game before she vowed to never play it again. My brother didn’t have the attention span, or interest since it lacked both sharks and guns. So it was me, and occasionally my dog, playing every character and running the game simultaneously. Things did not go well, considering I didn’t have dice and my dog kept trying to eat the character sheets. Then my dad found out, and went absolutely crazy.
About the same time I picked up Dungeons & Dragons, my father picked up religion. This was the era that spawned Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons, an actual group founded to draw attention to the evils that D&D encourages. You know, evils like “demonology, witchcraft, voodoo, murder, rape, blasphemy, suicide, assassination, insanity, sex perversion, homosexuality, prostitution, satanic type rituals, gambling, barbarism, cannibalism, sadism, desecration, demon summoning, necromantics, divination and other teachings.” We joke about it now, but back then fundamentalists and misguided parents were losing their shit. There was even an episode of 60 Minutes devoted to it. An episode my father watched. His response to my playing Dungeons & Dragons went about as you’d expect. He fucking burned it.
I cried for days until my mom, the voice of reason, said, “why don’t you just make up your own stuff?” She came to regret those words, as I’ve been making up adventures ever since. It wasn’t too long after that I picked up Shadowrun, and learned that there are no limits to my own imagination. While my first encounter with D&D ended in tears and flames, it forever changed me. Learning that there was something out there with rules, and possibly actual dice, that I could create stories in was amazing. Knowing there were other people out there who loved doing it as much as I did, and that someday I might meet them, lessened the isolation I felt. It’s a big reason why I became a storyteller, and why to this day I’m still filling notebooks with maps and adventures.