The gyre may be widening and the center failing to hold, but I’m not going to let a little thing like the heat death of liberal democracy keep me from updating this pitiful remnant of a once popular website. The world may crumble, but I’ve still got three decades of role playing game memories to unpack before it slides into the abyss.
Besides the clearance aisle of local Toys ‘R’ Us store, the other retail enabler of my early-stage D&D habit was the Paperback Booksmith in the Woburn Mall. Though it never offered much by way of sales or discounts, it did continue to stock a decent range of TSR products at a time when most other shops were divesting themselves from the rapidly contracting fad.
Fifteen bucks for a book (or nine for a module) was still too rich for my blood, but I was more than willing to drop a couple of fivers on the third and fourth volumes of The Best of Dragon anthologies. These slick softcover gazettes (featuring metallic-finish covers which went from slick-looking to grimy over the course of a single readthrough) contained a cornucopia of fluff, essays, and unofficial rules expansions culled from the pages of their namesake periodical.
I hadn’t yet got into the habit of buying Dragon Magazine on a regular basis, but was swayed to pick up this pair of Best of collections by a junior high classmate who’d fallen away from the hobby but was still willing to join in conversations about d20s and THAC0 rolls. The big draw — and the reason I purchased these two volumes in particular — was the inclusion of a whole passel of new and exciting character classes outside the officially sanctioned stock templates. Why settle for some nondescript fighter when you could play as a bounty hunter or death-master or duelist?
Technically, the classes were supposed to be for non-player characters only. In practice, it was pretty much a given that children of the Golden Age of Antihero worship would toss any concerns about “game balance” to the winds when offered a chance to play a medieval fantasy version of Boba Fett. Because I bought these books well before owning my own copy of the Player’s Handbook, these unofficial classes ended up getting more campaign time than the properly sanctioned ones ever did. Volume Three also included simplified rules for the hopelessly convoluted monk and bard classes, which further obviated any need my group felt to adhere to the established rules.
In hindsight, I’m amazed by how improvisational my early D&D runs were both as a player and a dungeon master. For those first few months, my group’s campaigns were cobbled together from the first two D&D box sets and a crazy quilt assortment of random AD&D sourcebooks and supplements. It probably helped that none of the players ran spellcasters or made it past fifth level during that phase. Their adventures were all ludicrous dungeon raids against ludicrous-but-kewl monsters with loot payoffs that would make a more fastidious DM blanch with horror.
But you know what? Even after discounting for rosy nostalgia, they were some of the best times I ever had with the hobby.
Sad Fact: Volume Four included a detailed article about Scando-Germanic runic alphabets and ways to incorporate them in one’s D&D games. So enraptured was I by this nod to my ancestral heritage, I memorized how to write my name in the runes and signed all my tests and class assignments with it for at least half a year.
Cripes, I was an insufferable prat as a teen.