The dungeonmaster was a ginger-haired boy called Patrick, known to everyone as Paddy. I’d been in the same class as him for years but never really got to know him that well; I was one of those schoolboys who flitted between cliques, not really fitting in with any of them for very long, making few very close friends.
I can’t remember how or why, but I expressed a wish to try playing Dungeons & Dragons for myself, just to see what it was like.
After all, I’d seen Paddy and his friends playing D&D most lunchtimes. There was a fire exit from the dining hall that had a small porch in front of it – a snug, dry spot where four or so young teenage boys could squeeze in for 45 minutes worth of role-playing fantasy.
I knew nothing about playing. I knew there were dice with many sides, and I knew the DM (in this case, Paddy) appeared to have some encyclopaedic knowledge of everything that could possibly happen in the fantastic universe we were playing the game in. I guessed (correctly, it would turn out) that it was just as easy to try things in the fantasy universe as it was in the real one.
My character was something pretty nondescript. I can’t even remember exactly what (this happened 25 years ago or more, so forgive me my haziness). I had a small dagger, a cheeky expression, and a catapult, and that was about it. Every other character playing was far more interesting and powerful, loaded up with weapons and spells and experience. I shrugged, accustomed to the concept of starting from the bottom. We played.
Within minutes our small band of characters was in serious trouble. Some kind of vicious beastie, spook, or trollish monster was looming over us and threatening to maim. My fellow players swooped in and starting laying into the baddie with their arsenal, only to be picked off one by one, until Paddy gleefully turned to me and said: “You’re the only one left not dead or hideously injured. What are you going to do?”
I pondered for a short while. I didn’t really have the faintest idea what would work. Paddy seemed to hint that running for dear life might be a good plan, but I didn’t consider that a worthy end to my first ever fight in my first ever D&D battle.
“Um, can I throw a stone at the bad guy’s face with my catapult?” I asked.
Paddy blinked. My companion players chortled. It was clear that no-one thought very much of that idea.
“OK, if that’s what you want,” said Paddy, and he threw some of those mystical multi-sided dice. There was a pause. Paddy grinned and looked up at me.
“You’ve killed him. Stone dead. Bullseye.”
My delight was only matched by my astonishment. Here was I, first-time player of D&D, and I had single-handedly despatched a foul monster from the pits of hell with nothing more than a small pebble and a nifty flick of the wrist. Even if this was a clever set-up by all the other combined players to make me feel better, enjoy myself, and come back next time, it still felt good. I roared with delight and demanded that we continue playing.
A short time later I was killed by an arrow in the back from a passing orc.
What a great way to spend a school lunch break.