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Inside the Dragon’s Den: Dungeons & Dragons game play (1982)

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1982-Inside the Dragon's Den

Arcade goes to a game store and finds instead A Dragon’s Den

Once upon a time there was a store called The Compleat Strategist, which sold war games. When a new type of game, known as Fantasy Role Playing (FRP), appeared, they sold that, too.

The first of these new games was called Dungeons and Dragons. In it, players got to become — for a few hours — the characters they played. They could be centaurs, or wizards, or even thieves all in search of a treasure that waits at the end of the dungeon. They ran into all sorts of imaginary adventures that were great fun. And no two games were alike, since the players made up all the adventures as they went along.

D&D and other FRP games mushroomed into a national mania, and The Compleat Strategist is living happily ever after as the place to go for anything connected with FRP games!

That’s why ARCADE went there to find a really good D&D game actually being played. We had heard that players there got so involved in being the characters they played that their games went on for days, weeks — even months.

Discovering a Dragon’s Den

We arrived at the store and found a Dragon’s Den — a gaming room right in the back of the store!

On Saturdays from one to five o’clock, garners and game masters of all ages come to play all sorts of FRP games. There’s no admission charge. But you do need a vivid imagination and the desire to play fantasy games that are really out of this world!

ARCADE walked into a tiny room one Saturday and found about 40 people crammed together and having some very strange conversations. If you are familiar with D&D or other games of its type, what we saw and heard may make some sense to you. If not, join us for a very weird afternoon!

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There are three game masters (GMs, those who lead the games) and only room for two games today. One group leaves, with no hard feelings, to go elsewhere and play really weird games.

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A large group remains to play D&D, and a smaller, older group sets up for a different type of role playing game they call “Xanth.” Xanthers refer to the younger D&D players as “Munchkins.”

It’s very noisy and confusing. People talk about past games played. “Remember when the golden lion was stolen?” says one. … so I offered them a choice — give me half of Lentura — or die!” laughs another.

Soon the game masters have set up, and Xanthers are deciding on their characters’ forms and powers. The GM explains that she has made up the land of Xanth, and that the object of the game is to survive it!

At the same time, the D&D GM is describing some places in his game plan. “If I have to use one word for these places, I would use — sleazy!” Giggling breaks out. Clearly, everyone who can will visit these “sleazy” spots — in their imaginations only, of course!

“You’re beginning to be too loud!” the store manager shouts from the door.

Lost in a land of imagination

The games intensify. Xanthers are lost in an imaginary land where anything could be dangerous. Some players choose to try every situation they run into. Others won’t even touch anything.

A D&D character has been stabbed. The player rolls his dice to see how bad the wound is. The higher the number the worse the wound. The GM gives such a yucky description of the injuries that everyone breaks character and laughs.

Most of the D&D players want to hack through everything in their paths. Xanthers are more thoughtful. “That can be handy” is something one Xanther says of almost anything that happens to his character, even when his character turns bright blue!

Because of their love of battles, about half of the D&D characters are “dead” within a couple of hours. But in this particular game, when a character dies, the players stick around to advise the “living”!

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Meanwhile, a Xanthan Centaur sinks in quicksand. “I can help her,” a player says. “I have power.”

“Only over inanimate objects,” the GM objects. “A centaur is animate.” Rules about powers are set and agreed on before the game. It’s up to each player to remember the rules. This player remembers and gloats as he says, “The sand isn’t animate!” And he declares that the sand has been separated from the water. The centaur walks out. These players are all thinking fast!

D&D players are deep into the plight of one character. In their excitement they shout, “Offer him something!” Others yell, “Nah, kill him!”

A voice booms from the door. “Now it’s TOO LOUD!” roars the store manager.

All the Xanthan explorers are still alive. But they’ve been trapped in a dark, wet cave for over two hours! They are still there when the store closes at five o’clock. Is this the end of the game? No! The Xanthan players arrange to come back next week and continue their game. The five remaining D&D characters decide to end their game without getting the treasure.

We all leave the store, normal people once again. The fantasy is over, but we’ve got some great memories. We’d been to dangerous lands, survived critical situations, crawled through dank, dark caves, and met ogres, demons, dragons, and wizards — all in a small room in the back of a store.

It was strange. It was funny. It was weird. And ARCADE loved every minute of this very unusual Saturday afternoon!

– Suzanne Lord

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