Bigger house or less stuff. The choice comes to most of us sooner or later, and with some regularity. Just now, the answer is less stuff so the search is on for things I can live without; candidates for re-homing, or binning. Which include:
Cue nostalgia. I put in my fair share of Dungeoning and Dragoning in my youth, and looking back I’m inclined to think those long sessions of hacking and slaying and spellcasting were some of the better spent parts of it. The paraphenalia of those days has been in long, more or less forgotten, hibernation, cluttering up drawer space I could probably use more constructively now. It’s been many, many years since I rolled a 20-sided die in anger and I see no realistic prospect of doing so in the the foreseeable future. Life, for me and my former gaming companions, no longer includes the luxury of otherwise unallocated hours that could easily be sunk into D&D (or any of the other games that consumed so much of our time back then, which we won’t get into here).
If I had the time, would I actually want to break open the rule books (or the new versions of them, I suppose it would be) again? I’m not sure. The idea appeals, in a way: the remembered companionship of it all, the vast realms of exploration and character advancement that always seemed to lurk just beyond the horizon of whatever current adventure was absorbing our attention. It was good stuff at the time, but I have a feeling it would not be quite so easy now, in my middle age, to buy into it all and take it with at least the modicum of seriousness that is required.
There’s a pretty high proportion of fantasy writers who’ve got D&D lodged somewhere in their personal backstory, and my entirely-unsupported-by-evidence guess would be that quite a few of them were at least as much DM as player. That was certainly true for me. It’s that native instinct for world creation, story-shaping. Except that, of course, one of the beauties of D&D – and it’s many less famous RPG colleagues – is that the players shape the story as much as the DM. We were never heavily into the role-playing bit of the process, really: very little business was conducted ‘in character’, and things like alignment never weighed too heavily upon anyone’s considerations. What we were after, I think in hindsight, was just the construction of shared narratives and the joint creation of spectacular or dramatic set-pieces.
Do the legions of World of Warcrafters now populating the internet get the same things out of their gaming as we did back then, clustered around some big table, half-buried beneath paper and dice and books? I don’t know, but I’m an old-fashioned sort of soul, and I have a nostalgic affection for those shared narratives and moments of high drama that existed only in our minds, created there purely by what we said to each other. They were not acted out before us on screens; they were only thoughts, midwifed into our heads and rendered mutually consistent by sets of rules and concepts. I like that. D&D might have been a minority interest back then, and now, but for those immersed in its make-believe worlds it was – and no doubt still is – an absorbing, liberating, companionable affair. I’d never begrudge it any of the time it claimed from me back then.
But it’s not an experience I’ll be reliving any time soon, so that drawer space needs to be freed up, for slabs of tax return documents, or chequebooks, or office supplies. Boring stuff. Except the office supplies, which I confess I find quite pleasing in a wholly inexplicable way. I like boxes of staples, paperclips, labels and all that kind of stuff. Not much scope for slaying dragons with it, though.
(Note for D&D afficionados and completists: I did, of course, have a Monster Manual, but it’s not shown in the photo above because it was a paperback, and I believe it disintegrated quite some time ago.)
(Further note: in what I remember as a very deliberate act of subversive rebelliousness, I persistently played a female character. No one else in our group – all blokes – ever did, so far as I remember. What does this tell us about me? No idea.)