When I was a young lad a friend of mine BEGGED his mom to get him the Mentzer Red Box. He, along with myself and another friend played to third level about 100 times in all races all combinations. Bargle is still a venerable half undead villain in most of my worlds. We did get the Expert ,Companion , and Master box sets eventually by all pitching in. I don’t recall if we ever landed the immortals box.
We then managed to gather up a small collection of AD&D 1e books. Things were just about to get good. Then the Church lady rampage happened and my friend’s grandmother insisted of his parents that he destroy the books before we all started eating cats and bathing in blood… or whatever it is she imagined satanic people do.
I would later find out what they imagined satanic people would do, since I was run out of town – literally – on false accusations of being evil.
I managed to get the good stack of books for $40, which was A LOT of money for me. I was rather angry at the deal at the time since he was supposed to burn them or some other violent senseless thing and gave me the option of either buying, or he would destroy them. He refused to give them to me.
That summer I went to my grandparents camp in Eastern Maine to Machias. I read every 1e book I had cover to cover. Played the random dungeon piece a bunch of times, since I was on my own.
As a kid in trouble frequently, I found myself in the guidance office one fateful day at 17. I was not doing well in school and rumors were flying through the church lady circles of our small town of Kezar Falls Maine. Those rumors, of course, spilled to the kids in the halls. The ‘counselor’… (Word used EXTREMELY loosely) asked,”So what are you going to do after you finish school?”
I pulled out Monster Manual II, the one with Jeff Easley’s Ogre in the forest and said,”I want to work for these people! I want to make art like this and this…” Pointing to various illustrations inside.
She laughed at me and shook her head. No hope in her face that I could ever achieve anything at all in life…
“Well, there’s always the mill I guess.” was her suggestion.
23 Years later I was asked by Luke Gygax to illustrate his first module for Garycon. 23 long years later, sadly 5 years after Gary Gygax’s passing, was Frank Mentzer checking out my portfolio 5 minutes in the door of Garycon 5.
I have now since quit my cushy office job to illustrate RPGs, create adventure modules, and other products. Most of the old team of TSR employees have shaken my hand. I even shared a room and a vendor booth with Jeff Easley himself, the very man who inspired me as a youth to be an RPG artist, while I was at the North Texas RPG con.
People like Chris Clark and Luke Gygax call on me to discuss illustrating the next module. Jim Ward offers praise and endorsement when I submit pieces for his writing and I am glad to call many of them them friends. I listened to Frank Mentzer tell a captive audience last year how I was an artist of note, and one to watch for a good 2 or 3 minutes! It all is very humbling.
I was a very wayward kid, quite troubled. Did D&D save my life? Probably. In the midst of a few abusive people in my past it provided escape and hope when there seemed to be none at all. I marveled at that ‘Gary Gygax’ name a number of times and wanted so badly to play a game with the original DM. It gave me an escape from very troubling times.
But.. what is better?
That @#$%ing mill where people die inside and slaved until death is an empty goddamn rickety husk collapsing in on itself, and RPGs are stronger than ever and I am happier than ever. I am invited to conventions, I am gaming with truly outstanding people wherever I go.
I win Kezar Falls Maine…. I win!