Xmas has come and gone again, and here I sit in the sleepy, cold days between Xmas and New Years (well, it's New Years Eve day as I write this, so I suppose you could say that's over). This time of the year, I always feel groggy - sleepy, as I said, and not much ambition except to stay inside, keep warm, and chill out (as much as one can chill out while trying to keep warm).
Nostalgia had me thinking. On Xmas 1979, I received this:
...and it was, I suppose, the second key.
The first key would have been the Monster Manual, which I, in fact, received for my birthday in 1978. And that in and of itself had fired my imagination greatly. I mean, you couldn't DO much with the MM alone, now could you? Mostly just look at the pictures and think about the entries and try to puzzle out how the rules worked. But if you had a brain you could at least discern how a dragon was tougher than an orc, say. But that wasn't really the point.
No, the point was the MM sort of opened the door on a world. And it wasn't someone else's world, per se. It was yours. It was like a set of blocks (or properly, part of a set of blocks), to build a world with. A world that included all/most of the common folklore of fantasy which, as a kid, you'd already absorbed, from fairy tales, movies, books (see my earlier entry on early influences). And then it included all/most of adult fantasy (one term used for it) that was available at the time (which wasn't much, really). In my imagination this vast world spread out before me ... no map, no borders. I wasn't thinking about kingdoms or kings, just vast plots of wilderness filled with villages of halflings, forests of elves, mines of dwarves, and hobgoblins, bugbears, orcs, gnolls and whatnots roaming the lands in uncontrollable war bands, while other beasties lurked in remote places, guarding treasures. It was intoxicating.
And I think, in a lot of ways, it was that wide open sense of possibility that inspired me. Long before I first drew my first ever imaginary-world map, it was the thought that I could place this dragon here, this village there, this forest of elves over there...
And it was that sense of possibility that still inspires me when I look at those old D&D books. For all their clunky rules and Gygax-ian obnoxiousness, I can still feel it.
I'll write more about this sort of thing another time.