By Jason Campbell

I started playing TTRPGs with the Moldvay edition of Dungeons & Dragons Basic (often called “the red book”) in the summer of 1981. We became obsessed with the game and soon moved on to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (now known as “first edition”). I’d never seen or played a TTRPG before that, and since my only experience with games was with board games I had lots of misconceptions about things that we would now say “of course!”. 

Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rulebook

Some Misunderstandings With TTRPGs

My first DM was my friend Joe, who had played some D&D with older kids at summer camp, but he had never read the books. I had the Moldvay Basic book and had read it many times but was still confused. The first thing I had trouble understanding was: when we played one adventure after another, could you play the character from one adventure in the next adventure? It seems silly to even ask this now, but in the board games I’d played like Monopoly or Sorry! Each game session was completely separate from the previous ones. Nowhere in the D&D books did it specify that you could play the same character from session to session, so I thought character creation was just a part of each game session.

Even when we realized that you certainly could play the same character over and over, I didn’t understand that the treasure you got in one adventure would carry over to the following adventure. Again I thought that the treasure was something the “winner” got at the end of a session. 

Where Did Our Excitement for the Game Come From?

In 1981 we didn’t have the worldwide web, we didn’t even have much in the way of computers. If you were really interested in TTRPGs you probably subscribed to Dragon magazine, which I did. What we knew about TTRPGs we learned from the few friends we played with and from reading Dragon, and occasionally from talking to people at game and hobby stores. If you were lucky you might go to a gaming convention, but that would be rare. When something new was coming out – a new adventure or new book – we’d only know about it from reading about it in Dragon or maybe hearing about it at a game store. 

That meant that getting a new Dragon magazine was a big deal, because it contained new things to add to your games. We anticipated the next issue in a way that waiting for a new streaming episode can’t really compare to. That’s because we had so little information, at best it was a magazine once a month, where today we have many streams, actual plays, news and information podcasts coming out weekly. 


OK, so I’m not growling at you kids to get off of my lawn. It’s great to have more access to information, to have more opinions and voices to listen to, even if it is at the expense of dealing with some “toxic” social media. This article is just to explain what it was like at the time for those that weren’t there. Note that it’s not just because things were different in the early days, but because I was a young teen and certainly easily excited by my new obsession. It’s wonderful that we still have TTRPGs, and so many more than in the past, created by so many different sorts of people. 

What do you think? Is this the experience you had, or heard of from the earlier days of the hobby? Let us know in the comments.