Being intensely shy as a kid I didn’t have many friends, and the idea of inviting anyone over to my house terrified me far more than a dragon ever could. Aside from answering questions whenever I was called upon in class and a bit of chitchat at the lunch table I didn’t volunteer very much to the proceedings. The fact that my family moved around because of my dad’s job more than a few times over the years didn’t help matters much either. Looking back I wish I could have taken my younger self aside and given him a bit of confidence. Despite my shyness I still loved games in those days, so much so that even my parents couldn’t miss it. Every birthday and holiday there would be a couple of new games thrown into the mix. Various versions of Monopoly featuring nerdy themes like Star Wars, comics, and more were the most common theme but others worked their way into the mix. My family would gather around the table to play one of those games occasionally with all of the enthusiasm someone can muster up for a family game night. Now some of you are probably thinking that all of this changed the first time I played Dungeons an Dragons aren’t you? Well you’d be absolutely right! Unfortunately I didn’t play for the first time until I was in college, but that didn’t stop the game from having an impact on me. At some point I got my hands on an adventure module which I carried around with me everywhere I went, and I remember copying all of the maps inside out onto sheets of graph paper with a level of concentration that could safely be considered intense. That was without a doubt the only time I ever had fun with a sheet of graph paper in my life. The game reared it’s head again at a local street fair when I found a used copy of The Legend of Huma resting on a blanket outside of the hardware store. A knight mounted on the back of dragon soaring through the sky caught my attention immediately and I bought it without hesitation. Huma, Kaz, and Magius were exactly the friends who I needed then, and I like to think they helped me deal with the daily struggle of a public school education.
The last blow fell when we were on vacation and the weather turned uncooperative driving everyone indoors. My parents took me and my sister to a nearby toy store to try and find something to keep us busy in our hotel room. I found a slightly battered copy of Dungeon! sitting alone on one of the shelves. Unlike the rest of the games it wasn’t wrapped up in shiny plastic and something about it caught my eye. The clerk at the cash register gave us a discount because it had already been opened and he thought there might be some pieces missing inside. I must have played that game by myself a thousand times after that day. I’d set the board up with imagined players and we’d run through dungeons fighting monsters and collecting treasure. That wasn’t unusual and I played a lot of games that weren’t meant to be played with a single person in a similar fashion. My copy of Dungeon! is sitting on the shelf downstairs, but the red plastic wizard from inside is on my bedside table staff raised high.
So what stopped me from playing Dungeons and Dragons back then? Honestly I have to believe it goes back to the idea of that level of social interaction freaking me out. Even in my twenties it was a struggle to walk into a game store for my first night of D&D. Luckily it went extremely well and I enjoyed it so much that I knew I wanted to keep playing forever. A few months later I met Jade and my life changed for the better. She showed me that there were people who loved games as much as I did, and she finally helped bring me out of my shell. Because of her I was able to run campaigns at conventions, start multiple gaming groups, volunteer to run games at our local library, and even start a podcast and this blog.
Since those days there has been a lot of innovation in gaming and players who aren’t able to get a group together are no longer confined to games of Solitaire. It’s not the most common feature but there are a few games that do allow one player to enjoy and adventure all alone. The Dungeons and Dragons board games like Castle Ravenloft are on example. I also just discovered a game from the 80’s called Dark Tower which featured a single player campaign. Complete with a map of four kingdoms, a quest to recover a magic scepter from the Tyrant King, and an electronic dark tower that brought the game to life with lights, sounds, and randomized events makes this one of the coolest things of all time. I wish I’d had this game back then.
If anyone out there is reading this and you’re struggling with the same issues I’m not going to tell you to suck it up and dive into the water at a local game store. Do it when you’re ready and in a way that makes you comfortable. There’s probably going to be a few terrifying moments when you meet people and worry that you’re the biggest dork in the world, but that’s alright. That’s just the imp on your shoulder trying to keep you from becoming the hero it knows it can’t hope to beat. So raise your broadsword, cast magic missile, channel divine might through your holy symbol, or sneak up behind the little bastard and put a knife in his ribs. Find your own path through the dungeon and when you look up you’ll discover you’ve found a party who will watch your back and that you’re capable of great things. Don’t be afraid.