The Bowels of El Diablo

Though I have not played any in quite some time. Role playing games helped me during a particularly troubled time in my life. And like many other people, my role playing game journey started with Dungeons & Dragons.

Satan’s game.

Observe the Previously Unobservable

In my youth, like pre-teen years, if you played Dungeons & Dragons you fell into one or two very specific archetypes. One of them even had an apparent dress code. Or at least that is how they were always portrayed on TV and in movies. Button down shirts. High watered pants. Pocket-protectors. The occasional suspenders to lift those high-waters up more. And the pièce de résistance, large framed glasses. Usually with some kind of tape wrapped around the bridge or bows. I’m talking about the Nerd. Luckily, though I wasn’t the best dressed weirdo, I had none of that. Well, except the taped glasses. Glasses break, and are expensive. It was just easier to tape them up. I mean, I was definitely a nerd. Still am. I just wear it differently now. 

The other archetype was, well, to put it bluntly, a satanist. Yup. Apparently, and I kid you not, sitting at a table in someones house, and using your imagination with a small group of friends is one of the numerous path’s to satanism. Who knew? I remember as a kid seeing reports on the news that had interviews with these religious nut-jobs. They were explaining exactly how D&D was a gateway drug to hell. They were describing scenes where people would be sitting around a table dressed all in black, chanting. Opening portals to hell, or something. I don’t know.

It was all so laughable. And I knew it even long before my first time sitting at a table with the apparent tools of a satanist. Rule books, a set of polyhedral dice, pencil, and paper. I mean, I was a child and I understood that all of these viewpoints were total BS. I was always taught that using my imagination was a good thing. Hell, it was encouraged. There was children’s shows on TV specifically made to nurture imagination. And all of a sudden imagination is evil. Now looking back, not only do I think it was all hilarious. I think it was pretty damned sad. It should also be noted that I grew up in many different places east of the Mississippi River. This particular time in my life I was living in the bible belt.

This was probably the time that I started recognizing that I had issues with religion. Not that I had a particularly religious family. Well, it was stuff like this AND seeing all the religious cults and whatnot that were off’ing each other, or getting off’ed, on the news. Seriously, there was a ton of that when I was a younger.

Kath Bates from The Waterboy was pretty much these people that you saw on those news interviews.

But anyway. D&D. Right. D&D is evil… Seriously? Look, if for whatever reason there, 1)is a hell, and B) I end up there, it will not be because some friends and I chose to slay an exists-only-in-our-minds cave troll one night. Bravely wielding only our dice, character sheets, pencils, and words from our little heretic mouths. All while laughing, eating pizza, and drinking the nectar of the gods, Mountain Dew.

Oh no. There are plenty of other reasons. I’m sure.

Okay, glad we cleared that up. Moving on.

Where are the Cheetos?

Before high school, I had never had a chance to try my hands at any pencil and paper roleplaying games. It certainly wouldn’t have been for a lack of interest though. I loved fantasy novels, comics, movies, and cartoons. The fact of the matter was that I never lived in any one place long enough. So I didn’t have all too many close friends. If any at all. I spent most of my time on my own in my room watching TV, playing various video game consoles, building little worlds with Lego, building models, listening to music, or reading books/comics. I was probably trying to come to grips with the fact that we were moving… again. So, though I was aware of Dungeons & Dragons. My comprehension of roleplaying games was actually limited to video games like Final Fantasy. And though I like to think that I had a decent now-considered-to-be-evil imagination, the tabletop game system concept seemed like a foreign thing to me.

High school was both a deeply troublesome time, and some of the best years in my life. Often times, the good things fought with the bad. With the bad regularly becoming the victor. The wake of said battles would leave me in some form of depression if varying depth. And I’d usually try my best to hide those feelings from the people around me. The three years from tenth grade to graduation, and the three years after graduation would be the longest time frame I had spent at a single school, or in one town, in my whole life. I had somehow finally developed many close friends. This was something that was completely new to me. And it was quite frankly, scary. I had long since gotten tired of losing friends due to moving so much. I was keeping people at an arms length. Any given day could be the day.

For a little perspective, one particular February day, freshman year, I was pulled from school in the middle of 2nd or 3rd period. That was the day, that particular time. For a little further perspective, I actually went to three different high schools in 9th grade. In three different states. In one school year. Not calendar year. So yeah…

All of this took it’s toll on me. Particularly emotionally and mentally. And my grades suffered. Not that I cared anymore. I stopped caring about school. I mean, why should I? The only reason I didn’t get held back in the 9th grade was because of a technicality from switching schools so much. So, needless to say, I had developed an internal defense mechanism to try to protect me from grave disappointment. That guard would be up for quite some time. It was things like band(a camaraderie system universal to almost all schools.(I was a proud band geek!)), making good friends at long last, and gaming that finally opened me up and dropped my shields.

But every so often, that anxiety would return. Something would be said, or hinted at, leading me to think that today would be the day

In those rollercoaster years, I got heavily into tabletop wargames and roleplaying games. And all of that was exactly what I needed. My first actual exposure to D&D was, like many other games and systems, attributed to Tyson. Seriously, this guy got me into so many problems… Er…games. He was like the dude on the Home Shopping Network, or in infomercials, standing there explaining a new product to a captive audience:

”Have you ever fancied fighting wars in the 40th millennium with an army of green-skinned-bred-for-war aliens called Orks? Sounds amazing right? Boy, is it! YOU JUST HAVE TO TRY Warhammer 40,000 by Games Workshop!”


”Have you ever said to yourself, ’Man, I just wish I was a half-elf ranger that specialized in bows. But like, that seems like a lot of work. I mean, I’m only human! Nothing can change that fact’? I know I have. Daily! Well… Let. Me. Tell. You. About… DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS!!”

And I’m just sitting there at his parent’s kitchen table salivating and nodding emphatically. All like, ”Hell-to-the-Yes, Sir! I want to invest all of my non-existent money into miniature plastic and pewter Orks! TRY AND STOP ME! GAMES WORKSHOP!!!!! I AM BECOME THE WAAAAAAGH!!!!!! GRIMDARK!!!!!!! GRIMDARK!!!!!!! GRIMDARK!!!!!!!

And ”You know what? Now that you mention it… I have always thought of myself as part half-elf ranger archer, but just have not had a way to express it, like, ever. Please, tell me more! But first, drive me to the bookstore, O’ purveyor of sage-like gaming wisdom!! Players Handbook, was it?

So, once the sale was made, and I had cleaned up the puddle of drool from atop his parents table(sorry, Mom), Tyson informed me that he was planning a Planescape campaign. It sounded really fun. As opposed to playing a cookie-cutter character, I chose a special character that I had found on the dial-up interwebs. A Bladedancer. I remember getting razzed about it quite a bit. But I liked the concept. A dual wielding extremely dexterous fighter that moved like water. What’s not to like? Sometimes you just gotta dance, baby. Well, not me personally. Unless there is some kind of beverage caused impairment involved. Or, if I’m really happy. Or… if no one is looking… 

We played this campaign a couple times in my apartment’s basement. Where I had set up a second bedroom of sorts. Even though I had a room upstairs, the basement was my place to escape to. It was unfinished with stone walls, a concrete floor, and exposed pipes above. The winters in Maine are of course cold. So I had an electric space heater that struggled to fight the freezing temperatures. The clothes dryer helped as well. I used to keep the TV on almost 24/7 so it wouldn’t get cold and develop moisture problems. During one of the games we played down there, one my friends went to go to the bathroom. As one does when one has to relieve themself. Well, when he got up he grabbed one of the exposed pipes above to help himself up. No one thought anything of it. Kind of seemed like a good idea, and I was wondering why I hadn’t done it before.

Now, I don’t remember if it was the next day, or a couple days later. But while I was out, the basement partially flooded with sewage. It took a little while to put it all together, but apparently that pipe he used as a handhold led to the toilet, and had came loose. And after some more uses(flushes) it completely came loose. Luckily none of my stuff was harmed. I did have to move back upstairs for a few weeks though. The smell was pretty bad. I thought it was pretty funny then. Still do actually. Also, in hindsight, I’m glad it didn’t happen while sleeping down there. Yikes. That would have been shitty. [rimshot]

Needless to say, that was the last time I hosted D&D night.

From there, I would join another campaign run by another good friend. My circle had a lot of D&D players. And quite a few others that wanted to learn. It was great. I was fortunate to have so many people in my life that had similar interests. None of those interests were regarding satanism, to take a step back to the opening paragraphs of this piece. Anyway, the setting for this new campaign was Dragonlance. I hadn’t known that there was a Dragonlance setting for D&D until this point. But was interested almost immediately. I had read a couple Dragonlance books in my younger years, and was a fan of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman(Hickman and his wife created the Dragonlance world). I would actually meet Ms. Weis in 2012 at PAX East. Very lovely lady. Even got a picture with her and an autograph. Also, her panel at the con that year was great.

Those books have seen better days, for sure.
I met Margaret Weis at PAX East in 2012. She was promoting the Marvel Heroic Gaming Role Playing system.

The Legend of Huma is still one of my favorite Dragonlance novels. At the time of writing this, I had actually just finished reading it again. Though it wasn’t the most thought-of book in the series when you mentioned Dragonlance, it is more or less the titular novel in all of the Dragonlance universe. The story of a zero-to-hero Knight of Solamnia that would take on the Dragon Queen Takhisis. Who is trying to conquer the mortal plane with her legions of dark knights, mages, Ogres, etc. And of course Dragons of almost every color. No one can harm the dragons except for other dragons. And while there were dragons of light(metallic in colors) on the side of mankind. It was not looking good for the home team. Just when all hope was thought lost for Ansalon and Krynn, along comes Huma and his growing legend. He succeeds in finding the weapon thought only to be from fables. This is the only weapon that could pierce the scales and fell a dragon. The Dragonlance.

This campaign got me back into the world of Krynn, something fierce. And I started reading the books again. I played a priest of Sargonnas named Albastar that, If memory serves, was Chaotic/Neutral and was trying to hide that fact. I may have once or twice cast ”Cause Minor Wound”, vice ”Heal Minor Wound” on a Kender in our group. The DM and I kind of joked about it, and then ended up making it a ‘house rule’ spell. I remember him laughing as I cast the spell. Saying something like, ”Ow! That doesn’t feel right”. The friend that was playing that character was perfect as a Kender. He really nailed the role. He may be part Kender in real life. He used to go on nonsensical rants just like the Kender did in the books. In character and out of character.

Towards the end of that campaign I was definitely leaning Chaotic/Evil. Having finally earned the personal praise of the dark god Sargonnas in our final game. Something I had been trying to do for the whole campaign. This was after a particularly despicable act on my part. The “blessing” left my character disfigured, with Minotaur horns growing from my human head. Sargonnas being the favored deity of the Minotaur race. There was no hiding my allegiances now. It was strange though. Even though I was playing an evil character that worshipped a dark lord. I never turned to satanism in real life. Wild stuff here.

Love that cover

After some time, I caught back up with a couple of people that I had met during one of the most difficult periods in my life. They wanted to play some D&D when I had mentioned that I had been playing a lot. So I decided to try my hand at DM’ing (dungeon mastering). But I decided not to run an Advanced D&D game. I had found a basic version box set at goodwill some time before. It had a thin rulebook(complete with rules and monsters), a pad of character sheet templates, a DM screen, and some dice. From that rule set I crafted a small campaign and we played it a few times over the course of a month or so. I also picked up some DM books that I would use for further reference. They had fun and so did I. Though I was very much new at this whole, ‘running a game’ thing. I remember spending a considerable amount of time creating the setting. I had a whole notebook full of ideas and maps. Fun times.

In senior year I got into White Wolf games. A couple friends and I found a LARP(live action role playing) group about a 45 minute drive from our town. The organizers were running an in depth Mind’s Eye Theater campaign at a university. The system they ran combined multiple sects of this game system’s universe. Vampires, Werewolves, Mages, Kuei-jin(Laws of the East(Chinese vampires)), etc. We all joined the Vampire contingent. That was a whole new experience. Actually acting out my characters actions. I enjoyed it, but it was awkward at first. I’m not SO outgoing. And certainly not an actor.

My character was a Gangrel. The clan Gangrel are animalistic vampires and are often found in the wild. I loved the concept as soon as I learned about the clans. Though it took some time to nail down how I wanted to portray the character. I didn’t really come in to the character til the 2nd or 3rd season.(The LARP was done in seasons. Like a TV show)

I also briefly tried the table top version of Vampire. The White Wolf systems were so very different from D&D. The table top games more or less relied only on D10 for challenge rolls and whatnot. LARP’ing had no dice. You use rock, paper, scissors for challenges. That would be weird, walking around, acting, with a pocket full of dice. There would just be random dice everywhere on the floor/ground as people dropped them. Caltrops.

I met a whole new group of friends during the LARP years. Some of whom I am still close with today. Or at least still have some contact with. During those latter years, many of my high school friends were off to college. And I was not. I had long decided that college was not in my future, considering how bad school was for me as a whole. So I was happy to have made some new friends. But it was kind of funny. My hometown friends were primarily D&D players. My out of town friends were primarily White Wolf players.

On graduation night, most of the graduates went on this overnight party cruise on some lake north of our town. I wasn’t really excited for it, and almost didn’t go, until a group of us got talking about playing D&D all night. I actually brought a backpack full of D&D books and dice, and a bunch of us played for half of the night or so before we disbanded to be ”social”. I’m not so social. I remember having a good time with our little game. But the fun factor, me being not-so-social, and the fact that my backpack weighed about 3 tons, is just about all I remember. That was a long day and night. I slept all day the next day.

After graduation a D&D campaign and the LARP’ing continued. Some of my friends from that LARP circle started an Exalted(again White Wolf games) campaign that I joined in on. Exalted was a lot of fun. The characters are more or less fantasy super powered badasses. My character, named Kaelen, was a ranged weapon specialist that specialized in bows and throwing knives. Though I don’t think I ever used my knives. This same group would also dabble into the new(at the time) Lord of the Rings game system. A setting that we all loved. Most of us being Tolkien fans. This was also in the middle of the Peter Jackson LoTR movie releases. The core book is full of shots taken from the movies. I played a Dwarf. I don’t think we played much, because I do not have much of a memory of it. The fact I know I played a Dwarf was due to me finding my actual character sheet.

circa 2002. My character design from Exalted.

I’m Attacking the Darkness

In 2002 or 2003 my life had reached a crossroads. I had been struggling to find direction and purpose. It had been a few years since I had graduated, and I was working full time third shift. The work wasn’t bad. it fueled my music addiction. Seriously, I would get my paycheck, cash it there, and walk across the plaza to the music shop. What is saving money? I started to fall into a rut. I made an attempt to go back to school, but it was… not to be. Actually it was an epic disaster.

Things in general were getting bad… Yeah… bad. And not looking to get any better. The rut began to spiral out of control. I needed to figure things out. I started to think long and hard as to how I could turn things around. So, I decided it was time to make a drastic life change. I joined the Navy.

Now, this is something that not everyone can say about leaving for the military, but this would be one of the best decisions I would make in my life, as it changed me as a man, for the better. The Navy helped me fix so much of what was wrong with my life. And I will forever look back on my time in uniform with a fondness.

This statement is accurate for where I was in life at the time.

However, this life change would pretty much force me to to set some important things aside. I would be moving far from my friends, and I would be leaving gaming(with the exception of video games) more or less behind. I attempted to roleplay some during my time in uniform. Particularly in A-School(technical training school), following boot camp. A small group of people in my rating(job) were getting an Exalted campaign started. But it never really took off farther than character creation. School and military life was just too demanding for all of us. I ended up buying the books off of the guy that had wanted to run the game as we were all finishing our training and each of us going our separate ways. This was the last pen and paper roleplaying game experience that I had for some years. And all it was was me making a character and buying some books. That was probably around April, 2004.

A few years later, probably around 2007 or 2008, some members from the LARP group I was part of back home( who were now living in New York. Semi-near my base) were working on getting some games together. Though I forget what the system was. I played with them a few times during my semi-regular trips up to New York to visit them, and once or twice via webcam. I was kind of a floating character. That showed up from time to time, if memory serves. But this would be the last time I role played any kind of setting or system… I was back to video game RPG’s being my sole role playing game outlet.

It would seem that I had come full circle in the great role playing game called life.

There You Have it

Looking back on my ten years, or so, of pretending to be someone I am not, I enjoyed every single instance. Sure, it was awkward for a while. But I was fortunate to be surrounded by many like minded, great people that made me feel comfortable. These games were never boring and the time spent with my friends is something that I cherish. Especially given my past.

I am also glad that the stigma surrounding role playing games is apparently long dead. I think maybe that this started when celebrities started coming out as D&D players. I really do. Role playing games are an amazing outlet for imagination and creativity. And there are so many of them nowadays.

I wish I could play a game of some kind again. But there are just so many factors in life that would prevent me from doing it. Like many other positive things in my life that have slipped away, I accept them as gone. But definitely not forgotten. It is what it is. As Frank Sinatra said, “That’s life”.

Though, I do hear Zoom D&D sessions really took off during the pandemic. Way to go digital-age! So maybe there is a chance for me in the future, eh?

Well, on second thought. Probably not. My work schedule is beyond awful. But the thought of one more bar fight was nice.

The Dead Alewives Watch Tower


To those not in-the-know, the title of this article, Some word choices, and the sub-titles are all references to a hilariously accurate radio sketch comedy scene titled “Dungeons and Dragons”. It was released around 1996, and was performed by the sketch comedy troupe, Dead Alewives. I originally heard it on the Dr. Demento Radio Show. The scene itself pokes fun at the religious nut-bars that claimed D&D would lead to satanism. All while poking fun at the players of D&D themselves. I still get a kick out of it, these 25 years plus later.

[This post was originally published at Otherverse Games & Hobbies]


All of these are true except for one:

Robert is: a Hobbyist, a Music Lover, an RPG Gamer, a Mustard Lover, Chaotic Neutral, a Japanese Speaker, a Veteran, an Otaku, a Table Tennis Player, an Anime Fan, an Aviation Professional, a New York Rangers Fan, a Chaos Lover With Loyalist Tendencies.

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