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Cheers, Brucie!

December 31, 2011

It was Easter 1983. A school friend and Tolkien fan, Steve Bruce (whom we called Brucie because we knew many Steves) had come to stay in our house. His family was flitting to Weymouth, which is a long way from the Scottish Borders. Brucie and I were in our Fourth Year at secondary school, so we had ‘O’ Grades coming up and his parents wanted to protect him from the stress and disruption of the move. So he came to stay, ostensibly to get on with his schoolwork. But he brought with him the Basic Set of Dungeons & Dragons.

I had heard of this weird American game already. I’d read an article in a Sunday newspaper supplement, but all I remember about that is the photos of painted lead miniatures. I’d seen E.T. and even read William Kotzwinkle’s novelisation, so I knew D&D had something to do with goblins and portable holes. But I still didn’t really get how you played it.

Our first game had Brucie as DM, naturally. The players were my brother and myself and another school friend and Tolkien fan, Colin. We marvelled at all the funny dice. Under Brucie’s instructions, we rolled up characters. Colin played an elf and my brother was a halfling. Or was it the other way around? I’m not sure. But I remember my character. His name was Spryre Worthen. He was a thief. And he had Intelligence 3.

When I think of him now, I imagine him looking like a glaikit Keith Allen.

The game began. Travelling through a forest, our party entered a clearing and noticed a small, shed-like building. We investigated, and discovered that inside the structure were several short, gibbering, dog-like humanoids. “What do you want to do?” Brucie asked.

Unsure of what I should (or could) do, I said, “Um, I poke one of them with my ten-foot pole.”

“How hard?” says Brucie.

“Quite hard,” says I.

“OK. He falls over and stops gibbering.”

I’m not sure that being prodded with a ten-foot pole, even quite hard, would inflict the 1 hit point of damage necessary to kill that poor kobold, but Brucie decided that it did. Those were my first XP, right there.

The rest of the game was very random. There was a trapdoor in the shed, with stairs leading down into a dungeon. We fought bandits and wolves. An NPC thief joined us, and then got swallowed by a giant snake. We fought some gnomes, and Spryre Worthen ran away, found a secret treasure room, somehow avoided being squished by a living crystal statue, and made off with all the loot he could carry. Near the exit from the dungeon, he encountered two wandering orcs, but Brucie rolled a 12 for their reaction: enthusiastic friendship! Hurrah! Laughing and joking, they helped me carry the treasure up the stairs.

For the second session, the party regrouped. We found another clearing in the forest, with another shed in the middle. Inside this one were bandits. They killed the elf and halfling in short order. Spryre Worthen tried running away again, but this time he was shot with arrows and died face down in the dirt.

Of course, we loved it. Brucie eventually moved to Weymouth, but the three of us who were left recruited another player (also called Steve), began acquiring the D&D and AD&D rules and modules, discovered White Dwarf, The Morrow Project, Traveller, Call of Cthulhu, Stormbringer, etc., and never looked back. I sometimes wonder what became of Brucie, who initiated us into the mysteries. I wonder if he still plays D&D. Trying to locate a particular Steve Bruce on Facebook or the like is obviously futile. But he changed our lives for the better, and I shall raise a glass and drink to his very good health this Hogmanay.

Slàinte mhath!

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