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Once Upon A Time:

Back on the Border Lands

By Brett Matthews

In which the author recalls his youthful days of basic modules, dungeon bashes, and religious persecution.

I've been playing RPG's for maybe 15 years now. I started when I was in High School. I'm now one of the group of aging gamers with a job a family and a niggling sense that perhaps I really am too old for this. But what the hell.

Borderlands was pretty much standard D&D fare: go to the Keep, kill lots of monsters, go home.

The first system we used was, of course, TSR's Dungeons and Dragons and the first adventure was B2: Keep on the Border Lands. It strikes terror into my heart to this day. I think we've all played that module. If not it's probably in the back of your local book exchange. It's roleplaying's equivalent of having your head flushed. Hell, you got it free when you bought the Basic Set. I've played it several times, sometimes the Keep gets laid waste by AD&D Deities, and sometimes it doesn't. Then there was our mild little adventure. It is with great shame that I admit that our loyal troupe of hardened fighters never made it to "The Caves of Chaos", the first planned encounter of the module.

Unfortunately we didn't have a genuine Satan worshipper to be Dungeon Master for us (if you don't know what I'm talking about, check out the link in the margin below for some of the way out Christian extremist stuff that came out) so we just had to make do with the oldest one of the group. I think he read the module all the way through (the smell of a new module was almost as good as reading it) not that he got to use most of it.

We had spent the compulsory first gaming session designing characters. I thing we even drew something in that little box dedicated to a players coat of arms, and thought up a motto.

Have any similar stories of huge GM blunders? Why not email us and tell us all about it.

Our Dungeon Master was not aware that there was a wilderness movement rate. So the party moved along at perhaps 10 meters a round, maybe a kilometre a gaming session! It's like playing the Isle of Dread (the module you got when you purchased TSR's Expert Set) and never reaching the island. The party started fighting amongst itself, we caught any wandering monsters we could and tortured them. Alignment be damned! I think we may have starved in the end because we ran out of food. Probably a fairly good induction into the game all things considered. Our DM threatened to change our alignment when we poured boiling oil down some passing gnomes armour, but what the hell did we care?

You must remember that this is back in the heady early days of roleplaying in Australia. When the Companion Set was a thing of myth and legend - what a joyous day that was when we first saw it for sale. I think we pooled all our money to buy it. Glossy cover and nifty *realistic* graphics to boot.

One of the best (or worst) examples of the kind of propoganda against D&D, was Dark Dungeons by Jack Chick.

It's back when the big panic was on. Before D&D played a bit part in Spielberg's gaudy little money-spinner, ET and became respectable. We were bombarded with news stories and accompanying social myths about people committing suicide because they got too involved with their character. It was the "rock and roll is the tool of the devil" situation all over again. It wasn't too many years before we heard about teenagers getting drowned in sewers playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

We all experienced the hysteria to one extent or another. It was banned at school, along with the equipment - dice with more than 6 sides were right out. Certain respectable bookstores stopped carrying RPG material. Sometimes, we experienced it on a more annoying level. I had a friend, whom we all called Ivan, because he had a ruddy complexion and we thought he looked a bit Russian. I think the name may have even been his suggestion. We went to church together. At church we constantly endured a rabid Christian who was convinced that Ivan was the name of a character he was acting out and that he had to be saved, again and again and again. You couldn't be Christian and a roleplayer and all that dribble.

You can see more of Jack Chick's work at

We might have given it away after B2 but of course we teenaged boys knew that we must be onto something. Everybody was so against it. Besides we'd been bought up in the church and we knew how to operate under heavy guilt conditions. What's the point of being a teenager, after all, if not to piss older people off?

Brett Matthews has been gaming for over 15 years, and has the old dice to prove it. He is running in the next election as the Australian Democrat Candidate for Everton.

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