Bjorn and Waldo: Characters from Another Place and Time

By late 1986, I'd basically stopped playing role playing games.

It wasn't because my interest in them had died - it was just because  other things - girls, college, getting into trouble with non-gamer friends - had eclipsed that interest. I also had no one to play with - my gaming high school friends had all gone off to college or the military. Of that small group, only I remained in our small town. (Ironic, given that the reason I rarely got to play with my friends from school in the early '80s was lack of personal transportation, but by '86 I had my own car and could and did easily make the trip to and from town. Irony, thou art a cruel bitch.)

For a while, I continued to make characters, maps, and dungeons, but by late '86, I'd given up on most of that. By 1987, my gaming books and folders had been boxed up and were hardly touched anymore.

That changed, however, in late summer of 1989 (if I recall the dates correctly) when my girlfriend of the time mentioned that she had played and enjoyed Dungeons & Dragons when she was younger, and that some of her friends might be interested in playing a game or two. A week later, she and one of her friends had made Advanced Dungeons & Dragons PCs that were murder-hoboing their way through the land of Urland (based on a map I'd created while under a bout of fevered inspiration from the movie Dragonslayer and the - at the time - newly released Forgotten Realms boxed set).

We played four or five games (firmly of the dungeon crawl variety - deep, immersive role play was still many years away) and the embers of my love for role playing games were beginning to glow anew in my heart.

As fall approached (descended**, as it turns out - see below), said girlfriend mentioned that there was a group of guys, several of whom she knew from school, who had a game group, and they'd expressed interest in gaming with us. I said I was up for it, and before I knew it, I was asked to come run a game for the group. It was a terrifying prospect, as I'd never played D&D with anyone but my family or my friends and their family members. Basically, except for the few recent games with my girlfriend and her friend, I'd never played with someone I hadn't known for a good part of my life. (And I'd never DMed a game for anyone except for them, my nephew, and my brother-in-law.)

Despite my extreme reservations (I was still a massive introvert and borderline sociophobe at this point) I agreed and, with an un-tested dungeon I'd created (heavily inspired by Fred Saberhagen's First Book of Swords), a bunch of pre-generated characters, my TSR dice, and my AD&D books in my bag, I entered the creepy old house (a one-time church rectory) and met the group. It consisted of four guys, one of whom I knew slightly from working together for a while in the local grocery store and who had briefly participated in one of our recent game sessions; another I had known years earlier, as he was the youngest brother of the person I called my best friend from 1976 to 1983 or so; the other two were brothers I'd never met, one of whom was a school acquaintance of my girlfriend, the other was older than me by five years.

Introductions were made, I sat at the table - nervous as all Hell - and we started to chat... and it was as if we'd all known each other for years. Although I didn't know it at the time, this group of people would become the closest friends I'd ever had. The youngest brother of my ex-best friend would, in fact, become my new best friend, and we'd be the Best Man at one another's weddings.

Although, as with all things, time has worn away at those bonds and distance has crept between us, I still remember those days - the dawn of the '90s through to almost the dawn of the new millennium - fondly. I had been exposed to a few role playing games - mostly TSR products - in the early '80s, but with this group I had the joy of experiencing the early-nineties RPG boom and all of the great games that came with it. We explored system after system (probably much to the dismay of my players, as I felt compelled to try every new game that came along!), gamed sometimes three or four times a week, and had some great sessions and great times, before the weight of careers and families settled in and we were forced to adopt the trappings of responsible adults.

It was as if I got to experience with these new friends the teen-hood I'd missed, growing up in the boondocks.

This post is a tribute to those days and to that group of people. And I can see no better way to share it with you than to present the PCs the two brothers played in that first game of D&D, the first game of our soon-to-be tight-knit game group. The first is one of the pre-made characters I'd brought in my bag, and the other was created as we talked and laughed and ate and bonded. They played these characters for years afterward, and from that play came many memorable tales of their exploits*. In their own way, they're artifacts that signify what made those years so awesome.

Here, without further ado, are the inseparable Bjorn the Barbarian and The Amazing Waldo:

*Case in point, the note on Bjorn's character sheet: "dagger hole." I still remember that scene well... Note to new players: it's best not to have your PC test the capabilities of that cool, shiny, black, enchanted armor he just found in the dungeon by donning it and having a character whose player is notorious for rolling natural 20s poke it with his dagger +4. Just sayin...

**[Edit: 4/5/2021]: Thanks to my friend Terry and his massive collection of characters dating well back to The Before Times, I finally found an exact date for the first game mentioned above: November 2, 1989. I'm actually kind of impressed with myself, because I had the distinct sense that the game was somewhere around Halloween. I guess my old brain isn't completely Swiss cheese after all!