Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

The Idea That Stole Christmas...

As the holiday season returns, I'm visited by the ghosts of Christmas past. I never had Ralphie's sentimental event (although the movie is must-watch in my house), and I traded the gifts of childhood for the pleasures of adult life such that I remember very few of my toys, Shogun Warriors aside. I mean; c'mon, Shogun Warriors, am I right? But I do remember the Christmas of 1980. Not the usual socks from Grandma, but the following...

An electronic Space Invaders game shaped like the Space Shuttle. This was popular and frequently borrowed, but it sort of slipped away once I got an Atari console in '82.

Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials. I still have a copy (not the original, sadly), which inspired a whole lifetime of reading and made me a devoted Robert Silverberg fan.

Holmes Basic D&D with Keep on the Borderlands. If you're reading this blog you know what that is, and doubtless understand how irresistable this early effort was to yours truly.

I list these in ascending order of importance. The toy was lost. The book stayed around long enough for me to pursue its various inspirations (credit where it's due); but Holmes was a definitional experience for me, and not because it was a cool toy. I could lose it in a house fire and the idea of it would remain. I could easily homebrew its fantastical details from memory, filling in the inevitable blanks with my own creative additions for less than free...

And that's because the concept of the game is the game. Once introduced to the roles of game master and player; or ability scores; or whatever else is central to the gameplay experience, you have everything you'll ever need. Make no mistake, there's no shortage of great games worth your time and money. But the enduring value of tabletop play is that it's an idea of infinite possibilities from the moment it's shared - after that, it's yours forever.


  1. "Oh, give me a Holmes, a Holmes of my own,
    So my mind can fight off monster hordes.
    And never'll be heard, that dastardly word,
    Because I'll never a-gain be bored!"

    1. I think I've commented here that I started with Holmes, too. It wasn't a Christmas gift but I did get it in the winter of '80. So not too long after the Christmas of '79.

  2. Color me Moldvay and B2 and I had the same experience.

  3. I never had the experience of getting rpgs for Christmas until my college years. I bought most of my books. The only games I got that way was the GURPS 4th edition set with Dungeon Fantasy, and Feng Shui 2 (a pretty awesome Hong Kong action game that uses only d6s.) I don't think my parents wouldn't have gotten me the stuff until later because of the inherent violence in rpgs.( I love them but they where very overly protective of me and my brother.) But they don't mind us now owning it because I'm old enough to get what rpgs are about.

    1. It doesn't matter where or when you start, the effect is the same...

  4. Never received a Basic set for Christmas, but I am near certain my Cook/Marsh Expert set was Christmas of '82, received my first MM in Christmas of '83, and my first PHB in Christmas of '84. Some of the best Christmas gifts of my life, all of which I still own AND still use to this day.

    [the Expert set just for teaching. ALSO...missing the box and most of the dice that came with it, but I've still got X1]

    ; )