Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Tim Kask's First Experience Playing D&D Was a Bizarre and Befuddling TPK

Elise Gygax and Tim Kask at Gen Con XI, 1978
This is a neat story.

It actually tracks my own first experience of Dungeons & Dragons - being a quasi-anonymous and unimportant character in a large group, and having absolutely no idea what was going on.

I expect others have similar memories.

Is this how you first experienced the game?

Tim Kask was one of the most important figures in early D&D. As an undergraduate at the University of Illinois, a chance phone call had earned him the friendship of Gary Gygax. And shortly after the events of the following story, he would be hired by Gygax at Tactical Studies Rules (the name of the company was in the process of being changed to "TSR"). Among other things, Kask would edit The Dragon magazine for a number of years.

It may be that Kask's account is told or related elsewhere. But I had never heard it. It is part of a Google+ Hangout interview that Grognard Games did with Tim Kask on February 15, 2013, and that is now available on YouTube. I highly recommend watching or listening to the full conversation.

The topic of the interview was ostensibly Gygax Magazine, which had just been announced, but it ended up being a wide-ranging talk about many things, including the early history of Dungeons & Dragons. This two-minute portion starts at the 18:00 minute mark:

Grognard: Your first ever game of D&D was at Gen Con. Was it 74?

Tim Kask: 1974.

Grognard: 1974. Can you take me through that game, that day. And can you take us through your first game, and then the second game that you had that day?

Tim Kask: Okay, well, I was there because Gary (Gary Gygax) had told us about this get-together at the time. I think he said, man, there's a couple, three hundred of us. Well my biggest gathering of gamers had been my club, which is about 20 strong, and so, I gotta go, I gotta go see 300 gamers in one place, yeah.

And so, he'd been telling me all along about this new game he was working on, because I met him through the context of Chainmail. But he'd been telling me about this new game he was working out. And so I had the rudiments in my head, and naively I thought I'd find a hotel when I got there, and I realized I didn't. So I'm gonna game until I drop, and then I gotta drive four and a half hours. Oh, I figured I would just drive with my head out the window to keep me awake after all, it's gaming (laughs).

Yeah, and so somebody's walking down - it was later in the evening, it's already dark - I remember that somebody was walking down one of the hallways at the Horticultural Hall saying we need some players, need some players. And I said, oh that's that thing Gary was talking about. I've been playing miniatures all day. And so I said, okay, sure I'll go. And I raised my hand.

So okay (the man says), here, you're a fighter, and you got a sword and shield. You know, I'm, okay, cool, this sounds good, you know. And it was about six or seven of us, I guess, and so I got stuck in the back. And they said, watch the back. So that's all I did. Ok, I'm watching the back, and I'd tell them every once while, I'm looking behind us. And I don't know why, but apparently while I was looking behind us, something happened up in front of us, because the next thing I know - and I really don't know what's been going on because I'm also literally sitting in the back of three rows of chairs not catching everything - all of a sudden I find we're encased in some enormous block of gas permeable lucite of some sort, because we're not suffocating but we're completely . . . we can't even blink, we're so immobile.

And I'm just sitting in the back, going, wow what just happened, you know. Yeah, I've completely bewildered and befuddled. And so we're dragged before this enormous bank of what must have been lights and dials and knobs and levers and whatever. And it didn't go well, because - again, I couldn't hear what was going on - but it was announced that we had all been cut up with laser beams into 1-inch cubes and made into paper weights. And I just . . . And this is like 35-40 minutes into the thing, and I'm going, well, that was certainly different than anything I've ever done before . . .


Next: Tim Kask's second D&D game.


  1. I wonder if there's a connection between quick, violent death as first experience and obsession with fantasy roleplaying games like D&D?

  2. Have played in one of TFK's games at GaryCon, I can attest that he learned the slice-n-dice DM approach really well! Now I can see why! :)

  3. My first xperiences were fairly calm but my experiences in jr high were downright brutal. I rcall one dungeon where we got more loot scavenging the remains of the previous parties we rolled up than we did from the monsters we defeated or treasures found. Some guys were buying the best armor they could in the hopes their next character would find it and be able to use it. There must have been a TPK or near TPK every 45-60 minutes and all the DM was doing was playing by the numbers there wasn't even anything all that awful to face.