How I got into D&D

Growing up a teenager in the early 80’s came with a lot of freedoms that would be described as “negligence” these days. Taking my father’s old Gremlin for a drive Friday night, leaving a note saying I’ll be back Sunday, and just disappearing for a few days. No location tracking, no cell phone constantly going off. Maps instead of GPS. Carton of smokes and a case of beer from my brother’s  more questionable friend. 

Trouble was, the radio was busted, leaving me often with the entertainment selection of: the wind and chain smoking. I’m not complaining (entirely), as it was freeing and an excellent way to clear one’s head. Still, after hours of driving, one can only listen just their thoughts for so long. Thankfully, nature back in the 80’s had a way of providing exactly what you need when times get tough: Hitchhikers. 

Nowadays, yes, hitchhiking has gotten a bad rap, largely due to all the lead poisoned boomers and their rotten, violent tendencies. Back then, however, picking up hitchhikers was still a fairly common and neighborly thing to do for folk. They got a ride, you got some stories, shared some beer; it was a win-win for all involved. 

That’s how, in the summer of 1984, in the backroads somewhere North of Las Angeles county, I came to learn what the hell Dungeons and Dragons was. Running low on smokes, and in desperate need of company, that’s when I found him; a somewhat portly fellow with thinning, long brown hair, dressed in some gaudy sweater and an armful of books and paper scraps. The poor bastard was walking (stumbling really) down the road, a wake of paper sheets trailing behind him, and seemed to give no indication he was losing things. 

I slid the Gremlin to a clunking halt beside him, and rolled down the passenger window, but before I could ask if he needed a lift, I was met with a grunt of a belch and cascade of books and loose leaf notebook paper coming into the window, nearly smashing my unsuspecting face in the process. Confused by the demons grinning back at me on the covers of the books, and at least one with a centaur trying to bash the brains out of a flying Gozer terror dog, I hefted this lump sum of esoteric mysteries and gently tossed them into the backseat, next to the beer. Meanwhile, the figure reached into the car, through the window, in order to open the door. No attempt on the outside handle was made, the beast went directly for the interior. A war against spatial reality played out as the figure attempted to open the door while physically existing within the space needed to open it. It was a conflict in which there were no real winners. Casualties on either side were far too great to justify the spoils won. Evidently an armistice had been reached for shortly after the man crashed down into the passenger seat. 

“Ah, a paladin of the road, I see?” he slurred at me in a midwestern accent. He stunk of whiskey and grass; the wild look in his eyes and the dry blood just under his nose hinted at far more decadent delights than I had interest in. He spotted my map in the dashboard and quickly picked it up for investigation. 

“Heh, yeah, man…” I awkwardly agreed, having never heard the word ‘paladin’ before. Pulling the tab on a Pabst to offer my new passenger, I instead gave him grunts of protest as he began to pull strips of paper from my map. He waved a hand dismissively at my cursing and soon produced a fairly large size bag of grass from his pockets, spilling a number of small rubber dinosaur figures in the process, and eventually produced marijuana cigarettes from the strips of map. 

“My fare, coachman.” He said matter of factly, handing one over to me. I accepted it with a nod, still not knowing what the hell he was talking about, but determining it to be a fair price for the destruction of the map, and moments later we were back on the road. 

Side note: God damn do I miss car cigarette lighters. It was always right there when I needed to find it, unlike a lighter or box of matches, which always seemed to go missing exactly whenever I attempted to look for it.

Shortly, the exchange of smoke and drink between guest and host was complete. Ancient customs from a more civilized time had been fulfilled. As long as both of our fates involved that car, no harm could be brought upon one of us from the other, lest the gods grow angry and smite the oath breaker. 

We made pleasantries and small talk, the verbal equivalent of dogs sniffing each other’s asses, getting a sense of one another before the Deeper conversation could begin. He introduced himself as something pronounced along the lines of “Zhee-gax” which sounded strange as way of a name to my anglican ears, but I’ve never been one to deny someone their identity. Also, I was rather high. 

I questioned him, and he spoke, of the assortment of books and papers we had stashed behind us, the occasional stray breeze from the windows catching in the loose leaf, sending it fluttering around the backseat as if a bird trapped in a place it definitely knows it should not be. Apparently, that ragged assortment of books in the back was a form of game, and the advanced version at that. He dropped words like “THAC0” and “Oerth” which at the time I had no context for, all while gesturing like a madman, as though possessed by Asmodeus himself. 

“And so, as these characters of noble men and heroes, the players set out to explore lost dungeons, fight monsters, and return with the riches they find with it.” He concluded one leg of his monologue while dropping his sixth empty Blue Ribbon out the window. 

“Isn’t that, you know…it all sounds rather imperialistic, when put like that.” I asked, flicking my cigarette ash to the wind. 

“Imperialistic?” He responded in what was mostly a growl. He stared at me, eyes burning behind his wire framed glasses, hateful contempt bearing down from his balding brow. The only sounds were that of the roaring wind passing, and what was likely to be the loose fender rattling in an attempt to break up the tense silence. Like the sands of a dune, something in the conversation had shifted below my feet. Was this irascible Midwesterner truly that short of fuse? Or had something more grim befallen the environment within the Gremlin. I took note of my full can of beer, preparing to grab it on the occasion my guest needed assaulting in order to get his mood back on track. But did he even know about the pact made, through sharing of libations? Did he know of the gods’ revenge? And would they blame me or him, should the need arise for an altercation? Was I doomed from the start?

Thank God I was atheist. 

“Uh, hey, man,” I stumbled over my words, trying to draw this cheese headed savage back into the realm of decency. “You, uh, never mentioned where you were headed. When am I taking you?” 

“Where am I going?” He snapped, before catching himself. A deep breath later, he spoke through clenched teeth, “I’m on my way. To kill a man. A one David Rizzle, to be more precise.”

NAturally, this caught my interest. It wasn’t going to be me, after all. 

“Oh? He, uh, he take your woman, or something?” A line I had heard in a movie. 

“Did he take my - What? No. Nothing like that. Besides, out here in Hollywood I can get a replacement like that.” He attempted a snap, but his intoxicated fingers failed to make the proper connection. The third attempt produced a passable result. “Just don’t tell my wife, eh?” He cackled, amused with himself. His anger had dropped noticeably, though my concern had been replaced with annoyance. “He was one of my players back in Wisconsin. ‘Apparently’ he has ‘issues’ with my monsters.”

“Your monsters?…Oh, right, the little dudes the characters fight.” I flicked an ash from the smoldering cigarette. 

“Little dudes? LITTLE. DUDES?” His tone of voice brought renewed interest into the bludgeoning plan. With a grunt he leaned over, and began rummaging around the floor of the passenger seat. Casting a McDonald’s Styrofoam container out the window he began to babbling in grunts and drooling groans. “This isn’t some little dude. This is an owlbear!” 

“GAH.” I cleverly retorted as he thrusted a tiny plastic figure into my face, knocking the cherry free from my cigarette. “AH” I continued, attempting to swat the burning ball of ash away from my crotch. “Fuckfuckfuck” the monolog continued as I swerved the car back onto the blacktop. 

“A god damn owlbear!” he sneered, apparently unphazed by the last few moments. His diseased mind was locked on to the deranged point he was attempting to make. Righting the car’s trajectory, I finally took note of the figure. It was a pitiful thing, made of common plastic poured into a mold someone had clearly determined ‘close enough.’ It was clearly the hate child of a horned up H.R. Pufnstuf and a taxidermized bear, which had been force fed acid during the ill conceived gestation. Truly awful.

“Truly awful.” I pointed out, beginning to light a new cigarette. It was growing tedious keeping an eye on him and an eye on the road. 

“AWFUL HE SAYS” He screeched, casting the tiny figure out the window, casting it to the literal wind. “Alicanto! Is that fucking awful?” He held up some bird-like creature he had picked off the floor. Before I could speak, he had sent it through the window. “Rust Monster! Mosquitillos! Are THEY fucking awful?” Before I had a chance to even observe the figurines, he had sent them to seek their fortunes elsewhere on that lonely California road. The amount of spittle behind each word grew with every item out the window. 

“What on God’s fucked earth are you playing at, you god-damned loon? Absolute nut job. I hope that Rizzle finds you first. Plunges a damn piece of steel right into that fucked heart of yours.” I confess, I may have been on the verge of panic at this point. Not thinking, I flicked ash inside the car. Did it even matter at this point? I’ll clean the car later, I vowed, now though I’d need to be vigilant for anything this raving maniac was capable of. 

"Oh, he can try!" The beast of a man in my passenger seat bent over, rummaging for yet another figure. I eyed him, contemplating if I was flexible enough to open his door, kick him out, and still remain in control of the vehicle. A moment of clarity told me 'no.' The grass was playing on a childhood of action movies. Bludgeoning would have to be the answer. A guttural sound of victory, blended with a belch, drew me back to the moment, "HA! There it is! THIS is the rhinoxid!"

"What?" I pressed down on the accelerator before looking over. Maybe I could crash the fucker out. No. There would be Questions. And possibly Paperwork. I eased up and examined the tiny figurine before me. It took me a moment to truly behold and understand what I was presented with. Appearing to be a reptile, perhaps a dinosaur, it held the sensibilities of a dog; its sleek reptilian body carrying the extra weight of domestication. A horn protruded from the end of the beast’s snout, threatening to perform a lobotomy should the poor thing trip. It grinned at me, a knowing smile bifurcated far too far into the beast’s skull, suggesting it knew my secret and was prepared to expose it should I not be prepared to keep it happy. That part may have been the drugs. The paint job, on the other hand, was performed by someone who clearly had more important interests elsewhere at the time. Single dots of paint made up for eyes, yet placed clearly off the mark of the molded plastic eye sockets. The paint had either faded quickly or never set to begin with. The overall effect being something dragged from a gritter, left handed path Flintstone’s cartoon shown in a reality where methaqualone polluted the water supply. A stared at this monstrosity, the road a forgotten memory. “What the damn hell do you think you’re showing me?” 

Damn, I actually found a picture of the thing

“A rhinoxid! Can’t you listen? This will be the end to that bastard Rizzle, believe you me. See that horn right there? It’s able to gore you with it and, if it’s got room for charging, it’ll affect you with fall damage too. This paper holds all the stats. Here, just read it!” He pulled a piece of paper from this breast pocket and shoved it at me.

“I’m driving, you dumb bastard.” A technical truth. He jammed the folded paper into the dash shelf. 

“Yes, well, this is sure to stop his complaining…” He muttered, trailing off into incomprehension. He seemed crestfallen. We drove in blessed silence for a moment. 

“Not a lot of women play this game, do they?” I ventured a guess. Somehow it just seemed right. The degenerate in the passenger seat was proving to be the sort to shun mixed company. Or possibly any company. 

“Oh, no. Obviously not. It’s their brains, you see. They don’t get the same pleasure out of it as you or I would. It’s basic biological determinism.” 

Well. That was it. Herr “zhee-gax” had just won himself a bludgeoning. In fact, I had a Blue Ribbon I was prepared to pin on him. My hand wrapped around the can fully convinced now of the assault, only for the can to crush within it. Empty. Muttering multiple damnations to the Lord, I gave the empty soldier a noble burial at road and reached to grab his replacement, only to be met with the sudden intense pain that comes with the act of grabbing an active fire. A string of anathematizations later, accompanied by a choir of loud screaming, I brought the Gremlin to a skidding halt; sliding uncontrollably down the pull off lane for several yards. 

Coughing and dragging ourselves from the car quickly filling with smoke, we regrouped and stood on the far side of the ditch to survey the scene. I coughed again and lit a cigarette to clear my panicking mind. What was in there burning? I stepped forward and pressed my face against the glass, which had grown unbearably reflective in the afternoon sun. Oh, of course it fucking was. Why wouldn’t it be anything else?

“Hey, buddy,” I growled and whistled, “Your goddamn books and papers are on fire in there.” 

“Aw, jeez, oh, yeah. I tend to spill a lot of grease on them.” He looked up from the rhinoxid figure and shrugged, casually accepting the fate of the burning books. He grunted and turned to the woods, calling back as he faded from view, “Alright then, good luck. I’ve got to take a piss.” 

More bloody oaths of vengeance made the world a slightly darker place as I crawled back into the car, attempting to find a way to put out the fire. Ultimately, it took the usage of my last six beers and the remainder of my patience. Still swearing, I pulled the sopping wet mess of burnt paper pulp from the backseat and threw it, disgusted, to the ground. This son of a bitch had been nothing but trouble since he opened the door. The beer was gone, smokes were running low. Wet nylon upholstery, masquerading as denim, was forever stained, serving as a harbinger for things to come. There would be Questions. I would not have Answers. 

A grunt echoed from the woods. 

I checked my watch. It had been the worst 45 minutes any civilized person had been forced to endure. Fuck this. I was severing our Fate, gods be damned. Surely this had been a breach of Host rights. I paused to hurl final insults at the woods, only to determine the dumb bastard wouldn’t register anything I threw at him. Inconsiderate sonofabitch wouldn’t even give me that. 

Still cursing, I shifted the Gremlin into gear and sped off without glancing back. I’d have to determine a reasonable excuse for the destruction and, quite frankly, I already knew I wasn’t going to have one. 

Edit: Some of you have been wondering what was on the paper tucked into the dashboard shelf. I scanned it years ago before destroying the original in a cleansing ritual. Over the years, I’ve only been able to find a few pieces by Omro, but a rare few ever seem related. 

Frequency: Rare
No. Appearing: 1-2
Armor Class: 6
Move: 12”
Hit Dice: 9
% in Lair: nil 
Treasure Type: nil
No. of Attacks: 1
Damage/Attack: 2-8
Special Attacks: Tackle
Special Defense: nil
Magic Resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Animal
Alignment: Neutral
Size: L 
Psionic Ability: nil
Attack/Defense Modes: Nil 

Rhinoxids are overly aggressive omnivores, popular among desert kingdoms as guard dogs in royal palaces, often trained from birth to follow the orders of one master. Due to their cold blooded nature, they are more active during the day, but are rousable at night. If not allowed to freely roam the castle grounds, they will often be found in the kennels. 

The horn of a rhinoxid does 2-8 hit points of damage, and the beasts have 9 hit bice. A running rhinoxid, however, adds fall damage equal to the distance it was able to charge before attacking the target.