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8:20pm on Sunday, 10th August, 2014:



The biggest and most pleasant surprise of my trip to Oxford came right at the end, just as I was saying goodbye to my daughter (who also attended it). A man about my age came up to me and said, "Hello, Richard". His face seemed vaguely familiar and his accent had a trace of something very familiar, but while I was trying to figure out who he was he gave me his business card: Stephen Hatfield MBA MSc MEng BSc MAPM CISSP AIMC.

The last time I saw him, in 1978, he was Hatty.

Hatty was the dungeonmaster of the very first game of Dungeons & Dragons I played. Four of us had chipped in for the rules: me, my brother, my friend Kedge and Kedge's friend Hatty. We bought the rules, passed them around to read them, and Hatty was first to make a dungeon. We played the first game in his house, and it was he who was responsible for the only paradigm-shifting experience I got from D&D, in our second encounter. We came across a door which our fighter burst open while invisible from the effects of a potion he'd drunk. We had our magic-user behind him, waving his arms to make it look as if he'd cast a powerful spell to do blast the door open. Inside the room were three or four skeletons. The magic-user folded his arms to give the impression of veiled power, which was a risk because those skeletons were tough (we'd had a hard time taking down just one in the first room).

We asked Hatty what happened. He rolled some dice. He told us that the skeletons ran away.

None of us were expecting this. We were expecting a fight or surrender, but not flight. It was then that I realised this wasn't a game about what the players thought would happen; rather, it was a game about what the dungeonmaster decided did happen. The DM was simulating the world on-the-fly. He was implementing its physics in his imagination.

We played many a game of D&D with Hatty as DM, then others among us gave it a go too. All good things come to an end, however: and after two years of regular D&D sessions Kedge and I went to university; Hatty joined the army. That was the last time I saw him until today. It turns out he now lives in Oxford, he'd seen I was speaking at the World Humanist Congress, so he turned up outside on the off-chance he might spot me. Amazingly, given that there were a thousand delegates to the congress, he did.

It's a wonderful experience to meet a friend after an interval of 36 years. For a few, brief moments, I was 18 all over again. I now have a glimpse of what it must be like when family members separated for half a century are rejoined.

Hatty works in London, so we can probably meet up for a coffee some time. I'll be really looking forward to it.

I think I may have to call him Steve, though...

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Copyright © 2014 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).