I was in the store every Sunday and roamed the floor, looking at the miniatures, and flipping through the terrific selection of Taskforce Pocket Games and other micro games. But mostly I was hoping some other kid my age would come in and we could start a D&D game. No one ever did.
At home I played as many of the solitaire games I could find that had a fantasy or science-fiction theme, but I mostly just pored over the D&D rules, mapped out dungeons, and painted lead figurines.
And then one Sunday I walked into the store and the owner was ready for me. From behind the counter he pulled out a box, similar in shape and size as the D&D basic set. It was Tunnels & Trolls, a role-playing game that you could play ALONE.
There was something kind of strange and foreboding about the T&T rules. The drawings were slightly more sophisticated than in the D&D manuals, and they were a bit more... erotic, many by Liz Danforth.This one, for example, enthralled me and I spent many hours trying to copy it:
and the film Wizards:
But here in the T&T solo adventures was a place to explore it where I had agency. It wasn't much more than choosing page 10 instead of page 30, but it felt like I really was helping to construct a narrative. The solo adventures were fairly sophisticated for solitaire game experience. There were wandering monsters, saving throws, strange NPCs, and even some sex.
Eventually I met some kids at school who shyly admitted they played D&D and I finally got my game on with a group. But for a while, Tunnels and Trolls made gaming a living thing. I felt part of a culture that would continue to sustain me, a culture where the weird and the fringe were turned into creative and exciting narratives, where my imagination was allowed to freely express itself without fear of being marginalized. I knew then I wasn't the only 13-year-old boy role-playing alone. For all the others out there for whom Tunnels & Trolls was the only real way to explore this world, we were doing our thing together, all alone.