A ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ discovery
My father's childhood rulebooks open up a whole new world

Shane Werlinger, my father, set a small stack of books in front of me at the kitchen table. They were practically falling apart- loose pages, spines plastered with packing tape, and writing all over the insides.

Shane Werlinger points out an illustration in a first edition copy of a ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ players handbook. (Photos by Lauren Werlinger).

They were his childhood set of rulebooks for a tabletop role-playing game called “Dungeons and Dragons.”

“I was invested with my whole heart and soul,” he said.

I was blown away that my dad had kept these books after all those years.

The books were the first – and at the time, only- edition of “Dungeons and Dragons” when my dad was growing up in the 70s and 80s.

Generally, tabletop or “pen and paper” role-playing games consist of players describing the actions of their characters within a set of rules.

As the name suggests, players keep track of their character’s hit points and inventory using pen and paper.

Like my father, I have been playing “Dungeons and Dragons” for years. But he got into it a lot younger than I did.

I began playing the game when I was 14 years old; my dad started when he was 6 years old.

His neighbor invited him over to play, and from then on, he was hooked.

“It was all consuming,” my dad said.

For him and his friends, it was the main topic of conversation.

“It was something we would think about in school, between classes and in the middle of classes,” he said. “We would sit and whisper about the adventure coming up.”

He was so invested in the game because he and his friends wanted to escape from their life circumstances.

They grew up in low income housing.

My friends Ella Ryan, Ryan Mason and Percy Hug gather around the table to play a tabletop roleplaying game.

“We had hardly anything,” my dad said. “All of us had some form of a lifestyle of abusive parents or lack of parents. But it wasn’t all bad, because we had D&D.”

Though my friends and I are fortunate enough to grow up in different circumstances, we still use tabletop role-playing games like “Dungeons and Dragons” to escape.

Busy schedules, stress from work, and upcoming exams are overwhelming. When I’m playing a game with my friends, though, that all fades to the background.

Instead, it’s a time to relax, unwind and roll some dice.

Even into his teen years, my dad and his friends would run around in the woods outside their neighborhood dressed up as their characters.

“We were living the story,” he said. “That was our whole thing.”

Before now, I barely knew about this hobby that was, for about a decade, a huge part of my father’s life.

My father is like a walking time capsule. He has so many valuable memories and experiences that, at the core, are so similar to my own.

After talking with my dad, I realized the heart and soul of the game is the same: get together with your friends, forget about your problems, and kill monsters.