Way back in 1984, my gaming interests had wandered from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons to other role-playing games, and I began running events at Gen Con with my own homebrew rules. I was not an RPGA member then. Perhaps the RPGA found themselves pinched for judges, because they asked if I would run an RPGA slot, and I agreed.
Recently, I stumbled on the packet for the adventure that I ran. Nowadays, judges receive adventures as PDF files. Back then we got mailed pages fresh from a photocopier in Lake Geneva. This module would later see print as I11 Needle. In 1984, Gen Con took place on the campus of University of Wisconsin-Parkside. At the con, I ran the game in a classroom–I’ve never enjoyed such a quiet setting for a convention game since.
With the confidence of youth, I gave the adventure a quick read, I assumed I could return to the AD&D rules after a couple of years away, and I expected to dazzle my players. The event failed to go as planned. As we played, I found myself scrambling to read the adventure ahead, and at the end, my players politely filled me on on the rules I’d forgotten. I got no complaints, so I cannot be certain that I left unhappy players, but thinking back on this event makes me cringe. I suspect that in a box in Wizards of the Coast headquarters sits a file transferred from TSR that includes a permanent record of any poor feedback scores I received. I wish I could run that table over again, and do it properly.
Whenever I sit down as a dungeon master, especially with strangers at a convention, I feel a keen responsibility to make them pleased they spent four or five hours gaming with me. This responsibility explains some of the reason I arrive at the table with miniatures, props, and pages of notes. I know DMs who just bring dice and a battle map, and who give their players a smashing time, so perhaps I overcompensate, but every time I sit in the DM’s chair, I try to redo that table in 1984 and do it right.