Cognitive Dissonance: reminiscing about my first encounter with the D&D memes

I know it’s kinda hard to imagine now, especially for young whippersnappers, but there was a time when the concepts and memes of Dungeons and Dragons’ conceit of fantasy were not mainstream. I remember my first exposure to Dungeons and Dragons. I was 9 or 10, in 4th grade I believe, when a substitute teacher brought DnD (the Italian translation of the Mentzer Basic box, the first to come to Italy) to school and made me and three other kids try the game (I told the story elsewhere). What I’m focusing on here is how strange and bizarre some of the concepts of Dungeons and Dragons were to an Italian kid of the mid eighties.

Clerics do what?

First and foremost: Clerics. Not only the concept of the warrior mace wielding priest/healer sounded completely weird to me (I knew two or three priests and they were mild middle-aged guys always dressed in black, or in the case of our local priest in white Dominican robes, that told mass each Sunday), but the name, in Italian, of the class, made even less sense! You see, the Cleric in Italian is Chierico, an old term that just means “member of the clergy” and that nobody uses anymore. On the other hand, an “endearing” version of it, chierichetto (roughly, “little cleric”) is the Italian name for an altar boy! And moreover… I was an altar boy at that time, serving each sunday at mass.¬†What the hell was this “Chierico” then? It was something completely new.

A thief? And he’s on our side?

This was another big conceptual hurdle. One of the classes for the heroes was the Thief[1]. This made zero sense to me. Why would one not only admit to being a thief, but even call themselves one? Isn’t being a criminal bad? Why don’t the police (or the guards, or something like that) arrest them? After proper explanation, I could see the role was really of the “expert in entering where one should not be” and disarming traps, and so on, so not a Thief at all. But at first, yeah, completely bizarre idea.

Bonus: Dual Wielding Rangers

This one isn’t from my first experience with DnD proper, but I can lump it with my other WTF moments. I never got in contact with Advanced Dungeons and Dragons in any way. It was never published in Italian, and what little came to Italy in English was relatively rare (one would need to be able to read well in English) and often misread and misinterpreted. But anyway, in those years I was playing the Italian edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st ed and a lot of the super-common memes from DnD I knew only later, and at a remove. The ADnD alignments, for example (lawful/good, chaotic/neutral, etc). And yes, the Ranger. To me Ranger meant a forest, mountain and outdoors expert. A guide, a park guard, maybe even a scout, or an Alpine Troops soldier… none of these have anything to do with the ADnD Ranger concept (the striker, damage dealing expert with accompanying pet/familiar wild beast), let alone with the later infinite Drizzt [2] clones, dual wielding scimitars.

The conclusion

All this just to say… careful when assuming something is widely known, just because it is well known to you. It might just be a factor of your own circles and exposure.

  1. I don’t know if the Mentzer edition had the Rogue or the Thief in English, frankly, I’m no DnD scholar, but in Italian it was “Ladro” (thief) for sure. Rogue doesn’t even have a proper translation! ↩︎

  2. Another unknown: not having read any of the Forgotten Realms books (or game boxes/books), I only discovered the emo darkelven marysue from people complaining online about him. ↩︎

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