Adding to my confusion were the changes to the game itself. When I last played D&D it was called Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. In fact, some of the battered, plain dice in my little red bag had come from that original boxed set. I'd read the books on lazy Saturday afternoons, doodling new dungeons on spare paper and preparing for the next play session. I studied AD&D the way rocket scientists study calculus and most kids my age studied porno mags. I knew that game backward and forward. And then they changed it.
Cole and company were playing something called Version 3.0. I knew nothing about it. Gone was the THAC0, the foundation of all combat encounters. Now there were extra races, extra classes and they'd even screwed with armor class. It was almost too much to bear. But the rolling of dice was the same, and a 20 was still a 20.
The differences slowly resolved themselves in my mind, with the game and the people, and I eventually started having fun. My druid was taciturn, foreign and distrustful. Cole had, in a stroke of genius, tailored a character to someone he'd never met. I admired him for that, and threw myself into the character, using my animal familiar to solve seemingly unsolvable puzzles, and the druid's abilities to get the party out of jams they'd have otherwise had to fight their way through.
I don't remember much about the adventure itself. I'd come into the game in the middle, and the details of the plot escaped me. But I remember having fun. I remember, after long absence, allowing myself to leave myself. To inhabit the persona of another person entirely, in another time and in another place. Something I'd done repeatedly in real life, but without the distance and fantasy the game allows. The key components of making the transition fun. Most of all, I remember letting go of my inhibitions, my reservations, my cultural bias and my arrogant assumptions and having fun sharing an adventure with like-minded people.
Cole and I never became friends, per se, and Neil and I eventually had a professional falling-out, ending our adventures. But for the few, brief months we played together, I reveled in the chance to get out of my own way - out of my own head - and have fun.
As I write this, my dice are sitting on my desk, beside my computer, still inside the red velvet bag. There are more of them, and I've rolled them in many adventures since, but for now they're waiting patiently to be picked up again and rolled. To carry me outside of myself and to new adventures. That day can't come soon enough.