Dračí doupě was literally the only pen and paper game in town when Ivan was growing up, but he still loved computer games, and Baldur's Gate introduced him to the enigmatic Dungeons & Dragons.
"D&D was something mythical," Ivan told me. "You couldn't get it in Slovakia. Maybe in Prague for double the price, or through someone who came back from the West. My perception of D&D was that it was some sort of perfect system - the pinnacle of roleplaying - and it was something I really wanted to read and play."
His opportunity finally came in 2000, when he went to Prague. He found a game store, and with trembling hands took hold of his first true D&D book. But something was wrong.
"I wanted the advanced version," Ivan said. The books he'd found were part of the new third edition released by Wizards of the Coast. Ivan wasn't even aware that this existed; he knew his beloved Baldur's Gate used the advanced rules, so clearly this was deficient. The shopkeeper was eventually able to convince him that this was the latest version of the game, but before even playing his first game of D&D Ivan had managed to become a veteran of his first edition war.
As it turns out, Dračí doupě has also suffered from edition wars. In 2004, the publishers decided to release a new version of the game - the Plus edition. As it turned out, their virtual monopoly over the local gamers now worked against them as experienced DrDo players rebelled against the change in the flavor of the game and simply continued playing with the old rules. In time, DrD+ picked up a new audience, but the majority of players still prefer the original, and the publishers have continued to support it. Seeking a solution, the publishers have announced the release of Dračí doupě 2 in 2011, promising "the feeling of DrDo with a completely new system."
I'd run the game on my first day in Košice, which meant I had two more days to fill. By the terms of my travel, John and Ivan were only obliged to entertain me for one of those days, but they had no shortage of ideas. The brothers had previously practiced fencing with the Langschwert, a long sword wielded in two hands, and they arranged for me to have a brief lesson with their instructor.
Later, we walked around the ruins of a castle in the hills above town, talking about fantasy fiction and the difficulty of acquiring American comics in Košice. We visited a Bronze Age archaeological site, which proved to be a treasure trove of story ideas. On my last night, my hosts were shocked to discover that I was departing on my birthday. Within an hour they'd produced a cake frosted with a holy symbol from Eberron, along with a number of small gifts all the more touching for being entirely unexpected. I never expected to see Michael Jackson on July 4th, but it was even more of a surprise to spend my birthday in Košice sharing cake with friends.
Keith Baker is best known for creating the Eberron Campaign Setting for Dungeons & Dragons and the card game Gloom, but he's also worked on at least five games that you've never heard of. If you want to know more, check out http://www.bossythecow.com/hdwt/.