Today is the 25th anniversary of the airing of "D & DD," the episode of Dexter's Lab which may have been my first real exposure to tabletop roleplaying games.
In the episode, Dexter is the "game master" of a "Monsters & Mazes" game with three of his friends. He's antagonistic and a cheater (like many game masters in real life), so when his sister shows up and offers to run the game instead, his players are enthusiastic.
If you haven't seen the episode, a quick search can reveal places to watch for free. It's 10 minutes of fun.
A quick scan of my brain tells me that this episode may have been my first exposure to tabletop roleplaying games. I remember seeing Dexter's setup – the screen with the mysterious charts, the mystical dice, and a stack of rulebooks! I was enraptured and had to know if a game like Monsters & Mazes actually existed. Not long after, I got my dad to take me to Altered States, the now long-gone, dimly-lit game store beneath Spaghetti Warehouse. It was there I discovered and purchased the third edition starter set.
I imagine D&D's sheer mystique is what sparked the journey for many referees and players in the late 90s and early 00s when the trademark wasn't plastered all over the place like it is now. I had no idea how the game worked, and mechanics aren't really a focal point of the Dexter's Lab episode. But I saw the dice, the charts, the books, and the fantasy, and I wanted it.
A cool thing about "D & DD" is how it demonstrates both bad DMing and good playing. It's easy to tell that Dexter is a lame referee, but it might only be with a bit of D&D experience that someone can fully appreciate the players' cooperation, positivity, and resolve. Their characters embrace the challenge in front of them, nobly attend to their quest, boldly take action, and show appreciation for their companions.
Warms my heart to see true swords & sorcery adventurers.