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Ten years, and I still can't even manage a cantrip...

Posted by WJWalton on Wed 11 of Jan., 2012 14:44 PST
The recent announcement of the new edition of D&D by Wizards of the Coast has sort of filled me with the urge to make a big announcement of my own. I've been hyping it up on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter all day, and now I'm ready to drop the other shoe. You folks ready? Okay, here it is:

It was on this day ten years ago, that I ate a live spider, jumped off the roof of a garage, took a hit to the face from a rusty pipe wrench, and several other stupid stunts, just to prove the point that the spells in the Harry Potter and Dungeons & Dragons books aren't real.

That's right - the infamous Spellcasting 101 "experiment" was posted to this site on January 11th, 2002 - ten years ago today.

The idea for the piece came to me completely out of the blue while reading a website claiming that the Harry Potter books were teaching children real, repeatable occult procedures. The claim was nothing new - we'd been hearing the same thing about Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks for years, but something about the wording of that website made me start pondering about how a person would try to test these claims for accuracy.

That evening, when I picked my wife up from work, I was filled with enthusiasm. "I've got a great idea for a new piece for the site!" I told her. "I'm going to test the spells in the Player's Handbook to see if they really work, and get photos of my results!"

"Ooooooookay," was her response. Which is always her response at times like those.

While the general focus of site is on tabletop roleplaying games and not young adult fiction, it seemed a little odd to be defending the Harry Potter books along with D&D, But at the time, HP was exploding in popularity (the first movie had just been released), so I figured, what better way to attract more readers?

The "experiments" didn't really happen on January 11th, 2002. We actually staged them and took the pictures sometime the previous November, while it was still fairly nice out My best friend Henry (with whom I logged many hours of AD&D back in high school) took the photos, which were all staged at his parents' home in Dover, with the exception of two - the bus stop photo (which was taken on the street just outside their home) and the bleacher photo (which we snuck onto the grounds of our old high school to get).

I remember it being very windy. You can see my youngest daughter, Nolah, trying to keep her witch's hat on with one hand, and I think I can remember having to chase it down the street at one point.The Spider Climb shot was taken with Henry standing on the roof of the garage, and we were concerned that he would be the one sprawled out on the driveway, for real.

When the piece finally went up on January 11th, the response was fantastic. It was mentioned on the Steve Jackson Daily Illuminator (one of the oldest still-running blogs on the internet), the Leaky Cauldron (a Harry Potter news site), and tons of other fansites, newsgroups, forums, and blogs. I was pleasantly surprised to see it pop up on Christian and Wiccan websites, where my critical eye on crazy claims was greatly appreciated.

Almost immediately the emails started rolling in from all over the world. For the first few months I could barely keep up with them, but I did manage to save the best ones and compile them for The Magic Mailbag, along with some of my replies.

All of the response was overwhelmingly positive, save for two emails from people who thought I was mocking Wicca. I handled them the best way I know how - by posting their emails on the site, mocking them, and (in one case) correcting their grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

Now it's ten years later and, believe it or not, I still get the odd email from someone who has just seen the Spellcasting 101 "experiments" for the first time, and it still makes me happy that I did it.

I've just remembered another funny story connected with this piece: I was invited to be a guest at Econocon (which is a great little convention that you should try to attend if you're in the area) in New Hampshire that same year, which occurred just a couple of months after this piece went live on the site. This was before I had my own cell phone, and I was running a little bit late on the evening that I was supposed to arrive at the campus for the convention. The organizers of the con had volunteers searching the campus for me, in case they saw me wandering around and looking lost, and each was armed with a photo of me so that they would recognize me on sight - and as you've probably guessed by now, it was a pic of me wearing that ill-fitting wizard hat. I'm told that one of the volunteers asked "Will he be wearing this hat when we see him?"

I should note that the Spellcasting 101 piece went live over a year before the first episode of Mythbusters aired, which means that I may have the right to claim myself as the original Mythbuster! Yeah, sure.. why not?

To commemorate the 10th anniversary, my daughers and I tried to re-create some of those original spell "experiments," so everyone can get an opportunity to laugh at us again, and see how much the years have changed us:


Mage Armor still doesn't work. Thankfully, Nolah helped me look for my missing teeth.


Aylish checks for signs of life after another attempt at Spider Climb



And that's it, my big announcement. I hope you liked it. Thanks for reading and enjoying the site. Keep your dice dry, tip the pizza guy, and take a kid gaming!

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