My Gaming History Part I: The 80s
Back before the Game Chef madness (and my burst of extended servitude @ work) the Original Matt Wilson posted his gaming history. I thought it was very cool, so I’m stealin’ the idea. I’ll do this in portions (’cause I still ain’t got much time) and behind cuts (’cause I’m polite ‘n’ all).
1982 I’m in 2nd grade. Sometime in the spring, my second cousin on my mom’s side, Billy (who I’d never met before and never seen since) comes to stay at my grandmother’s house for the weekend. He’s brought his D&D stuff with him (don’t ask me what edition, I never got to look at the books). He steers me through rolling up a gnome named Figtoe. He runs me through a dungeon he’d run his friends through.
Aside: At one point in describing the dungeon, he tells me that I see a door that’s ajar. Remember, I’m in 2nd grade and had never heard that before, so I think he says, “The door is a jar” and I picture this giant glass pickle jar filling the hallway. I figure the only way through is to open the lid, so I say “I open it.” He says: “But it’s already ajar!” I say: “I know, that’s why I open it.” Abbott & Costello, eat your heart out!
1983-1987 I’ve got another cousin (first cousin, actually, on my dad’s side) who plays D&D: Jason Roberts. He’s 4 years older than me, so I, of course, think everything he does is the definition of cool. So I make sure I have my rumpled gnomish character sheet whenever I get to see him at Thanksgiving & Easter. He runs AD&D 1st edition and, although I get to see the books, I don’t actually get to read them or understand how they work. He runs Queen of the Demonweb Pits or dungeons off-the-cuff, and I roll what he wants me to roll, and I have no real idea what I’m doing, but I’m having a great time.
Something else RP-wise goes on at this time. Since I enjoy the games that Jason runs for me so much, but I don’t know the rules at all, and I have a good memory, I start redrawing the dungeon maps after the holiday, and then running my friends through them at lunchtime. We’re all geeks of varying degrees, and middle school is tough on geeks (actually, middle school is tough on everybody), so it’s something that keeps us together. When I run out of the dungeons that Jason made, I switch to running Star Wars stuff. We’re totally free-forming, and coming up with geeky lightsabers in all kinds of colors. I even tried to design my own Star Wars role-playing game at this point. The thing was, I think, 7 maps with obstacles on them. One was about recovering a crashed starfighter on a forest planet, and the map had where the crashed ship was, where the stormtroopers were, where the forest monsters were, and like that. Looking back, I guess the map served as a mnemonic device for Bangs.
1987 I own my first role-playing game. On a school trip to Baltimore, my mom & I wander into a little game store and I get her to buy me the Marvel Super Heroes Basic Set (bright yellow box). I read it from cover to cover, and now I start to get it. I try to force it on my friends, but even the comic book geeks aren’t that into it. Later in the year, I save up my allowance and buy the MSH Advanced Set at Toys R Us. Reading that book imbued me with a love of rules, and how they work together. I can still remember the exhileration I felt when I read about Intensity and FEAT levels–it was the thrill of figuring something challenging out by myself and for myself for the first time. I made dozens of characters and began to lobby my friends. Eventually, they would all give in.
But, even though I wasn’t doing much playing, autumn of 1987 saw my third RPG purchase: West End Games’ Star Wars. Again, I read the game from cover to cover. It was much more complex than MSH. I knew I’d have my work cut out for me in getting anybody else to play. But as I had NO social life, making stats for vehicles and creating characters kept my evenings and weekends nicely occupied.
1988 My role-playing hobby pretty much consists of me and my books at this point. I can occasionally pester a single friend into playing a session of something every once in a while, but nothing steady. I read LotR this year and fall in love with Tolkien. I want to get a fantasy game, but I’ve got this hangup: I’m utterly convinced that anything popular is crap. So I’m not about to spend my comic book money on D&D. Luckily (?) my comic/game store has Iron Crown’s Middle Earth Role-playing on the shelf, and I buy it. This one does not respond well to the “read the book from cover-to-cover” tactic. My God, the tables! The tables! I manage to browbeat a friend of mine into playing a single session. I think he rolled a critical fumble on a Movement/manuever trying to sneak into the ruins past the ogre and died right there. That was the sum total of play that MERP ever got from me.
I also got a subscription to Dragon at this point, so I had a sense of the wider hobby, was sucking in any and all “GM advice” offered in its pages, was reading up on these things called “conventions.”
1989 The year I really started playing D&D. My friends that I hadn’t had much luck in cajoling into gaming with me were all in my same grade at school. But I was also a Boy Scout (big surprise, I know). And there I hung out with some guys who were a year ahead of me at school. And I knew they played D&D. And I’d been reading role-playing books for 2 years now, with maybe a dozen solo sessions of actual play. D&D may have been too popular to be any good, but it got played! Plus, the ads in my comics told me that they were coming out with 2nd edition that year. So I bought those books when they came out, did the cover-to-cover thing (yes, even every frickin’ spell in the PH), and managed to get invited to the older kids’ AD&D game. It was 1st edition, but I didn’t care! I was role-playing at every campout!
I even managed to get my same-grade friends to do some D&D with me, although there were times I took the DM-advice too far. Much, much too far. One of my most shameful D&D moments was making my friend barter for his spell components because a Dragon article told me to. He was the same guy that died by falling down in MERP. I can’t blame him for not becoming a gamer. Or, y’know, talking to me much after high school.
EArly in 1989 I also picked up Shadowrun & thought it was pretty cool. FASA came out with some Shadowrun novels that I read, as well as West End’s TORG novels. I actually didn’t buy TORG then because I wasn’t playing any thing but D&D. But I would come to know TORG very, very well a decade later.
But that decade is for another night. Work’s still going to want its pound of flesh in the morning…
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