Friday, March 7, 2008

My Gaming Origins, Part One

If you game, and you look at gaming stuff on the internet, it is mathematically impossible for you to not know that Gary Gygax died Tuesday. Since then, there's been a flood of tributes and memorials all over the gamer-sphere online about Gygax and his creation, and many of these include stories about people's first gaming experiences.

So in the name of conformity, and since in a oblique way these events have spurred me to start this blog, I'll relate my own gamer origin story...

Looking back, I realize now that I was a "GM" before I even was cognizant of role-playing games. Being a gun-crazed little introvert of a junior high-schooler (I would SO be legally forced into therapy if my 10-year old self was in school today...), I would often doodle guns and bombs and explosions etc. during the idle moments of school or at home. These doodlings eventually took the form of "death houses"; maze-like maps filled with halls and rooms defended by gun turrets, acid pools, spiked panels that drop from the ceiling, pit traps, automatic flamethrowers...look familiar to you? I was building dungeons before the idea of D&D was even put in my head. I'd imagine some secret agent navigating all the hazards I'd put in his way, dodging machinegun fire, leaping over acid pools, avoiding death traps, etc., and there'd always be some goal at the end of the maze - a vault or control room that he'd have to get to (again...yeah we see where this is going).

At the time, I wasn't at all interested in fantasy novels or the like, and in fact I scorned them for the action novels of Gold Eagle Books (Able Team was my personal favorite), as well as Tom Clancy, Larry Bond, and a big ol' pile of Vietnam memoirs (yeah, I dunno how I turned out even vaguely normal after reading some of that stuff in grade school). But my friend Joey got me to read the Dragonlance "Chronicles" trilogy...and I was hooked. Soon after, during the summer of 1993, both Joey and our friend Josh had acquired the "big black box" set of Classic Dungeons & Dragons (yes, I wasn't gaming in the mid '70s - so sue me, grognards...) and we dug into them with furious abandon.

My first D&D character was an Elf (!!!) named Talas Bloodletter (that's right, an Elf named Bloodletter....), with a pretty boss Strength score wearing plate mail and swinging a two-handed sword. I was a little foggy on how spells worked, so I tended to just hack the bejesus out of things with my two-hander. A level or two in, I managed to score a magical two-handed sword, and along with some healing potions and a few spell scrolls, I became a juggernaut of destruction. We plowed through a bunch of the so-so quality modules published at that time, such as Quest for the Silver Sword and Assault on Raven's Ruin, as Josh (the de facto DM) had bought the Thunder Rift "mini-setting". As the summer ended and school started up again, gaming slowed down, but my interest in D&D ramped up. Over the next year, I bought as much of the AD&D 2e stuff as I could get my hands on - the Player's Handbooks, DMing Guides, Historical sourcebooks, and the Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, and Dark Sun boxed sets. I was getting Dragon and Dungeon magazines, and reading them cover to cover. I was obsessed with D&D.

Furthermore, I would also buy and read TSR's gaming novels - mostly the Harpers series for the Realms, as well as the Dark Sun Prism Pentad. I began collecting other fantasy novels, notably Eddings, Dennis McKiernan, Jordan, and a few others. I also began the fanatical devotion I now have to Conan and indeed all things Robert E. Howard, although at the time most of what I'd buy were those black-covered pastiche novels...which mostly sucked. But, I did score a few of the Ace compilations, so even though it was "tainted" by De Camp and Carter, I was reading "real" Conan, and it was good.

Unfortunately, while my friends were still willing to game now and then, my interest level had vastly outstripped theirs, and to be blunt, the few other people in high school (I went to a very small high school) who heavily played D&D were...well...not the sorts of people who I wanted to get downwind of, never mind game with (yeah, those types). So as my gaming dwindled, my reading of gaming material and the development of my own campaign world and adventures increased. I introduced a few friends to the game, usually getting in a handful of solo adventures before their interest waned, but I just kept writing my own material and reading whatever I could.

As college approached, I made sure that all my gaming materials were going with me - I was going to a big urban campus and I knew there'd be other gamers everywhere, plenty of opportunities to find games to play in or run in. I knew I'd be a medium-sized fish going from a very small pond into the friggin' Pacific Ocean, and I was ready...

..just not ready for White Wolf.

(To be continued.)

No comments: