Roleplaying games have been an almost constant interest of mine since I was eleven years old. The very first RPG I ever owned was the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, which my mother bought for me in 1980. I remember seeing the beautiful cover art painted by Erol Otus, and I was actually giddy with the possibilities of what that little box had in store for me. Things progressed (well, my mom would say digressed) from there, with the purchase of the D&D Expert Set, and a few years later the hardback Advanced Dungeons & Dragons books.
The next big RPG milestone for me came in the form of Call of Cthulhu (CoC). I think that game more than any other opened me up to the bigger picture of what was actually possible in gaming. No longer was I confined to dungeon crawls, and dragon slaying. I now had the real world as a backdrop, and oh what a strange, dark world it was. The problem was finding other gamers who shared my enthusiasm for CoC. Just as the work of H.P. Lovecraft is an acquired taste for some, so is the game that it inspired. Not to mention the fact that some people never got used to how deadly the setting was. Gone were the trappings of heroic fantasy, making the gamer actually think and reason their way out of deadly situations. I found the game to be challenging as well as innovative.
It was not long until I was introduced to superhero gaming via Villains & Vigilantes. Comic books had long been an obsession of mine, so I was instantly hooked in. Being able to create a character with superpowers was very appealing to a young teen who felt powerless in his life, and it would be this style of gaming that would dominate the last couple of years of my high school career.
AD&D Second Edition was published shortly before I left for my first year of college, which turned out to be a very slow period of gaming for me. This came as a huge disappointment, because I had already established in my mind what gaming in college would be like. I can remember watching the movie Mazes & Monsters, and despite whatever agenda was actually behind the film, it gave me false hope. Believe it or not, my mom had me watch this movie specifically to scare me away from gaming. Sorry mom, it actually had the exact opposite effect on me. In my mind I could not wait to get to college, meet a handful of likeminded people and start gaming in earnest. I was convinced that college would introduce me to a level gameplay that was mature and immersive. I imagined it reaching almost ritualistic levels, with candles and a certain level of ceremony. Man, was I ever wrong. The few times I tried to game at college was a disaster. We were more worried about guzzling beer than telling stories. Well, beer was involved, so it wasn't a complete waste of time...
It would not be until I reached my early twenties that I found another gaming group, and I entered the most productive and consistent (read obsessive) period of my gaming career. Every person in that group was single, worked a first shift job, did not have a care in the world, and we were all obsessed with role-playing games. Though we were from all levels of the social structure (jocks, punks, geeks, etc.) we got along amazingly well. There were weeks that we gamed every night of the week. We played either AD&D Second Edition, or the occasional game of Chill (Mayfair Games edition). Still to this day it is hard for me not to look back on those years with a sense of nostalgia, but as with all great things, this golden age of gaming came to an end. People got married, moved away and perhaps even got a bit burned out. The group slowly split, never to reunite at a gaming table.
What followed was a long hiatus from pen & paper role-playing. That is not to say that I did not still collect, read and think about games. The exact opposite is the truth. This gaming exile that I suffered was not by choice. The problem was a lack of committed people to game with. It seemed that all the connections I had made in the local gaming arena had dried up, and disappeared. So, I did what any respectable gamer would do. In my time of need I turned to another seductress –- massive multiplayer online roleplaying games! This is a subject that deserves a dissertation in its own right, so I will leave that for a later date...
That brings me to my current gaming group. This is the group I can see myself still gaming with when I am an old man (OK, no comments from all you whipper-snappers). We are a small band of gamers, but we have similar tastes, and a genuine respect for each other. We have tried our hands at several of the many game systems that are available now, and have had good times doing so. It is nice to know that a person can bring a game to the table, and everyone is willing to give it the time and attention it deserves. I would say the main goal of our group, especially since we do not have the time to play like we did when we were younger, is to have a high level of quality gameplay over a large quantity of gaming sessions.
One observation I have made in recent years is the saturation of roleplaying products on the market. In a way I am very excited over this, because there is more of a selection of rulesets and settings than there ever has been before. The result of this has been a kind of gaming dichotomy in the quality of products available. Competition breeds innovation, but saturation breeds mediocrity, so on the one hand we are seeing the release of very cutting edge games, and on the other hand there has been an avalanche of games that should have never been published. This is where the internet comes into play as a tool to investigate possible games and new products, as well as a place to discuss gaming in general.
So there it is -- a very quick overview of my life as a roleplayer. Some people collect coins or stamps. Some like to build models, or setup elaborate train sets. I like to play roleplaying games. Not many people can say they have had a hobby that they have been passionate about for 29 years, but I can. I have reached a point where I do not look at this hobby as "just a game". I believe roleplaying games have the potential to transcend the game table, and become an art form. Having said that, I do not ever want to reach a point where the game is no longer fun. As long as I am challenged as a gamer, and I surround myself with people who give the game the respect it deserves, I doubt I will ever lose interest or stop having fun. For those reading who have never tried roleplaying I urge you to take up the hobby very soon. Who knows, it may change your life, as it did mine so many long years ago.
Games of choice (in order by name):