Inspired by a post from Chatty DM at Critical Hits, I'm procrastinating on one comics column, one gaming recap and a couple other blog posts (not to mention watching Party Down or playing Red Dead Redemption) to write up my own hazy-memory-fueled tale of how I came to play RPGs on a weekly basis.
I don't remember the magazine, but I must have been about 10 or so when I first encountered Dungeons & Dragons. There was an article about this new game being played, and they had custom dungeon terrain, painted miniatures and colorful dice. I didn't know what D&D was... but I wanted to find out.
Eventually, I must have picked up the red box, the D&D Basic Set, probably the 1981 revision, that tracks pretty well with the timeline. I would eventually, through my own money to some extent but mostly through gifts from family, get the Blue Expert Set, the I-don't-remember-the-color Companion set and the Black Masters set. I never bought Immortals, because by that time I had moved on to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.
I'm fairly sure the first folks I played with were friends whose names I can't really remember. I think one of them was named Walter. I know we traded off being DM, and that I made up dungeons full of traps and monsters on graph paper. I know that our characters were 100th level or so, which was of course not even remotely in the rules. And I'm pretty sure that, given a fondness for ninjas spurred by the kid pop-culture of the day, my guy used "numchuks" and shuriken, despite being a cleric.
I picked up Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st Edition) and played it with, again, friends I barely remember.
Shortly before high school, we moved to Denver, Colorado, and I made my first set of friends who would becoming gaming buddies. Guys I knew all the way through college, some of whom I still know on Facebook today, even if I haven't seen them in person for well over a decade.
We played D&D, but high school was also where I started to branch out. A lot. Twilight 2000, the game of near-future war. Top Secret, TSR's spy game. Star Frontiers, TSR's sci-fi game. R. Talsorian's Cyberpunk. Shadowrun. A *lot* of West End's Star Wars. GURPS, including a memorable space game that started after play rehearsal (yep, I was in theater) and included anywhere from 4-10 people, depending on who showed up. I never played Traveller, but that GURPS Space game was oddly close to it. One guy played a rich bastard who owned the ship, and his motley crew included a psionic healer (played by the first girl I'd gamed with, Sabina, who would later be part of my double-date to prom, her dating my friend Doug and me taking my friend Shane after my friend Chris dumped her and my brief girlfriend... uh - I'm gonna say Becky? - dumped me just before prom), a squirrel alien scout (played by my aforementioned friend Doug), a space marine and I don't even remember what else. I do still remember one of my favorite lines from the game, when Doug's alien had been rendered unconscious, nobody from the ship knew this, and Rick (the guy playing the ship captain) was threatening to use the ship's nuclear weapons on the planet if they didn't get what they wanted. That line? "I sure hope I'm not on this planet when it blows up... that'd suck!"
College and Superheroes
I'm sure I played other games in high school, and I know that heading into college, I had begun playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons second edition, which was published the year I graduated. However, I can't really recall any of the games or characters from AD&D. When I think of gaming in college, I think of Champions. I had never played the venerable superhero game, despite a love of superhero comics that began when I was about 13 years old.
My friend Kurt, together with his roommate and mine, and a few other friends, started playing Champions 3rd Edition, the one with the cool George Perez cover. Our group was named Wildside, and my character, Golden Dragon, a superstrong guy who started out an ex-Yakuza assassin and eventually became a bit of a Superman noble type (with an un-Superman bad temper) remains one of the most memorable characters I played. That campaign ran for about four years, with different players joining in and out, and each of us playing different characters. In that time, I played Golden Dragon, Argent (a British superspy with an energy rifle, nanites in his blood and some weird pouch thing on his costume, an odd combination of influences from Liefeld, the Valiant comic Bloodshot and James Bond), Black Dragon (Golden Dragon without his powers, using a set of power armor built by one of his allies) and Platinum, Golden Dragon's kung-fu, chi-using, Iron Fist ripoff of a son from the year 2020.
It's not an exaggeration to say that most of my post-college friends come from gaming. The jobs I had before foolishly embarking on a career in comics retail included working at Austin Community College when I was the only guy under 35 in the whole department and working at a New York dot.com where I was the only guy not in his early twenties and unmarried. I didn't really form any lasting friendships there. I have some friendships formed from comics and the Internet (yeah, yeah, NERD! Shut up) and I met my wife through a combination of both on the Strangers in Paradise mailing list, but my friends are mostly gamers. Or became gamers shortly after meeting me.
When I first came to Austin, I did the "Looking for group" posting. That is a rough time in most gamer's lives, meeting people who may share your hobby but may be nothing like you otherwise. There were awkward having to kick somebody out of the group times, awkward trying to put together a group from the players you liked in the group without bringing along folks you didn't, etc.
But for a time, I had a pretty stable group, and we played Champions. I was DMing, having picked up a fair amount of tips and tricks from Kurt, my college DM, and we actually continued in the world that Wildside inhabited. In fact, I kept in touch with Kurt, and characters from his game would occasionally crossover into mine for cameos, and vice versa. Me in Austin, him in Colorado.
There were a lot of different Champions games with different characters and a few varying players. Eventually, when I left for New York, I didn't have anybody to game with, and I didn't have time with a new wife, a new and very busy job and a completely new city. I visited one gaming store once while there, but there was a period of about a year and a half where I didn't game at all, and honestly, I didn't really miss it. I was too busy going out drinking and partying on weekends on the company's dime. Gee, I don't know why we didn't get more funding. ;)
When I got back to Austin, I hooked up with the old gaming group, which was still mostly together, and played some Champions again. I also started working at the local comics and games store, and there met some new folks, and put together a new group. Which eventually became my regular group, with some changes, and the old group mostly went different ways. I don't see most of those guys that often, although they're mostly Facebook friends now too.
Working at a game store, and eventually owning a game store, I meet a lot more gamers. I don't tend to game with customers, if only because I know so many gamers now that I never have room in my games. There are exceptions: One of my best friends is someone who I met when our families shared an apartment on the beach for a weekend trip, but who I really became friends with after inviting her and her husband into a D&D 4th Edition game, and who I would never have really known to invite into that game if she hadn't been a customer at my shop. One of my other circles of friends, the League of Extremely Ordinary Gentlemen, came about because I became friends with another customer, and he's someone I've gamed with occasionally, and who has now become a member of one of my regular groups. And I have four employees, and I game regularly with three of them, and have gamed from time to time with the other one when he's not running his own games. So certainly the store has to take some blame/credit for the amount of/quality of gamers and games I know.
These days, I'm in four regular games. More than I've ever been in my life, even though as a dad and business owner, I'm busier than I think I've ever been, save maybe that year or so in New York.
One of them began life as D&D 3.5 in Eberron, ran until about level 10, took a break and came back at 10th level in 4th Edition. It's the longest-running campaign I've ever run, and I really love it. Another started as 4th Edition D&D, and became a different game (with the same characters) set in Eberron a few months ago, and I get to run in that one. Both of those are in the 13th-14th level area now, and they rotate playing on Fridays. It's not *quite* a weekly game, due to busy schedules, but I game more weeks than I don't.
The other two are new, and have only had two sessions each. One is a game I'm running in the D&D 4th Edition Chaos Scar setting from Dungeon, and it's with three people I've never played with before (one of whom has never played an RPG, and another one of whom hasn't played since 2nd edition) and two friends I don't get to play with enough. It's going to run maybe once a month, and because of that, we're doing a sort of house-rule experience where they gain a level every adventure or two, rather than on the slower scale D&D 4.0 provides.
The other is one I'm playing in, a D&D 4th Edition Forgotten Realms game where I'm playing a Genasi Swordmage. It's funny, because before 4th Edition, I hated Forgotten Realms, Genasi and Swordmages, but I love my new character and I'm kind of digging the Forgotten Realms setting so far. Like my Chaos Scar game, there have only been two sessions, but we're hoping, once schedules calm down a bit, to play that one bi-weekly.
Then there are the one-off games of Savage Worlds (and Deadlands), Fiasco, etc., etc. And I didn't even mention the various smaller games I've played, like Spycraft or Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play or Dark Heresy, or bought and never played, like Dragonstar or Rogue Trader.
I turn 40 in April of next year, and much to the delight of the 20-year-old brain in my aging body, I don't see gaming stopping anytime soon.
(I've turned comments off because I was getting nothing but spam, but if you've got responses, or your own Gaming DNA stories, email 'em to me and I'll link them here or in a new post. Or respond on Facebook if you're one of my Facebook friends, because this should get posted as a "Note" there.)