It's tough to pinpoint when I started role-playing. As in games, that is. I'd been doing the make-believe thing (from soldiers to Star Wars) with friends since I was seven years old. There wasn't any structure to it; I remember that we had a lot of arguments about who had shot who.
My seeds of interest in the fantasy genre were probably planted by (of all people) my father. He and I are estranged these days; he's someone I'd rather not know, so far gone now that I scarcely recognize him on the rare occasion that we are under the same roof.
I have a memory, and it has to be from sometime in 1977. I must've been 3 or 4 years old at the time. The animated version of "The Hobbit" was debuting on television. My father, mother, and I watched it together; I think we were living in Fort Gordon, Georgia, at the time. My mother would know for certain.
My dad loved Tolkien, and I think that had something to do with his own grandmother, Agnes (a wonderful lady that I knew, but I oftentimes wish that she'd had more time on this earth so that I'd've known her when I was old enough to appreciate her). He took me to see Ralph Bakshi's "Lord of the Rings" in the theater, but it was well after the movie had been released in 1978. I suppose it's possible it was a first-run movie at the time, but my time sense is that it was well after I was six or seven years old.
Most of the time that he and I went to movies, we were seeing movies that he wanted to see. That was par for the course, really, insofar as my dad was concerned. In some instances, this wasn't really a bad thing. In others...well, let's just say that he also liked horror films, a taste that I didn't really acquire until I was much older.
We saw titles like, "The Sword and the Sorcerer," "Krull," and "Conan the Barbarian" together. I assume that, from this short list of titles, he had a healthy interest in the fantasy genre. I know he'd read some of Robert E. Howard's stuff. So I'm assuming that he is partly responsible for the fact that I was drawn to fantasy gaming.
I didn't actually read "The Hobbit" until I was in the 5th grade. My teacher, Mrs. Chick, had a special reading group for the gifted children, and we read "The Hobbit" chapter by chapter. I recall reading the chapter "Riddles in the Dark" in the back seat of my parents' car as we drove to Palm Springs one weekend. I know that at some point I also picked up and read "The Sword of Shannara" by Terry Brooks, but it wasn't all that captivating to me.
What really got me into reading, and which eventually led to gaming, were elementary school book fairs. They sold lots of silly things (posters of kittens and ducklings, for instance), but they also sold a few things that I really liked. Such as "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, and (more to the point) "Endless Quest" books, which were set in Dungeons & Dragons campaign worlds. Dungeon of Dread was the first one I bought and read through.
There was an older boy who lived down the street from me named Jason. Jason and I used to read the Endless Quest books to one another in his garage, and we would take turns choosing which route to take. Jason's mother was a Seventh Day Adventist (I think; at the time, name brand religion wasn't something I really registered). The important thing was that she in no way approved of this activity, so when we read the Endless Quest books at his house, we were very careful about it.
Jason told me once that there was a game that the Endless Quest books were based on called "Dungeons & Dragons." He told me that it was better than the Endless Quest books, because instead of having two or three choices of what to do, you had an unlimited number. You could do anything you wanted to do, and you could play any type of character that you liked.
Wow, I thought. That sounds neat.
Jason also told me (in a whisper) that the guy who had created the game was a Satanist, which is why his mother didn't want us reading the Endless Quest books. In retrospect, I guess he was talking about Gary Gygax. My family wasn't much for religion, so I wasn't particularly worried about the religious leanings of D&D's creators.
That's how I found out that D&D was more than just Endless Quest books (which, at that point, I had a pretty good collection of; too bad they've all been lost or thrown away in the intervening years). I begged my mother to buy me a copy of the original "Monster Manual" at a local bookstore (which I still have to this day). The monsters in that book fueled hours of imagination, even though I'd never seen anything but six-sided dice up to that point.
I didn't play the game until I was in seventh grade. I ended up sitting next to a boy named Phillip in my math class. He and I got to talking, and he told me about his older brother, Jeff. Jeff played D&D, and a lot of other games besides. In time, Phil and I played with Jeff and his friends in their D&D games. Sometimes Jeff would run games for us, but this never happened as often as we wanted it to. So we started gaming ourselves. I picked up a copy of Top Secret/SI, and Phil and I played the heck out of that game. We played the Robotech RPG, not to mention West End's Star Wars. I'm sure there are other titles, but those were the ones that really stuck out.
So I guess that's where my gaming roots are. Not real impressive, but I suppose it's not all that unusual.
I eventually branched out into other games: Cyberpunk, GURPS, Vampire: The Masquerade. I made new friends, and lost some old ones. I think I did a lot of gaming, but my memories are vague and indistinct. Sessions run together into a series of highlights and anecdotes.
I don't see any of the people I used to game with while I was still in school. Phil and I had a falling out, but I managed to keep in touch with his brother, Jeff, for quite some time. I haven't seen him in years; don't even know if he's still gaming or not, though I think it would be easy enough to find out.
Anyway...I just got to thinking about it, so I figured I do the math. I might do more of this later, but for now I need to get to work.