In preparation for describing the games and campaigns I've played in, I'm going to cover my earliest days; the dark ages of my gaming habit, per se.
When I discovered role-playing -- I mean, really discovered it -- I was in seventh grade. Prior to that, I had only explored gaming (or, rather, crude concepts of it) through Choose Your Own Adventure and Endless Quest books in fifth or sixth grade. The kid down the street, Jason, was a couple years my senior, and he told stories of a game called Dungeons & Dragons, which was like the Endless Quest books, only you weren't restricted to two or three choices; according to Jason, you could do anything you wanted.
Jason, by virtue of his family, was a Seventh Day Adventist, and his mother was very strict about the games he played or the movies and television he watched. After all, as everyone knew back then, Dungeons & Dragons was Satanic, and the guy who created it (someone with the odd name of Gygax) was the biggest Satanist of all. Thus, Jason and I kept our conversations of the game very quiet. When I eventually purchased a copy of the Dungeon boardgame at K-Mart, we would play it in secret to avoid raising Caine with his mom.
Flash foward to seventh grade. I wasn't a particularly popular boy, a bit of a nerd, I suppose. I had little fashion sense, was only starting to develop my own musical tastes, and I had a strong interest in science fiction and horror novels. Most of the kids I'd considered friends from elementary school the year before had seemingly transformed into complete jerks over the course of summer vacation. Junior high was about starting over from scratch; a boot camp, of sorts, where the kids filtered out into primitive social cliques in preparation for the real social segregation of high school.
Being unpopular (or, perhaps, non-popular), I ended up sitting alone at a two-person desk in my math class. The chair beside me was the only open seat, and when a latecomer arrived, chance had him sitting at my table. I'm not sure if he was unpopular in the same sense I was, but he was definitely more stereotypically nerdy in that he was computer-literate. I blame him for my initial desires to own a personal computer of my own, which eventually resulted in me owning a Commodore 128.
His name was Will, and for whatever reason we formed a fast friendship with one another. He came from a big family -- two brothers (one older, one younger), and two sisters (both younger). I don't specifically recall how we got onto the topic of Dungeons & Dragons, but Will's older brother, a high school student, was a hard core gamer. War games, board games, and (of course) role-playing games were always in the offing when Will's brother and his friends were around. We even played a couple here and there.
Will's brother, as an older sibling, was understandably elusive. He didn't want to hang out with us little kids on any sort of regular basis. He had his own things to do, his own friends to do them with. We were troublesome youths, and we'd spend a lot of time begging him to run a game for us. We'd play anything: D&D, Recon, The Morrow Project, Robotech, his own home-brew Aliens game. Anything. More often than not, he'd put us to work generating characters for hours at a time, but by the time we'd finished them he'd be headed out the door with the promise of playing the game "later." If we happened to get them done in a reasonable amount of time, he'd run a short (and lethal) session for us where our characters, inevitably outmatched by whatever monster or enemy he'd devised, would be transformed into puddles of gore in a matter of rounds.
Sadly, we never did get the hint (heck, I didn't realize what he'd actually been doing until years later), but we did eventually go off on our own. We started running games for one another, instead of relying on Will's brother (or his friends) to run them for us. We bought copies of Top Secret/SI, learned the rules, and took turns running scenarios for each other. We played Palladium's Robotech, too, and I also ran the original edition of the Star Wars RPG. Will's brother and his friends even got involved in some of these games, so it was obvious that we were graduating to a "higher level" of play.
I never really suspected that RPGs were in any way geeky. In fact, they hardly ever came up in my daily life. They were a peripheral form of entertainment that I engaged in on weekends, but I was hardly obsessed with them early on. Much of my time was spent as a drama student in both 8th grade, and as I moved into high school. Will came along, too, and we were nearly inseparable until our junior year of high school, when we had a falling out. We went our own ways, and there seemed to be little chance that I'd be playing with Will or his brother again.
As fate would have it, I ended up befriending a girl at school, Cathy. Cathy was older (a senior, I think), and she was dating a guy named Ron. As it turned out, Ron was a big D&D fan, and he dungeonmastered a large group in nearby Escondido. He was about to begin a new campaign, using AD&D 2nd edition rules, set in his own campaign world, with a generous helping of homebrew rules and mods added into the mix. I was all for it. Cathy put me in touch with Ron, and together we created my first long-term D&D character: Arkon Blackbone, half-orc fighter/priest of the setting's war god.
All was not well, though. As luck would have it, Will and his older brother were also members of Ron's D&D group. When Will found out I was going to be playing, he threw a fit. Ron was apologetic about it, but his view was that Will had been there first, and to keep things running smoothly, I'd have to hit the bricks. Cathy wouldn't have any of that noise, though, and she went to the mat for me. In the end, Ron decided that both Will and I would be invited to play. Hopefully we'd be grown up about it.
Will's participation lasted one, maybe two, sessions before he begged off. His older brother continued to play in the campaign, and though there were a couple of hiccups, he was able to separate himself from his younger brother's feelings for me. The campaign lasted at least a year; it's amusing how I'm unable to recall the actual span of time. It seemed like forever, but my affiliation with the group lasted about 18 months, maybe a little longer. There were schisms within the group (unrelated to me) which caused it to fragment. By the time it had started to dissolve, I was already involved with a couple of other (unrelated) game groups.
(To be continued...)