It all started with Pool of Radiance. That’s right – the old Advanced Dungeons & Dragons SSI video game from the late 80s. Thanks for letting me play on the computer Dad! I grew up on the Gold Boxes that took place in the Forgotten Realm setting. As far back as I can remember I have enjoyed role-playing games. PC, console, tabletop, even role-playing on IRC – each has its own charm to me. There will always be a special place in my heart though for tabletop role-playing games.
I think my first serious delve into playing anything resembling a tabletop RPG came just before middle school. I would go over to a friend’s house and we along with his cousin would sit down at the dinner table and play. We didn’t have rules, classes, dice, or books. We had a pen, paper, and the need to send ourselves on adventures and it was amazing. Many nights were spent drawing the map of our world and exploring the towns and dungeons (and making crappy drawings of the villains). We described what we wanted our characters to do and each of us took turns adding pieces and directing the story, round-robin style. In a way, I miss those days.
Then I discovered there were rulebooks and game systems. It turned out Dungeons & Dragons wasn’t just a video game I played back when I was 6 or 7! I found books for Dungeons & Dragons (all the way back to the Original), Vampire: The Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, and Call of Cthulhu. Eventually, I tried a few rounds of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) with a new group of friends. My first character was a Magic User who was all about teamwork. I’m pretty sure I died falling off a bridge after we were betrayed by a member of our party. Regardless, it solidified my interest in tabletop RPGs. Eventually, that group dropped off though – people moved away or just lost interest. It wasn’t until high school when I got to seriously play.
High school was where I met my best friends. The people I learned games with and built worlds and stories alongside. You know who you are. Weekends were spent at someone’s house with a handful of character sheets, dice, and pencils being passed around. Initially, it was a train wreck. Like I said, we learned the games. Many nights were dedicated to figuring out how to make characters and how combat, magic, and skills worked. We made characters and pitted them against each other as we figured out Vampire, Werewolf, and D&D 3rd Edition. Eventually, we figured it all out and began making great characters and stories together.
That being said, after high school and into my mid-20s, I made my way briefly into another group through a mutual friend. When I sat down at the custom-made table with seating for a dozen people and a huge dragon lurking over a group of adventurers mural painted on the wall behind the Dungeon Master – to say I was impressed would be an understatement. Organized chaos comes to mind when I remember this group, but it taught me a lot about the need to flesh out details of my own games and the importance of multitasking.
Though there are hundreds of miles between us, we’ll always have that connection and shared experience of gaming. (We still game when we can!)
What was your earliest memory of playing an RPG? What makes you nostalgic?
5 thoughts on “The Nostalgia of Gaming”
My earliest memories of RPGs, well free form RPing, was a decade ago, when my bestie got me to join GaiaOnline and asked about RPing together in a forum there. I said I would, as I’d always been intrigued by the idea. So, we created a world, mythology, and story around the phrase “Shrine Maiden”. I created a map, drew characters for it and extra fun sketches, and for about a year we were very intense in writing it – along with 2 other friends. It eventually died off as we all got busy with life, but I have the entire story that had been written up to that point saved in several Word docs.
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Originally I thought RPGs were of the devil. Literally. I was at least once subjected to a video entailing all its evils and how it let Satan take over your mind. Computer games were fine, though; I got started in gaming via games like Digger on a Tandy 1000 and ones I can’t remember on a Texas Instruments computer that had a TV for a monitor and an Atari cartridge slot in the keyboard. It was Space Quest and Starflight, though, where I became fascinated.
Fast forward about eight years from the video about RPGs to college. Sophomore year I roomed with a friend. I’d actually touched on RPGs a little my freshman year, but they were purely text, which was ok to me because they were purely imaginary, right? I’d done stuff like that all my life. My roommate wanted to play a game but his desktop wouldn’t run it, and he begged me for two weeks to let him install a CRPG – Icewind Dale – on MY desktop; the fact it was actually called an RPG, and was related to Baldur’s Gate, which I’d read a little about in a PC Gamer magazine in high school, and knew was well regarded by my creepiest friend back then, made me extremely unwilling. Eventually, though, I let him install it, and since I was usually on it during my free time, he had to wait until I was studying PoliSci before he could play. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a fan of headsets yet because of my freshman roommate’s constant use of one to talk to his girlfriend back home, so I only had speakers, and they were pointed directly at me. I kept getting distracted from my studying by the game. It was at the point when he managed to get his elf thief/mage killed by a goblin by a critical hit from an arrow fired out of his sight before even leaving town that my roommate quit (well, more like when he found out elves could only use Resurrect, which cost 7000gp at the temple, and he still had quarterstaffs on half his party he was so poor) the game entirely. But I’d become intrigued. It didn’t seem evil. It seemed to call to me, and looked almost like a visual recreation of Lord of the Rings, which my parents had introduced me to nearly a decade before the video about the evils of RPGs. Since I’d already put my study book down awhile before, and my roommate had left the room in disgust, I got onto my computer myself, and fired IWD back up.
I think I’d gotten on at maybe 8, 9pm. Since I had absolutely no experience with RPGs or their rules, I read everything about every race, class, and weapon, then created a party based on my knowledge of tactics gained from various strategy games and how to guard against ambushes like the goblins had clearly been; seeing one so soon made me wary. I was up until at least 2am playing and had explored everything up to Kuldahar before I quit. I got through several more quests and at least two more areas when my roommate asked me if he could help by playing through while I was in classes and he wasn’t; for some reason I agreed, not yet understanding the importance of story, but also because we’d already had arrangements like that before, like with Super Mario 3. I never did actually beat the game with that party, mainly because it got me so interested in RPGs that I went and got Baldur’s Gate, and Baldur’s Gate II, and started buying rulebooks (I’ve got a stack now close to my height). I started finding groups to play in on campus. Because the one I played with the longest had a majority who tired of Faerun and the high level characters in the setting, we began switching rulesets, and I wound up learning seven different types of RPG rules by the time we all graduated.
Ten years later I’ve spent more money on RPGs than any other type of computer game, and almost any other type of book. Star Wars is the only book that beats RPGs, but there’s enough crossover there that I can argue they’re related. 🙂 RPGs are…incredible, and I wish I’d known how great they can be so much earlier in life. I now know three groups I can game with sometimes, one of which is largely made up of that long-running group from college, where we use Google Hangouts instead of meeting at someone’s off-campus housing in the living room. It’s been a great way to make friends and has actually allowed me to learn skills I’d otherwise not have had, and I learned that as I’d been taught growing up regarding other things, what evil is in RPGs comes not from the inherent nature of them, but in how they are approached. Anything can be turned to or used for evil, and RPGs are merely a convenient target for some. It’s up to me to ensure they are uplifting and used for good.
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I never played Icewind Dale or Baldur’s Gate for more than a few minutes on a friend’s computer, however quite a few times I spent my time watching and listening to the stories and action. I’ve always been a fan of a well told story in a fantasy setting, particularly in the Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, and Ravenloft settings.
The idea of gaming in a toxic environment was never something I had to worry about due to only playing with a small circle of friends who had positive outlooks about just about everything except bad dice rolls. I’m always happy to hear someone’s got a good group to play in though.
Role playing games have long fascinated me. The allure of creating a persona in a world populated only by those you choose to have with you was something I could understand and love. In a self written fantasy, you choose your character’s destiny but in a role playing game your dice take that power from you. Though your character is all yours, their fate is decided by the scattering of numbers. The rules your world must abide by are contained in books that I could lose myself in. Flat, blank skeletons of characters are also contained in these books, awaiting the breath and imagination of a creator to bring them to life. No one could find those humble bones of my character though. She didn’t exist within the pages of the rule books, not on any character sheet, and definitely not on any game board.
For lack of a better explanation, I lurked around that world. Slipped in and was as substantial as a shadow cast by a tree.
I was quite happy to sit unnoticed in a room while my friends slipped away into a world that saw them as Wizards, Barbarians, Elven Warriors, Hunters, Rogues, and Dwarves. I loved that I felt that if I fell into this world, I’d still
recognize their spirits. Their characters were themselves if fantasy and magic took hold of them. I knew I was welcome to follow to where they slipped off to but I chose to stay tucked into a corner of an overstuffed couch and watch. I felt a thrill watching and felt joining them would be like forcing a marathon runner to pace their stride to that of an unsteady toddler.
They transformed, dice fell, numbers were interpreted as victories and failures, a story was told. I became someone unobserved. I fancied myself The Historian. I oversaw a world, took note of all actions. Often The Storyteller, The Master, would let me in on secrets, knowing I wouldn’t however, and couldn’t interfere. I sometimes wished I could slip in though. The Storyteller sets the scene… He knows I, rare historian indeed to have such firsthand knowledge of their subject, know that danger lurks for my beloved characters. I wish The Historian were there, hearing The Storyteller as the whispering of a meddlesome god. I could toss a stone, leave a branch to be tripped over. I could do something to alert them to danger. I could act as a muse and whisper inspiration.. I cannot though. A Historian can love her studies but she is too far distant to interfere. Time separates most historians but worlds separate this Historian.
My friends that play these games are an accepting lot. They are both my friends and proud Elves, stubborn Dwarves, untrustworthy Rouges, and they accept that I am simply myself. Quite happy to sit and passively observe.
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