How it All Began (for Me at Least)

I was young, and had never… played D&D before, or any other role playing game. But every seasoned gamer gets their start somewhere, and this is how I developed my interest in gaming.

Most Saturdays find me with friends playing some role playing game or other. Lately that game has been Werewolf and it looks like Scion will be our next foray.

Last weekend’s game got canceled due to complications but some of us still hung out and played a couple board games. We played Minimum Wage (which will soon be available for free download from this site!) and then played Vegas Showdown and Three Dragon Ante. Both are board game staples of our group. Vegas Showdown tends to be an “I want to play something long… but not too long” game and Three Dragon Ante tends to be an “Okay we have less than an hour… now what?” kind of game.

During this board gaming talk of Pair O’ Dice came up (most likely because I mentioned that I wanted any mistakes on the Minimum Wage cards noted as I needed to edit them for eventual posting). My friends commented that the site really needed more regular posts and I agreed but commented that I still hadn’t gotten the hang of what is appropriate for a blog. They informed me that almost anything can be made to be appropriate and that what I considered “fluff” posts are actually interesting to a lot of people. We then tossed around a couple of ideas on what I could write about. They asked me how I got started with gaming, I recounted to them the story of my first role playing experience, and they said it should be a post… so here we are.

Swing and a Miss

I’ve always liked games. I can’t really remember when I started playing them as it goes back even further than my story, but I know that I have always loved watching random events unfold and different elements interact. From these things, and a desire to tell stories, I can only assume comes my love for games and role playing.

My first encounter with role playing was actually quite a miss (though perhaps not a fumble so I guess I would have rolled a 2 if we are talking about D20 games or a whole bunch of 2s but no 1s if we are talking about a Storyteller Game). That is, I never actually encountered it.

A friend’s older brother was into D&D and mentioned that he no longer played anymore and would give me his old material. I was really interested at the idea of being able to design an entire world for people to explore and was quite excited about this. He never did get around to giving me the books however.

Later I tried to buy a copy of D&D myself but did not have the cash on hand when I went to purchase it. I was only a bit short. My grandmother and mother were with me at the shopping mall that day, and when I came back and told my mother that I couldn’t afford it she informed me she did not want me to buy it anyway since it was “evil”. For a long time after this I was forbidden to play D&D, and I assume that is what lead me to do quite a bit of research into BADD and other anti-role playing groups.

At this point, I still didn’t even know what a role playing game was.

Back in the 80s

My first actual experience with role playing is a bit more amusing. In 1989 West End Games published Ghostbusters International to capitalize on the second Ghostbusters movie. While many people found the second movie to be a pale reflection of the first, I was twelve years old in 1989 and loved the movie – and subsequently purchased the game.

As I read through the 144-page rule book (that came in a nifty little box that was demolished over the time which I played the game), I was fascinated by the concept of a game with no board and no boundaries, a game that let you do whatever you wanted. You see, while I had heard about Dungeons and Dragons I had never really experienced it and Ghostbusters was literally the first time I had encountered true role playing philosophy. After reading the book I felt I was ready to be a Ghostmaster or GM and prepared to run my first game.

I wonder what most people’s first role playing games were like. I guess many people started by playing Dungeons and Dragons, though I have to assume others started with something more unusual.

I have to assume that the majority of first time role players were exactly that, players. I certainly recommend this highly, as starting out in the driver’s seat for a role playing game would be akin to teaching someone to drive when you yourself have only read about how to pilot a car. Still, I guess I got an interesting story out of the experience.

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night…

In truth I have no idea what the night was like when I sat down with two players to attempt my first game. My players themselves were an interesting bunch: my father and my little sister. I had read the instructions to the game and their example adventure, planning to run my players through it.

I handed each of them a character sheet and a blank piece of paper, explaining that the paper was for notes and maps and such (as the instructions had instructed me to do). Then we began to make characters. I asked them each to come up with a concept for their character. Explaining that they had recently opened their own Ghostbusters Franchise I wanted them to come up with what they did in their old lives.

I remember my sister found this whole exercise irritating (it had taken a lot of convincing to get her to play in the first place) but I don’t recall what she chose for her character’s background. On the other hand I do recall that my father very quickly informed me that his character was a former hit man for the Mafia. “Ok…” I said, and moved on.

Their First Call

Once character creation was over I informed my father and sister that they were in the process of setting up the abandoned building that would be their base of operations. This had all been laid out for me in the adventure set up. I was already a bit frustrated by my players’ lack of interest but still confident that the engaging story would get them involved, once it really got going. I had dreamt of this moment for days, and even though it was not coming out perfectly I was certain it was going to get better.

“So,” I said. “You’re setting up your base of operations. What are you doing when your first call comes in?”

“I’m unloading some boxes,” my sister informed me.

“I’m on the can,” answered my father.

I find it amusing now, but at the time I was annoyed. Also at this point my father had begun to doodle on his blank “notes” paper. He drew a picture of a guy using the toilet and then drew a rather odd little squiggle near it. When asked what the squiggle was he informed me that it was “what’s in the toilet”. Still I pressed on.

The introductory adventure was a simple one. It involved the players going to a haunted house and venturing from room to room encountering various oddities until they found and captured the ghost.

For my father, most of the session was spent drawing pictures of the items I described. At one point a turkey dinner came to life on a large dinning room table and started floating around; my father drew a picture of a full plume turkey – like a Thanksgiving balloon – and rebuffed my objections as I explained that it was a cooked turkey, as if the family had just sat down to eat when they had been forced to vacate.

My father may not have ended the session with a great interest in role playing but he did end with a full page of original artwork (well most of it was original, I think he drew a couple of Sunday paper cartoon characters as well). To be honest I don’t even recall for certain if we finished the adventure but I do know that both my father and sister were fairly bored for the duration.


I never played Ghostbusters with my father or sister again but I did go on to play it with some friends of mine. It was a pretty rough start overall and it really didn’t get a lot better as all my original adventures were set up almost exactly like that first sample game. Each involved going from room to room and having pre-scripted events transpire. I would always “wing it” at the beginning of our sessions, ad-libbing until they actually reached the haunted house, cave, mine, mansion, etcetera.

This would become my favorite part of the game and I realized that a less structured “dungeon”-like game was more to my liking. I think it also became the favorite for many of my players, and while I have become a bit better at structuring, “dungeons” is still the format I tend to adhere to even today.

I wonder if my father even remembers playing Ghostbusters. I’m fairly sure my sister would recall it if pressed but I doubt it ranks highly in either of their minds. Still it was a pretty important event for me and while it didn’t end up being the amazing awe-inspiring story I had dreamed it to be it was still a first step along what has been a fun, interesting and persona-defining road. Oh, and for the curious, I did eventually play Dungeons and Dragons.

So, what was your first time like? Chime in below with the comments!

    Scott Says:

    Hmm… it’s hard to recall back that far but I believe that my first time was playing TMNT!

    Talk about fun character creation, we got to make mutant lion-men (actually I think a friend was the lion-man, I have a feeling my character may have been a raccoon mutant of some type?), pretty hard to beat that when you’re, oh, twelve or thirteen.

    I know that MERPS was the first role playing game I read. That lead quickly to reading, and actually playing, Role Master, and from there I got pretty heavily into role playing through high school. So I guess Role Master was the one I played which I would describe as my “gateway drug”.


    TMNT was my second game. I would say it was the best Palladium had to offer. I know a lot of people liked Rifts but from what I have seen Rifts was basically the power gamers power game. Though, I guess any game can become that. I have heard more than once of Vampires with Mage spheres even though the rules specifically say it can’t happen.

    Matt Says:

    Now Josh can’t yell at me for not posting anything yet.

    My first experience came way later then most of my peers, in my first year at college at the hands of good ol’ AD&D version 2. It was a one shot with my roommate at the helm. I decided that a Wizard was to be my class of choice and in hindsight it probably wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had because I spent the entire time trying to figure out what exactly I should be doing. Of course this leads me to miss almost the entire story except the end.

    I and one of my teammates had wondered into what would become a staple location in many games to come, a sewer. Of course my roommate had to put little spin on it, the sewer was filled waste deep in oil (I think he may had been watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade that day). Just like any other sewer, it was filled with monsters that had to come and check out what we were doing. My immediate reaction was to cast a spell. What else is a Wizard supposed to do in that situation? My spell of choice, Blazing Hands, while standing waste deep in oil. In an instant I blew up myself, my party mate, and as a bonus my roommate’s one shot (the end battle was to be found in that sewer). Granted under normal circumstances any other GM would not have allowed a newbie like myself to blow up their campaign. But it was such a funny moment he allowed it to continue and we went on to play some other game.

    Although as games go it was a disaster, I still had a great time and I’ve been hooked ever since.


    Funny. I was just telling Pat this weekend about one of my all time favorite Grimtooth Traps.

    Room fill with explosive gas + Flint Golem.


    Scott Says:

    Ahh, sounds like good times.

    Matt if you’re going to wreck the game, at least you got to wreck it in style (and you did say it was a one-shot, or was that decided after the fact?)

    Matt Says:

    It was a one-shot before that all started. It was a little party put on by the role-playing / gamer club that I was involved with and that was one of the games that was set up for the day.