Today’s prompt, appropriately enough, was “First”, which lead to the inevitable phrase in the title. This year’s prompts are very free-form, a single word for the blogger, artist, etc. to work from in talking about role playing games. So this first piece will be equally open:

My first introduction to role playing was in 1978(ish). I don’t remember for certain the exact year, but that’s about right. We were in Hess’, a department store chain in Eastern Pennsylvania that may or may not still exist (I could look it up on the interwebz and find out but I’m not gunna.) and in the toy section there was a game called Dungeons & Dragons and had this cover:


So, it was at least 1977. I was into the fantasy scene thanks to the animated The Hobbit on television. The one that was about as long as The Hobbit needed to be, not three movies long.And get off my lawn. I bought the game ith my own pocket money, and read through the thing in an afternoon. What a great idea! thought I.

It took months to find anyone else who played. A “cousin” — I don’t know if they were an actual cousin or distant one, or whatever. We played a bit. There was an older guy running a game at the library that I vaguely remember as a fussy rules lawyer-y type. But it wasn’t until the last year or so of middle school that I found a few people who were also interested in the game. We would play all throughout high school, college — traveling to play together when we could — all the way up to the early nineties. I had other groups in that time, but these were the old crew, and when we got together for a weekend of gaming, it was like slipping on old shoes.

The first game we veered away from D&D was Traveller or Star Frontiers. I like to think it was Traveller, but most likely not. At that time, everything was TSR. To find a new game I had to bicycle a few miles into Bethlehem Township to the good hobby store where I got my models,  art supplies, and model rocketry stuff, as well as role playing games, from. Boot HillGangbustersGamma World — we played it all, at least once. But the one that really grabbed me was Top Secret. By this time I was really into spy novels, movies, but the d20 system just didn’t quite jibe with modern life to me. And in 1983 we got the first game I would truly love: James Bond: 007 by Victory Games.

It was the first game to use quality-based damage and results. The first to let you build your character as you wanted (for points) that we played. It was crafted for telling stories, not just fighting monsters and nicking their treasure. I ran that game for the next quarter century and it’s still on my shelf. It led me into working in intelligence. It taught me how to research because I wanted to create a sense of reality in the game. It taught me to pay attention to international politics and history. Hell, I still put out equipment profiles on this blog for it. There are other systems that i like better now, but this was my “one true love” of the gaming world.

Gaming was the first hobby where I felt I was…myself. Which is weird to say about a game where you pretend to be other people. (Maybe i should have been an actor.) At first, it was a bit like being gay at the time — you never let anyone know you were a gamer until you’d either gotten to know them, or you’d dropped a few hints that only another gamer would get, then you got together to play. Otherwise, you might get ridiculed or beaten up. (It could be a rough neighborhood.) You played with anyone, at first, because there weren’t a lot of others doing it. I could only really start getting a bit choosy about the sorts of folks (like the 300 lb. “ninja” who was “make eye contact and you’ve got a friend for life” sort of co-dependent) hang with us. But it got me my first real girlfriend in college. My first wife — found through gaming (and tangentially, my second, as well.)

And yes, I had to look it up — Hess’ was based out of Allentown and was pretty much just a Lehigh Valley, PA thing. It folded in the mid-90s.