Nov 122018
 
I vividly recall the smell of a book of memeographs. The tables, the tables, so complex and compelling.
I remember that the games were raw, unpolished. I remember how the publications were so simple in execution but carried a palpable weight of Importance. How to solve these mazes?!
I knew that I was just reading a book or an article, but I could sense the depth of thought behind it, and I could viscerally feel the compulsion to play, play, play. I was ten, and I woulda played all night. Dragon magazine often kept me up thinking about how to use (or, more often, fix) its additions!
Many memories of conventions: the hallways full of crazies, the lounge showing doctor who or something, us sequestered into a banal meeting room to play whatever got pitched by a guy who couldn’t even begin to sort out the rules (multiple sessions I played that weekend began and ended with character creation).
But that was also a big SCA con, and it also had the poor man’s solution (dowels, foam); and as much as we drooled over the armor, we could make boffers for a dollar. This was the same con where I wandered into a side room full of hardcore mini guys, and (a) they were dismissive (I was maybe eleven) and (b) their conversations were so deep into simulation numbers and states that I only now (2014) recognize the shit they was talking about.
Looking back, that was the con that owned me. UNCG gave me more than two Bachelor’s degrees (years later): they gave me a passion I’ll never lose.
Flash forward:
My friends and I routinely played all night at sleep overs. One night in particular, I recall that we played a horror game (well run by Steven) that left us so unsettled that nothing would do but a walk around the neighborhood during sunrise. I checked around corners on that walk. Seriously.
Flash forward:
I recall a convention game at UNCG where they used two DMs to handle multiple players in competition: we ran dungeon tournament simultaneously. We also played Toon. A lot of that Stellar Con is echoed in the photos I see of game masters running from a sort of stage. The dms were using a classroom, and it was so compelling!
My oldest friends (Trent and Steven) ran that game… and to their credit, they didn’t give a shit that they knew me: pure umpires. But this was also still early in the ‘pure dungeon’ times (1984?) and they were young, so they probably came to that rules-purity from first principles.
Flashback:
I recall puzzling over blue book. I recall writing solutions in the margins. I recall playing, being stupified, and spending hours, days, redesigning. I never had the balls to send a letter to Dragon… but I rewrote many AD&D systems (including my own mana system, before Gygax) before the age of thirteen.
The game store, 1980. Flashing back to Day One:
Wow. Chainmail right there in my face. [38 years later, the White Books fetch hundreds from collectors.]
These $3 books just sitting on a low rack with no significance: the proprietors paid bills with train and early R/C hobbiests. And in those days, there was overlap: minis guys used train stuff.
But dad’s wallet and a smart vendor prevented me from buying what I now realize was not a child’s game. Blue book was my Christmas present. Dad, did you have any idea how much you would influence your son with that $10?
Back in the store:
The light through the dusty, poster-plastered windows. The terrain tables and the gorgeous miniatures (for them, the default; for me, staggering).
Later:
Dad and I playing D&D on the front patio, sunbathing, rolling dice between the lounge chairs. Top ten happiest moments of my life, and I should let my father know how well he raised me.
Apologia:
But we were talking about the industry.
Those hobby stores were so weird. Stuffy. A plastic bag in a rack, however, might change your worldview so fundamentally that you’d never look back, even as you wondered who put you on this crazy train.