Today, I am looking back (briefly) at the various games and groups I have enjoyed over the years. This article serves to give a little more background as to where I come from (in relation to RPGs), and what my experiences have been. I'm not going to dwell on anything too much, just paint a general picture, so feel free to browse over it, and if you really want to know more, ask!
The Primary School Era
I have been playing RPGs since early in primary school. At a guess, that was around ten years of age, and I cannot remember what the game we played actually was. It could have been some old edition of DnD, as I recall there was a map at one stage; but it most likely wasn't. We played at lunch times, and I definitely recall some of the game being out of a novel-like book. It could even have been some from of Choose-Your_Own-Adventure book, if such things have been made to allow for parties to participate? Or maybe, the boy that DMed those games had combined elements from multiple sources? All I can remember is that we enjoyed it, and had much fun hiding in the library, or in the shade of the buildings, whilst other kids ran around in the sun for some strange reason.
Some time in my 12th year (of life, not school), I was introduced to the first RPG that actually used miniatures. Hero Quest. That was a whole new world of fun, and I was drawn in immediately...and then school ended, my family relocated 800km away, and I started high-school. Naturally, I convinced my parents of the importance of acquiring this game, and played it with my younger brother, but the "gaming group" was gone, and had to be rebuilt, or found. Plus, with the predetermined board, there was less design allowed, and whilst running the monsters was enjoyable, it was not truly "DMing".
The High School Era
As I started High School, my interest with painting miniatures also started. I still have those awkwardly-painted first batch of creatures from Hero Quest. Gradually, my taste in games grew, as a hunger for more complexity and more options was developed. I discovered Games Workshop, and through them, lost much time and money to many different pursuits. Warhammer Fantasy (Skaven); Warhamemr 40,000 (Eldar), and Necromunda (Orlocks, then Spyre Hunters) all captured my attention at various times. A common theme was had with these 'teams' I chose: fast, strong offensive, weak defensive. (Well, the Spyres might not have been that weak, but they were few in number, and that is a form of weakness, right?) The painting habit improved over time, and continued well into the "So On" era (complete with GW's Lord of the Rings line), up until my role as a father started taking over my free time.
Whilst these skirmish-style games were great, and we all had a whole lot of fun with them, it was Warhammer Quest that truly awoke my inner DM. Through the latter part of my high school years, we formed a proper gaming group - which was pretty much just the same circle of friends I hung out with elsewhere - and adventured through many stories, and with many different characters. We even dressed up...once. Only once.
When we split up and headed for University, we always imagined coming back and continuing the games we had once again, but it never happened. Now, fifteen years later, the closest we have come is a few games of Castle Ravenloft one Christmas. And that's not to say it was a bad experience - but trying to organise much more than that has proven to be impossible.
The University Era
When I left home to head to University, money became a lot more scarce (strangely!), and the groups I could have joined, through various clubs, were a significant travelling time away from my home. Oh, and I was an engineer student, so I did not have much free time!
Eventually, I did meet some people who had a long-running DnD group, and was invited to join. The full history of that group would be better told on another blog, but it, with a few changes, is still continuing this day, about 12 or so years later.
Meanwhile, I also discovered online forums, Play-by-Post games (which I will talk about more later), and RPGs on the computer (the Baldur's Gate series, and then Neverwinter Nights). These filled in that need to game, without having to actaully find a time that would work with everyone. Yes, each of them lacked aspects that a good, regular gaming group had, but they had benefits, too. A computer game clearly only needs you to be free; likewise, you can write up a post in your own time, and not have to wait on others arriving. But still, these things were only ever a fill-in, for when the actual group wasn't meeting.
And So On...
My current, long-term group has played through the end of second edition; excitedly entered third (then reluctantly purchased 3.5); took a detour through Star Wars; returned to see out a heavily house-ruled 3.5e campaign whilst trying out 4e on the side; and now are sailing on with some dusty adventures with a full-fledged 4e game (more on which can be seen on the aforementioned blog).
Whilst that has happened, the side group was formed. It was made up from a few eager players wanting to play more than once a month, and a few other interested folk who had not played for a while, or at all. This group started out as an attempt to move through the levels, sampling what 4e had to offer, before making a decision as to if we would join it or not. Of course, being a monthly game, it took a year to get through the heroic tier. Then we slowed down, and took nearly two more years to get through the paragon tier.
New babies, extra commitments, and one individual looking at returning to England meant that as we planned to start the epic tier, the group was a whole lot smaller. In fact, it was getting hard to have enough people for a game, so we planned on merely sampling a few levels over the expanse of the epic tier, and then seeing where we were (and who was left) before deciding on our path ahead.
A third group was formed at work - what started off as various board games (Settlers of Catan being an early favourite) turned into a DnD 4e game. Playing almost every day at lunch, we were able to get through games a lot faster, even managing to complete an encounter a day in the epic tier! Sure, there were a few special battles that had us run over to a second lunchtime, but those were few and far between.
It is interesting to note the different levels of roleplaying that happen in each game. Lunchtimes at work are very focused and encounter driven; the monthly games are more relaxed and have room for more social encounters; and the continuing Play-by-Post games allow for in-depth discussion and mid-round flashbacks. They are all enjoyable in their own way, and I will hopefully be able to continue on with each of them for some time yet!