I've been thinking about James Raggi's post from the other day, asking the question "Is this how D&D is supposed to be played?" One thing I know for sure? I never played it the right way!
I was about 8 years old when I started hearing about this cool game from a kid at school. Dungeons and Dragons. He didn't play himself. He just liked bragging about his older brother's god-killing rampage through the heavens and the hells. Fascinated, I asked for the Moldvay Basic set for Christmas, and dove right into it. What I did wrong was treating the game like a very elaborate kind of solitaire. I never found anyone else to game with!
I'm exaggerating, a little. But my strongest memories of the game are lonely. The hobby shop in town was devoted to model kits and trains, and had only a small selection of D&D books, modules, and minis. I tried going to a few open sessions at the local rec center but was always one of the youngest kids. The hazing I suffered might have been more friendly than I realized, but the eye-rolling over my painstakingly colored-in Monster Manual withered me. When an older player demanded my character draw from a Deck of Many Things before joining up with his party I just about cried. Yeah, I guess I was a pretty wimpy kid. I couldn't even catch a break from my confessor: the D&D playing junior priest at St Joe's took one glance at my halfling archer in leather armor and pronounced him "monster fodder." Faith, Hope and Charity my ass, Father Geoff!
I did play with some kids closer to my age, but we couldn't meet very often, and never finished a module, let alone develop an ongoing campaign. This was true in high school as well. All of my close friends were gamers, but it was a large and scattershot group. Mostly we rolled up new characters, played the start of an adventure and then broke off to shoot the shit and watch videos, never to pick up that particular scenario again. There were some pretty good runs through Pitz Burke and Legion of Gold and Tsojcanth, but the tales were never told in full.
So, yeah, I played wrong. I played with markers and crayons. I played by poring over the AD&D manuals, drawing maps, rolling up characters and running them through the Caves of Chaos or random-chart dungeonhacks. I played by making an analog spreadsheet on graph paper of all of the gods in Deities & Demigods along with their alignments, divine portfolios, favored colors, and symbols. I filled in the blanks in the artifact section of the DMG, assigning all of the powers minor, major and primary, and all of the effects malevolent and benign.
I wasn't playing the "right way," no, but I loved it. Coming back to RPGs after many years, I still find a lot of joy in the solitary aspects of the hobby, character making, rules-tinkering, adventure writing. But I'm not the shrinking lilac I was back in the day, nor the distracted teenager, and I'm ready to play to the fullest. Starting off easy, catching pick-up games when I can, while actively seeking a group to meet with regularly. I have my favorite games, but I'm open-minded: I just want to get together with some folks and throw some dice! In the short term I'll just be a player. In the long run, when I get the confidence to run a game, my plan is more diabolical. Look out! Or, look me up.