Over the last few years I’ve been lucky enough to be a member of the Meeples and Miniatures podcast and during that time I’ve spoken to a lot of people from the industry. The first question new guests on the podcast get asked is ‘How did you get into the hobby’ and generally these answers follow a similar route, which is:-
- They joined a club at school where they learnt about wargaming, or
- They played with Airfix soldiers when they they were a kid and wanted to take these games to another level, or
- They found a copy of one of Featherstones books in a school library and wanted to play the games he described
Even my co-hosts on the podcast got into gaming following this path and so they are happy to wax lyrically about the joys of reading Featherstone and Grant at night and converting Airfix models so they could play games. But I cant relate to this back story as my route into the hobby was different and sometimes I wonder if I missed out on something profound as a child?
You see I am the youngest of 3 children and I have 2 sisters who are 6 and 7 years older to me, also my mum went through a divorce when I was 5 so I grew up in a female household with no siblings of a similar age to play with. I did play with Airfix models but I was a modeller and used to spend my free time assembling and painting the kits, I never thought about using them in games let alone chucking marbles at them or cutting them up to convert them, that seemed like a stupid thing. My bedroom was full of beautifully assembled aircraft hanging from the ceiling suspended by my mums cotton thread, or tanks on scenic bases in little proto-dioramas, and under my bed was my Battle of Waterloo board that I assembled using the covers from my 2000AD annuals sellotaped together as well as a few covers stolen from my sisters old books to extend the battlefield. This board was my crowning achievement and I took months to paint all the figures and glue them to the board. looking back I wonder what happened to it?
Anyway I digress, so back to the subject at hand
I became a teenager in the late 70’s and I moved away from making models, as I got older me and my mates used to hang around moaning about how crap life was in Thatcher’s Britain and looking for things to do. Then in the early 80’s (probably around 1981) something monumental happened and someone brought into school a thin blue book which had the words ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ written on it, this was a new game that had been out for a year or so but had only just made it to Cardiff. Stephen (the owner of the book) explained it was a role playing game and we excitedly started playing it 2 or 3 times a week. Basic D&D gave way to Advanced D&D and for my 15th Birthday I managed to get enough money to buy myself these 2 books
we played AD&D for about 6 moths but none of us really liked the rules that much, the whole hit points thing and experience levels just didn’t feel right so we looked around for another game and towards the end of ’81 we found a game called Runequest that ticked all our boxes. I still my original version of the game, which is the 2nd edition published by a company called Games Workshop.
Unfortunately I’ve lost the Apple Lane scenario book but the rest is still intact, together with my copy of Cults of Prax, with its slightly rude cover (oh Steve Swenston you cheeky little man you)
Runequest was just fantastic, there was none of this pick a character class and be stuck with it for ever. if you wanted to learn a new skill you just went and learnt it, players had so much much more freedom, also the combat and magic mechanics made sense, all in all it was a much better game (in my opinion)
As well as playing Runequest we also tried out another game called ‘Traveller’, Traveller was a sci-fi game and one where your character could actually die whilst being rolled up. I’m sure it won’t be a shock to discover I still have my copy of Traveller from 1982.
By the end of ’82 I was meeting up with my mates at least once a week and we’d play a game, our Runequest campaign had got a level where the characters had become Runelords and where looking for new challenges. I decided the best way to progress the campaign was to get them to take over a city and raise an army to defend their new estates, but to do this I had to work out a way to fight a mass battle in a role playing game.
that could be tricky and to find out how I did this you’ll have to wait to part 2 of this series of articles