A friend of mine, Sami Koponen, wrote about his roleplaying history a while back (in Finnish). He also asked a bunch of other Finnish roleplayers to write similarly about theirs. I’ve been relatively busy with work-type things, but I might as well do this rpg history thing at this juncture. This’ll be quite a long memory trip, so I’ll split it in parts.
I was introduced to roleplaying games as an idea by my elder brother’s hobby – Markku is a decade older, so we didn’t exactly play together during his teenage years, but I picked up the idea by osmosis; I imagine that this is a pretty typical thing with siblings. The idea of roleplaying was pretty clear to me from a young age, thanks to some observation and the usual literary sources: like many roleplayers, I learned the basics from the columns of the influential Finnish rpg activist Nordic in the foremost Finnish computer magazine, Mikrobitti. My earliest memories of roleplaying are of my brother playing… I think it was Mechwarrior, with his friends; of reading about Nordic’s fantasy adventures; of playing half-formed play/game things with my younger brother.
I should mention here that the literary genre of speculative fiction, especially fantasy, surely had a major impact on my being so persistently interested in roleplaying. I’m convinced that this is a common strand for roleplayers who started gaming through the ’80s and early ’90s, especially here in Finland: roleplaying simply was the cultural flagship of this genre of literature, it was obvious to little Eero that rpgs were where it was at when you’d read your Tolkien and wanted more. For me there was no difference between my rpg hobby and literary hobby until long after the early phase.
My earliest contacts with the literary roleplaying tradition proper were with game texts our parents bought for us, mostly due to us children badgering for them. My first rpg text was certainly a mismatch if there ever was one – 2300 AD had just been translated into Finnish, and this still being a time when rpgs were distributed through bookstores, it ended up in our hands. I remember the game pretty fondly, it has an intricate literary background that compares favorably to most games. By the same token it was clearly too much of an endeavour for elementary school kids – I remember vividly how the example adventure in the game deals with a months-long scouting/exploration mission to an uninhabited planet with the expectation that the GM would wing all actual content within the loose framework. It’s no wonder we never got a full session out of the game.
Another near-miss was the Lord of the Rings Adventure Game, a beginner-friendly rpg I’m still very fond of. (Yes, some pretty marginal games got translated into Finnish during the early -90s.) We played it a couple of times, and it worked just fine for the cargo cult situation we had – the game featured very clear rules and procedures, ready-made characters and an adventure. For those who don’t know it, the LotRAG wasn’t in the dungeoneering tradition; it has a very clear goal of introducing fantasy adventure in a literary context. We loved it, considering how we adored Tolkien in general at the time. For some reason the game didn’t become a habit at the time, however. I suspect that this was mostly because we didn’t manage to gather a functional gaming group, but perhaps also because the type of ambitious plotted adventure LotRAG advocated was slightly above the ability level of elementary school kids; it’d still be a couple of years before we’d be routinely able to plot adventures.
(The “we” here consists mostly of me and my little brother Jari; we had some friends participate in these early experiments with roleplaying, but it didn’t really take for the others. Jari, on the other hand, followed solidly along wherever the elder brother lead him.)
Ah, I should also mention Heroquest: like most roleplayers in my age group, we of course played and adored this and other adventure boardgames all through the elementary school years; we had quite a collection of these at one time. My memory is that while we started playing this stuff as boardgames, as our roleplaying experience and knowledge of those vistas grew, the adventure boardgames started breaking apart by the simple force of imagination. Some of our later efforts at playing Heroquest were pretty funny, as our ambitions in terms of actor freedom and campaign consistency far outreached the tools the game offered.