The story of my roleplaying history continues. The last part was about my earliest rpg memories and how I came to initiate myself into the hobby of roleplaying in the first place. This second part has some real rpg action, I’ll write about my first rpg-playing years.
My first real, creatively concerned rpg session happened sometime in… I think it was 1994 or something like that. The game was Twilight 2000 (yes, we sure ended up playing some funny games then; the older hobbyists were busy translating their favourite games into Finnish during the early ’90s only to have them desecrated bytweens looking for their first rpg ), we were 12-14 years old and very much a new group. I remember it vividly: we played at my sister’s place and the game was relatively short due to how our characters got blown to bits by enemy mortars. The last scene of the roughly three-scene session was a torture session with a captive character; it ended shortly with the enemy blowing the obstinate prisoner to bits.
What made this session a different experience was not the quality of the game; it was inferior compared to several earlier projects, such as our megalomaniacHeroquest campaigning or the sampling of LotRAG we did. The difference was solely in the fact that I was playing with new friends who shared my passion for this new thing calledroleplaying. I was then at an age when children make new social contacts, and I’d met a couple of guys who just happened to know what roleplaying was about. I’m pretty sure that I met Heikki and Timo in the boy scouts – another hobby we shared passionately through our teenage years. Timo and I had quite a natural kinship then: we were both the younger brothers of old nerds, Timo’s brother had in fact gamed with mine at some point; Timo was consequently the same sort of second-generation geek I was. Heikki and Timo were good friends, and Heikki had a natural imagination and social bravery that allowed him to put himself on the line as an artist and roleplayer. Then there was Heikki’s neighbour Jukka, who would grow into quite the committed geek culture enthusiast; and of course my brother Jari, whom I introduced to our group in short order – a quite viable group, that!
The following 3-4 years were a time of intensive roleplaying for all of us, and for many friends who sampled roleplaying with us in shorter or longer time-frames. We dropped Twilight after that first session and instead played a long campaign of Elhendi, a fantasy game created by Nordic, the same columnist whose texts in Mikrobitti had schooled us in the basics of roleplaying years ago. After that we went through many other games – perhaps a more varied set than many other teenage roleplayers, as the local library and our own bookshelves were quite bursting with the crop of games that had just been translated into Finnish during the mad years of the early ’90s. We had anambituous campaign of Cyberpunk 2020, several memorable one-shots of Call of Cthulhu, quite some home-brew settings for Runequest, a hilarious campaign of Paranoia (in many ways our most ambitious in literary terms; I’ve never thought that humour is the same as vapidity) occasional dashes of Stormbringer, more Twilight and Elhendi, Astra, Middle-Earth Roleplaying Game… practically the only game from that varied bunch of translations that never got play from us through these years was Dungeons & Dragons, a game that was the seminal encounter for many other Finnish roleplayers in the Mentzer edition translated into Finnish in the late ’80s.
These years were a transformative time for our little group, not the least because of the friendships and cultural grounding. Looking back to it, I see our local roleplaying micro-culture as a surprisingly rich and purposeful thing, considering how isolated from the greater scene we were: our small town in Eastern Finland had only nominal contact with what happened in Finnish roleplaying; through those years I knew nothing of new publications, new trends or anything else. The most substantial change was when the local bookstore dumped off the excess rpg stock later in the decade; this has been etched in my mind as the time when roleplaying failed its promise as a viable mainstream business. Despite our isolation we had our creative goals and inspirations: as an example, I remember vividly how the couple of us who’d read Lovecraft had an on-going ambition towards replicating those experiences for the rest of the crew in roleplaying form; sometimes this worked, sometimes not. Such literary antecedents were clearly with us whether playing Elhendi and emulating Dragonlance with it or playing Cyberpunk and reinventing classical scifi through it. We were hungry for excellence from an early time, which has later stricken me as an interesting question: when we nowadays talk of roleplaying and have these interminable fights about whether rpgs are “art” or “entertainment”, does that mean that others do not try to make the experience the best it can be? For us this was always a matter of course, we were never satisfied to stay with what we knew.