First contact with anything role-playing oriented for me was probably the RPG articles that ran in the Finnish version of Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian. This was probably sometime in the mid-eighties. The articles were mostly reviews and role-playing -oriented fan fiction. A while later I ended up purchasing a second-hand copy of the so called “red box” D&D Basic Set in Finnish. The art and introductory material of the red box was just riveting. I was hooked. Mind you, I didn’t actually get to play D&D. For some reason I failed miserably at selling my parents and my kid sister on the game. It wasn’t until much later that I actually managed to find a gaming group. Other sources of inspiration for me were the Fighting Fantasy Solo-RPG -books, the Conan the Barbarian comics, short stories and movies, and Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings animation.
First game group
I spent my childhood in a town of around 20,000 people, so it took me a while to find like-minded individuals to game with. I think it was around ’88 when my actual gaming career got started. The game was the Finnish version of Runequest, a game system that seemed to me a lot more “realistic” (meaning hit locations and lethality) than D&D, and thus a lot more appealing. Our group consisted of me, two class-mates and the other class-mate’s kid brother. The games weren’t much to write home about. There were a lot of combats, and not much story or continuity. What matters, I suppose, is that we were having a blast. Except for the kid brother, that is. The mortality rate of his characters was staggering, causing him to levitate to bigger and stronger character types to increase his chances of survival. I think he ended up playing mostly minotaurs and trolls. Oh, and nobody played ducks. They were considered “stupid and unrealistic”. Go figure.
We played 6-10 hour sessions 2-3 times a week with that group. We took turns gamemastering, and every one of us had our own game of choice. There was Runequest, of course, Palladium RPG run by another player, and Middle-Earth Role-playing run by me. A few years later (after Platoon, Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now) we were mostly playing modern warfare RPG’s using Palladium’s Recon. The RQ-gamemaster was a war history buff, so we ended up playing games set in virtually every modern conflict (Vietnam, WW II, the Winter War, you name it). Later on it was special forces and swat as inspired by movies such as Die Hard and Predator. Recon was the main-stay at this time, but we also tried some Shadowrun, Phoenix Command, Warhammer Fantasy Role-play, Rolemaster, Aftermath, Bushido, Twilight 2000, Space Master, Cyberspace, Nightlife, Villains & Vigilantes, Marvel Superheroes, Boot Hill and Traveller.
Rest of the early history
Around ’90-’92 I joined a second gaming group that played Rolemaster pretty much exclusively. We took turns gamemastering and had a total pool of around 8 players. This period lasted for a few years, but eventually other interests (e.g. music, cars and alcohol) drew most of the players elsewhere and role-playing was put on hiatus.
The coming of the World of Darkness
It wasn’t until I moved to Helsinki and started university that I returned to role-playing. There was a lot of Runequest, and some cyperpunk. I didn’t get pulled back into the fold completely until I ended up purchasing second-hand copies of Vampire: The Masquerade 2nd edition and Vampire: The Dark Ages. The feel and gaming style of White Wolf’s Storyteller games was something completely different from anything I’d played before that. I was hooked on that particular dark and gothic world full of night-horrors, awesomely powerful monsters with fangs and/or fur and restless spirits seeking release. I think I ended up running over a dozen different campaigns set in the World of Darkness, and spending hundreds of euros on gaming books. The White Wolf games just oozed gothic cool, and the meta-story of the game had me reading book after book, memorizing trivia and tidbits about the history of the World of Darkness, the genealogy of the different vampire clans, and the lore of the werewolf tribes. This phase of my role-playing career ended around the time the original World of Darkness wound to an end with the termination of the whole game line in ’04.