I started roleplaying with Fighting Fantasy books when I was… eight or nine. The first one I remember is Island of the Lizard King, which came out in 1984, but I may have borrowed and played books before then. I started by reading the books with my friends, taking the role of the narrator and handling the rules, a sort of ‘proto-Gamesmaster’ before I even knew what one was. My friend Russell was the real Fighting Fantasy fanatic though, and must have had them all – plus some related and similar games.
My interest piqued, we went looking for similar games and found the ‘create your own’ version of Fighting Fantasy, with the tiger man on the front, which taught me the basic terminology and guided me through my first few dungeons. It was clear, however, that I needed more and so we took a trip into Basingstoke, to a part of town that no longer exists, where there was an independent toy and model shop that also stocked games.
That trip we picked up Games Workshop’s Battlecars (a stripped down, token-heavy version of Car Wars in a lot of ways – I still have it and still love Jim Burns’ art) and a copy of MERP (Middle Earth Roleplaying) since I was already in love with Tolkien’s work.
I had no idea what I was doing with MERP, it’s not really a beginner’s system, but somehow I cobbled together my own understanding and that was serviceable enough to run games for my friends which started as Tolkienesque fantasy but which rapidly incorporated anything and everything my barely pubescent mind could latch onto.
Once I got to Secondary School I found other gamers, and it wasn’t until then – aged 11 or 12 – that I even really heard of Dungeons and Dragons and – no Sir – I didn’t cotton to it. I found it a lot less fun and a lot more arbitrary than other games I’d played, or did play at that time. This was when I was opened up to a lot of other games, Traveller, Twilight 2000, Dragon Warriors and more.
I was writing my own adventures – even my own choose your own adventure books – right from the start. Even my own, whole games. The first RPG I was ever paid for producing was actually a Captain Power game written up and stapled together for a friend when I was 12. Just the one, dot-matrixed copy.
I hacked rules systems I had into something new, including a whole kit-and-kaboodle science fiction game based on Dragon Warriors and mangling together just about any and all science fiction stuff I liked, much of it cribbed from 2000AD.
I played some PBM games, wrote a fan magazine for one of them (though they wound up not long after) and ran my own ‘zine for a while – much like my Youtube channel just a mix of everything that interested me and my twisted sense of humour. From there it was unofficial supplements for games – Cyberpunk for example – in a way that would likely never be allowed today, RPG magazines at the time were producing unofficial material for lots of games in a way that wouldn’t be allowed now I suspect.
After school and college, I had a couple of regular human-type jobs but kept working away in the background, trying to get a hook into the industry. The first truly professional project was The Munchkin’s Guide to Powergaming, written with my good friend and gaming partner Steve. After that… it was away I went. So I’ve been professionally employed or working in the gaming industry since 1999.