As long ago as I can remember, I was a gamer. The first toys I can remember really playing with were not the racecars my father obviously wanted me to warm to (although I had a ton of them), but Action Men. And I was a comics fan, graduating from Cor!! and Whizzer and Chips to Warlord and Battle. The two obsessions merged seamlessly. By the time I was 8 or 9 I was roleplaying those Action Men in fighting the battles of Union Jack Jackson and Major Easy against Herr Gruber and any number of swaggering Nazis.
From that it was a short step to Airfix soldiers and dioramas, which in turn led me to another publication called Battle, this time the monthly wargamers magazine. Tank Battles in Miniature followed and an extensive collection of 1:300 scale World War II tanks, most of them resin copies of metal originals sold by young entrepreneurs at my school for a few pence each (interestingly, most of those entrepreneurs were not gamers themselves). I rose to be Secretary and Chairman of the Wargames Club, an experience that should have taught me never to be Chairman of anything I (a lesson never properly learned, I might add).
In the meantime, something strange was happening in Battle. Reviews of new products were no longer just about a worthy book on Napoleonic campaigns or the latest Osprey offering, but increasingly about fantasy wargaming. As I had been a fan of Tolkien since reading the Hobbit at age 9 or 10, I was intrigued. At first, it was table top fantasy figures I collected, so as to fight battles in the worlds of Middle Earth or Hyboria (Conan had beckoned, and I had followed his sandled feet). And them some time in 1977, I imagine, I was in The Wargamers' Den in Durham, looking for more figures when I spotted a white box labeled "Dungeons and Dragons."
I like to imagine the conversation with my mother went something like this:
Me: Dearest darling mamma, I have heard of this mysterious white box. It holds out the promise of a revolution in story-telling, one that will forever change my twin interests of wargaming and fantasy novels. Expensive though it may be, it will enrich my life to a degree undreamed of. Could you, perhaps, very kindly see your way to purchasing it for me?
Mother: Of course, angel (ruffles tousled head).
In reality it was probably this:
Me: Dungeons and Dragons? Wow! Brilliant! This is supposed to be really great. Everyone's talking about it. David Large wants to get it. Can I? Please?
Mother: (observes price) What? We only came in here for a couple of those silly figures!
Mother: Oh, all right. You'd better take care of it though (smacks tousled head).
At that point, though I hadn't realized it yet, I had truly become a geek.
To be continued in Part II: The Games Workshop Years