When I was a kid, I loved war movies – even more than cowboy movies. I can remember, at the age of 6, pretending to kill “nazis” with my friends. I also remember, after playtime, going to my dad and asking him what “nazis” were. I thought they were some kind of alien or a nasty animal of some kind. Since I was just a kid, he gave me an abbreviated answer. I was amazed to learn that nazis were actually people.
I also knew that many Japanese were bad guys in the Second World War. But I adored my Uncle Mike (Mitsuru) Takeda and Aunt Lillian, both full-blooded Japanese. Our house was full of little Japanese knick-knacks thanks to them. They even taught me origami.
This didn’t stop me from playing battle games with my friends. Usually our guns were just sticks, and we’d take turns getting “killed” in action. Those were pretty active games. Sometimes we’d play with plastic army men instead, and that was also extremely fun.
In my early teens I learned of the existence of tabletop wargames, which used miniatures. 13 year old me couldn’t possibly afford metal figures and anyway the local wargaming group was into Napoleonics which I knew zero about. But I could use my allowance to buy Airfix figures, and then my friends and I created rules to play with them.
Airfix Australian WW2
By the age of 16 we were regularly playing tabletop wargames with our little Airfix figures, with actual rules. We even had terrain of sorts – we used wooden Risk cubes to lay out the edges of rivers, books for hills, and so forth. Eventually my friend Bill decreed that one of the units on each side should represent us, personally. So I had a Lieutenant Petersen figure, who’d walk around and try to survive the battle so he could be promoted.
Well eventually we stopped playing with the Airfix figures and started playing lots of Avalon Hill games, which used cardboard counters. We still created our own games, but we used our own cardboard counters for these, and we no longer had a single person who represented “me”.
But it turns out that the way that roleplaying games first evolved was in tabletop miniature wargames. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson decided to label certain officers as themselves in their wargaming group. JUST LIKE BILL AND ME! They then started playing medieval wargames instead of napoleonics, then added fantasy creatures, then started letting their heroes upgrade between battles (again, we were doing this too). And in the end created fantasy roleplaying games with Dungeons & Dragons.
I owned two entire copies of this. Lost to mildew when mom stored them in a damp basement. I was on the exact same track, at least for a while. I wonder how many other people in the late 60s, early 70s were also orbiting Gygax & Arneson’s great idea. Now, I’m not saying that I would have eventually invented roleplaying on my own. Who knows? But I had at least embarked on the same road as Gygax/Arneson, without knowing it, Of course I was also just a feckless teenager, with zero ability to bring my ideas to the marketplace, or even an inkling how this could be done.
But now you know this tale, and I hope you find it interesting.
– Sandy P.