College: The process of a young person trying everything in hopes of finding something tolerable to do that might actually pay well while suffering under a crushing load of homework and figuring out how to navigate shark-infested social waters.
I bloomed in college. High school saw the start of that, but I didn't get to really branch out until I moved out. Gaming and theater gave me a place to start, especially at a tech school like WPI, and especially back in 1987 when I arrived.
The first week I was there, I wandered the halls until I overheard someone talking about Melf's Acid Arrow. I poked a head in and told the three young men in the room that Melf was an old friend of mine and could I play too. I rolled up a gnome cleric/thief and we got to rolling dice.
I only played a couple of sessions. The GM definitely approached the game very differently than what I grew up with. Everything about the experience - the table talk, the attitude, the ever-more-deadly encounters that had no flow and no raison d'etre - spoke about how the GM and players could never work together. I didn't know how to react, but I knew I couldn't stay.
The party got to a room with a lava-filled fissure with hordes of demons crawling out of it. He asked me what I wanted to do. I responded, "Well, I throw myself into the fissure and sacrifice myself to the dark god. Here's my character sheet. I need to go."
In retrospect, I can see the childishness in my response. Then again, childishness filled that particular game. I didn't keep up with the GM - I felt a little betrayed about the whole thing - but I did manage to start gaming with the rest of the players who quit about an hour after I did. I dusted off Highcastle and started a roughly-D&D rules-light low-level game.
Halfway through my freshman year, three things happened. I got a part in my first-of-many shows with the theater group on campus, significant since I ended up with a theater degree. The Science Fiction Society elected me president of the club, the outcome of a purely political move to block a faction that wanted to shape the club after the MIT Assassins' Guild but still surprising. I played my first LARP, run by the people who wanted to shape the SFS after the Assassins' Guild.
It was called Hell Week, a play on hazing rituals but in this case involving the actual opening of Hell itself. Piled high with WPI-specific references and pun-filled character names (I played Herb I. Vorr, a parapsychologist from California, and that's a tame example), loaded with character information scribbled onto 3x5 cards run through a line printer, clunky, barely cohesive, run by three sleep-deprived maniacs who could barely hold themselves together, It Was A Glorious Experience.
I bought the world. I bought the weirdness - my character investigated weirdness and was a member of a circle of white mages, so no big surprise there. I bought into the experience. It ran for a week, 24x7. Ambitious and downright insane, but it worked.
I will always remember about mid-week, when the forces of darkness rallied all the popular support to their side, when the three white mages and the two Priests of Elvis were forced into hiding from hordes of undead controlled by Michael Jackson cultists, I hid in a friend's apartment I had never been in before hunched on the toilet with a card for a teleport spell in my hand and ready to use. The adrenaline shook me awake for days.
This cemented my thought that you can dispense with the system if the story of the game compels you enough. Since the GM's time runs short far too often, it's up to the players to work out what happens in the scope of the game. Theater-style LARP really encourages the players to work it out on their own.
I've taken this lesson into my tabletop games in various ways, but more on that in future posts...