I had found a group on the internet - I'm not giving away any names here - and the GM, John, seemed like a likeable bloke. We exchanged a few emails regarding the kind of game he was going to run, a Call of Cthulhu 1920s adventure, and I agreed to take part. A train journey later I was knocking on the door of a huge expensive house in an affluent area.
John was welcoming and polite and after getting a drink I was shown to the dining room. It was a big room, with a huge long table. There were six other players already there, all the same age or older than me. John himself must have been in his forties. I exchanged hellos but the very first thing said to me was, 'You're late, why?' And not in a nice way, either. I simply said that my train times dictated my arrival.
The next question, from another gamer, was, 'How long have you been gaming? I started in 1984'. I was somewhat taken aback by this, but I answered that I started in 1984, too, in D&D club. 'What month?' the same man asked. 'I don't know, May?' I answered. He smiled smugly and jammed a thumb at himself, 'January,' he said. What the hell?
'I game five nights a week,' said the next guy. 'Okay,' I answer. Great.
'What do you play, usually?' says gamer four. I answer with my usual - SWD6, WFRP, MERP and anything else that takes my fancy, really. He nods. 'I like WFRP,' he says, which begins a five minute Games Workshop hating rant from the other players at the table, and why WFRP players are just sheep, apparently, and that the system is broken etc. All this time John is smiling and listening, stroking his chin with narrowed eyes as if he has somehow masterminded the whole thing and is watching his nefarious plans come to fruition.
'Have you ever played Warhammer 40K?' I'm asked of gamer one. I answer yes. 'You look like the type', he says, and then turns to the GM. 'Right, let's get started'.
As John is about to begin the game I ask, 'What is that supposed to mean?'
'You can't talk, now, the game has started,' gamer one snaps and turns back to John. He really didn't want me there. John begins again. But it's too late, I've been riled. 'No, honestly,' I ask again, 'what the fuck is that supposed to mean?' The table goes tense. Gamer one doesn't even look at me. There's no answer and the game begins and I'm left hanging.
Now, I'm not going to sugar coat it, but the game was shit. I mean, properly shit. Dull, boring, ridiculously railroad and just totally uninvolving. I think I was doubly annoyed because John's gaming style reminded me of me ten years ago, with flamboyant but hollow dialogue, cliched characters and linear, gamebook-style gameplay. I mean, we got nowhere. In the four and a half hours I was there, we got absolutely nowhere. The group couldn't agree on anything, everyone was convinced that they were the elite roleplayer at the table and that their opinions were the only valid ones, and just about every argument descended into 'I've gamed longer than you!' and 'I've played this many games!' point-scoring debates. It was utterly, utterly pathetic.
I knew I'd reached my limit when ended up in a library after closing hours and one of the gamers I'd not really spoken to found himself in the local history section with a female library assistant who was helping the group. 'I'll have sex with her,' he stated. John the GM nodded, trying to talk over the argument between the other players. 'Okay,' he sighed and rolled some dice, 'tell me what you do'.
I held up my hand. Everyone looked at me. 'You've got to be fucking kidding me,' I say.
'What's wrong?' asked John.
'What's wrong?' But at this point I've not got the energy any more. 'I've got a train to catch,' I say, I gather my things and take off. I never returned, and had to spend the next two weeks avoiding emails from John and one of the other players wanting to know why I hadn't returned for the next session.
I just couldn't face it. This was my first ever contact with gamers fully outside of my social circle, a group I had met completely fresh and not been introduced to. They were the biggest bunch of cocky, arrogant, rude, ridiculously self-absorbed and, dare I say it, sad individuals I had ever met. They wouldn't be the last, to be sure, but it amazed me. Pure amazed me.
It was quite simply the worst evening of roleplaying I have ever had, and the reason why I don't search out random gaming groups anymore. Any new gamers I'm going to play with... well, it's a trip to the pub first, a friendly chat about the game and real life, and then the game. One of the reasons why I thought about this group, why I thought about doing this memoirs series in the first place, was that I saw one of them in my town centre a few weeks ago. He hadn't changed at all, still a big lad with thinning greasy hair and a howling wolf t-shirt.
He didn't see me. But then, I did hide in W.H. Smith to be sure.