Let me tell you about the first time I played a fully fledged role playing game. (I had messed around with Advanced Fighting Fantasy a bit before that.)
It was the Red Box Basic D&D set, and I was about 11 or 12. My friend Adam's big brother had a copy of the game (secondhand all the same - I think he'd got hold of it at some bring-and-buy sale somewhere) and was keen on playing. As he didn't have many friends, we ended up being his guinea pigs, and agreed to roll up characters. We knew at least what that meant, because we'd already been playing Fighting Fantasy adventure game books for some years at that point.
My character was a halfling. I don't believe he had a name. For some reason I think I wrote 'Halfling Thief' on the character sheet, which must mean that at that stage we were unaccepting of the advanced concept of race-as-class. (One thing I've noticed about Classic D&D is that the wisdom and coolness of race-as-class is something you learn many years after you start playing; when you were a kid, you thought it was stupid and that the AD&D system made much more sense. Youth is wasted on the young.) The halfling thief was rather like Tasselhoff from the Dragonlance series in my mind; I have to admit I loved the original Dragonlance trilogy and borrowed it from the local library several times to re-read. My halfling thief had a topknot and was utterly fearless. He also had a DEX of 16 - that's the only stat that I can recall. (Funnily enough I can even recall that roll - the dice, face up on my friend's brother's desk, showing 6, 6, and 4.)
I believe Adam played a dwarf. There was also somebody else present, but I don't remember who they were or what character they had. Whoever it was died within the first ten minutes - more on that shortly. There were some NPCs too, to beef up the numbers: a wizard, another dwarf, and I think an elf. For some reason my friend's brother also decided to give us one magic item to help us on our way: a ring of invisibility.
We set off into a cave network and were immediately set upon by a carrion crawler. There ensued a furious melee in which the nameless, faceless stranger saw his character die with horrible speed. My halfling thief got in a solid blow with his handaxe, dealing the full 6 points of damage. A few rounds later and the carrion crawler was dead. Our first victory! We descended a stone staircase and entered a large chamber.
This large chamber was full of gold and other treasures. But before we could get our hands on it, we realised that at the far end there was a red dragon. Behind the monster was a tunnel - the obvious only way forward! But how to get to it?
The red dragon immediately noticed us, and warned us not to move any closer, nor further away, lest we be burned to a crisp. So we spent at least an hour (in my memory anyway - in reality it could have been as little as five minutes) in parley with the thing. Gradually we realised that we were at stalemate. We couldn't convince the dragon to let us past into the dungeon proper, but nor could we convince it to let us go back to the surface. And yet it wouldn't kill us, either.
Words can't express how frustrating the whole thing was. My friend's brother was a terrible DM. A few hours prior I hadn't even known what a DM was, and even I could tell. It was suddenly very clear. And yet what could we do? He was the only one with rulebooks and dice. So we gamely played along.
Finally I hit on an idea. I convinced the NPC dwarf to put on the ring of invisibility. He could then try to sneak around behind the dragon. My plan was that the dragon would notice (all dragons can detect invisibility, duh, don't you know anything?), burn the dwarf to a crisp, and in the meantime the rest of us would leg it. It seemed a capital idea.
The NPC dwarf gladly obliged. As planned, before he'd got half way towards the dragon, the monster had noticed him and was demanding for us to give him a reason why he shouldn't fry us to a crisp. I vividly remember offering the NPC dwarf up as an unwilling sacrifice, telling the dragon that he should go ahead and feast on the bugger because "Dwarf tastes of chicken", but my plea was ignored and sure enough we were fried to a crisp. My friend's brother made sure we rolled for saving throws, and then made a big show of calculating the damage from the dragon's breath - as if it mattered when my nameless halfing thief had 5 hit points. And so my first tryst with D&D ended.
There's a moral in there somewhere, I'm sure, although I don't know what. Looking back now I think it's a miracle I'm still at all interested in this hobby, but I suppose there's a lot to be said for the fact that it allowed me to pretend to be a halfling thief confronting a dragon. I know of no other hobby which can claim to allow somebody to do such imaginitive things, and I suppose that's what's kept me at it.