When it comes to fantasy, I have pretty much always been a D&D gamer. I dabbled in RuneQuest and Swordbearer at various times, but I never really got into any other fantasy RPGs, because I was generally happy with Dungeons & Dragons. That'll probably strike a lot of people as odd, even improbable, especially given the culture of wild invention that so permeated the hobby and the industry back in the late 70s and early 80s.
Odd and improbable it may be, but it has the advantage of being true. I have abandoned D&D many times throughout my gaming history, of course; I think most gamers do. In my case, though, I abandoned it only when I abandoned fantasy roleplaying altogether and moved on to science fiction or horror. I never did so out of disgust or frustration with the game. Each time, though, when the fantasy bug bit me again, I returned to D&D -- except once.
The one time I didn't was during my brief but passionate love affair with SPI's DragonQuest, the first edition of which was released in 1980. I never saw the first edition and I'd have never seen the second if my local library hadn't had a copy in the fall of 1982. RPGs were so popular in those days that even public libraries had copies of them, including less popular ones like DragonQuest. Intrigued, I checked it out and fell in love with the thing, eventually buying a copy, along with SPI's science fiction RPG, Universe, from a toy store in a nearby shopping mall -- again, how different the world was back then that you could easily buy third tier RPGs from toy stores!
I'm still not sure what it was that first attracted me to DragonQuest, but I suspect it was because I didn't perceive in it any sense that it was the designers' attempt to "fix" D&D or do D&D "better," qualities I always perceived, rightly or wrongly, in most other fantasy RPGs at the time. Indeed, DragonQuest struck me as being off in its own little universe, almost oblivious to the rest of the gaming world. Consequently, the game held a strange fascination for me and read and re-read it numerous times. Even now, I can still see its illustrations and page layout in my memory.
DragonQuest used percentile dice for all its mechanics. Character creation was a mix of random generation and player choice, since the game lacked classes and used skills instead. Races were mostly standard fantasy one -- human, dwarf, elf, halfling, etc. -- with orcs and lycanthropes for variety. Characters could begin play under the influence of certain stars or planets, granting special bonuses or penalties, an idea I'd previously seen in Chivalry & Sorcery. Combat was astoundingly complex and pretty much demanded the use of miniatures, since it used a hex grid and facing was very important. At the time, this didn't bother me in the slightest, but I doubt I could stomach it now. Characters had two "hit point" pools, fatigue and endurance, with fatigue regained quickly and easily and endurance damage being more difficult to heal. Magic was divided into several colleges. I recall that the college of summoning included lists of demonic dukes cribbed from Johann Weyer's Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, which I found endlessly fascinating.
In the months following my discovery of DragonQuest, we played it a lot, but, much like Boot Hill, I can't recall now any of the characters or the adventures we had. That's not terribly surprising, since, in play, I found the game system much less enjoyable in play than it was in reading. Back then, we had a higher tolerance for such things and soldiered on, managing to enjoy ourselves despite the game's clunkiness. I know I wouldn't have the patience for that nowadays, but I still look back fondly on DragonQuest nonetheless, since it was one of a handful of RPGs that made me reconsider, even if only briefly, my lifelong devotion to Dungeons & Dragons. The game's also a reminder of the sad, sorry fate of SPI, a game company whose passing is another important marker for the passing of the Golden Age of the hobby.