The first thing I noticed was the swords. Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was. Where I came from, we didn't roleplay with swords. Didn't own swords, even. Texas is gun country. When you grow up holding a firearm, bladed weapons seem silly.
Neil and his game group owned swords. Multiple swords. They talked about them, held them and wore them. Took them to Renaissance faires. Yes, they also attended Renaissance faires. I'm pretty sure they didn't actually use the swords, perhaps didn't even know how, but they liked to pretend. I'm not sure where the line exists between roleplaying with swords and doing so without, but there was one, and I was on the other side of it. Call me a roleplaying conservative.
Neil greeted me at the door, wearing his sword - and a full costume. Yes, they also had costumes. Cole, Neil's friend, sewed costumes. Professionally. He was a professional male costume sewer. My head was on the verge of exploding when I met him. We'd later work together, he sewing costumes, I building sets, but I never got over the idea that this wasn't a thing a man was supposed to do. Like wearing shorts or carrying a purse. Not a straight man, anyway.
I made my introductions and took a chair at the table. Neil sat next to his wife, who was dressed like a princess, complete with tiara. Her dice were pink. Cole's wife was also there, along with his child. And they each had a set of dice, although the kid didn't play. She just watched cartoons and drank juice. The wife wore a Japanese-style schoolgirl outfit, complete with striped stockings, and her dice were a rainbow of colors and sizes, as if she couldn't decide which she liked best. Cole wore strange, large, round goggles and a T-shirt printed with Japanese characters. His dice were jet-black, and he fondled them as if they were alive. He was the dungeon master. He giggled a lot, like Mozart. The kid seemed the most normal of the bunch.
Cole introduced me to my character, a druid. I'd never played a druid, but I'd always wanted to, so I was thrilled. The other characters were tailored to the players' tastes, I learned. This was, apparently, Cole's M.O. Neil always played a large, boisterous fighter. His wife, a magic-using princess; Cole's wife, a coquettish thief. Cole played the parts of all the non-player characters, introducing each with a flourish, creating strained, squeaky voices for each. He fidgeted constantly, reaching out and touching people when he talked to them. I started the game sitting in a jail cell, accompanied only by my animal companion, a stark white, large-eyed, cat-like character, played by Cole, that could turn invisible at will and only said one thing: "Miyew?"
What I remember most of that night is Cole, his goggled face turned sideways, peering up at me in a way I can only describe as "kittenish" and saying "Miyew?" his warm, slightly damp palm resting on my arm. I'd ask a question, he'd answer "Miyew?" I'd make a statement, he'd answer "Miyew?" I'd swear at him to, no really, just tell me what to do, and he'd respond "Miyew?" I'd known Cole for less than 20 minutes before deciding we'd never be friends. He was as alien to me as if he were actually from Japan, not simply an otaku.