I’ve basically stopped answering the questions on #RPGaDay and am essentially turning it into a personal Bildungsroman of my gaming history. :-/
Okay, I shouldn’t say “never” because honestly, I’ve run Delta Green quite frequently, including even a 6-session mini-campaign. But it’s been this thread for the past 16 or so years since ordering the Delta Green softcover core book from Amazon (my VERY FIRST Amazon purchase back in 1998 while I lived in Toronto) that I never get to run it. But I’ve run lots of one-shots and short-term DG games.
I figure this is the best time to talk about the years in between my time in Toronto and my time in Illinois, when I was back in Boston for a couple of years. I met some of my current gamers, all the way back then! We were trying to figure out if we met through an ad on the board of the aforementioned Excalibur Hobbies in Malden or on the old White Wolf find-a-gamer forums and it turned out each was true for one of the couples I met and started gaming with back in 1999.
We played a lot of games in those two years! I ran Mage: Newbury Agency set in 1890s Boston and Vampire: Dark Ages set in medieval Cumbria and of course our classic 2nd Edition AD&D Planescape game. I really matured as a gamer in this all-too-short two-year period. The structures of the World of Darkness games taught me storycrafting, and my players brought incredible roleplaying, worldbuilding, and character portrayal chops to the table every time we played. And of course we did our share of one-shots, including if I remember correctly a Delta Green game.
I moved to Illinois in 2001, and I did game there, but in a lot of ways my modern gaming identity – sprawling plots, intricate character work, and historical settings – forged right around the millennium. And Delta Green was a huge part of that.
Dungeons & Dragons “White Box”.
Through a bizarre set of circumstances in college that involved my roommate, a professor for whom he was working, and my college car, in the summer of 1996 I ended up in possession of a set of photocopies of the D&D “White Box” and Blackmoor sets. Not much more to be said about this really; I never played it and glanced at it only a couple of times in total. But since we’re going in roughly chronological order with these posts about my RPG nostalgia, why don’t I tell you about my college gaming.
I went to college in the mid-90s, arguably during the pen-and-paper RPG industry’s nadir. CCGs were on the ascendency, and I was no exception to this trend. My roommate brought back the CCG Shadowfist (wow, has that site not changed since the late 90s??) from his internship in Seattle over the summer of 1995, and we played it incessantly junior year of college.
But I also ran RPGs! Some D&D 2nd Edition set in Greyhawk with my roomies and a couple of our significant others. Feng Shui, piggybacking off of the Shadowfist reference above. Some Warhammer 40K, of course, which was also a high school mainstay but obviously not an RPG. I played in my first game of Call of Cthulhu in college, which started a love affair with CoC that remains to this day, nearly 20 years later.
But mostly college was a fallow period for me and gaming. Same with the first couple of years after college (although during that time I picked up Delta Green and my first World of Darkness game (Mage: the Ascension, 2nd Edition, while I was in grad school in Toronto)). It was only in my return from Toronto in 1999 that my gaming life entered into its second stage.
My RPGaDay writing will continue as soon as I am out of these work meetings. I will catch up.
This serves as both “Most Recent RPG Purchase” and “Most Recent RPG Run.” A few weeks ago I picked up an e-copy of Ken Hite’s GURPS Horror setting, The Madness Dossier. It’s about a lost history, ruled by inhuman monsters who installed cheat codes in the linguistic centers of the human brain, and the modern secret agents who keep us safe from these monsters trying to return to conquer our history. It definitely falls in my wheelhouse of “high concept RPGs.” :)
But it played like a dream. I ran it at a games day this past weekend, with some trepidation about using GURPS. But all the players got the vibe that was intended by the setting, and really enjoyed it. We’re set for the second part of a putative “one-shot” sometime soon. :)
It feels a bit jarring to leap from 1989 to 2014 like this, but somehow I think the Irruptors would approve.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st/2nd Edition*
By 1988, my last year of junior high and first year of high school, I was pretty deep into 1st Edition AD&D. I remember clearly picking up at least one of the core books the night of a particularly traumatic childhood doctor’s appointment at Excalibur Hobbies in Malden, MA, the locus of my gaming life (and thus my social life and, well, my LIFE) from 1988 through 1993. Excalibur is no longer extant and there is no site online that rings its praises throughout the ages (its successor shop, Hobby Bunker, is still open down the street, but obviously it’s just not the same), but suffice to say, its back stacks, full of third-party D&D knockoffs and wargaming books, was the center of my worship in the Cargo Cult that was pre-internet gaming.
So this continued apace, but the shift to high school from junior high meant the inevitable shifting in social groups. Players dropped out. New players joined. And in 1989, there was the release of an edition of AD&D that I could call my own.
AD&D 2nd Edition was my edition. My high school game, set in Greyhawk (oh, my love for Oerth is deep and abiding and eternal), started when I met my new core of players at the local video arcade/bowling alley playing Cyberball. You remember Cyberball, right? Anyway, my new gamers and I first started playing with old characters from past campaigns of theirs, and then, eventually, their own 1st level characters. In the first game, I set this massive group of maybe 14 1st level characters (everyone was playing multiple characters back then, as was our wont) against a wyvern and a hill giant, which thinned the ranks considerably. Then it was trips into the Temple of Elemental Evil, the UK series of modules, and every other 1st edition module I’d scrounged from the shelves of Excalibur.
This adventuring group became known, of course, as the Company of the Wyvern.
There were other high school games, of course, but the Greyhawk game was the top one. The one where we played all-nighters pretty much every other weekend, then stumbled out into the daylight at 6 am for breakfast and Street Fighter II at a local deli. They were Big Damn Days. Sigh.
* As I mentioned on Day 1, technically Marvel Super Heroes RPG is the answer to all three of the first questions.
- Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice
(Welcome to the tagline for my Weird California RPG.)
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition*
Back in the mid-1980s in my hometown, two of the K-8 schools closed… well, closed and then burned down under mysterious circumstances (we were in the middle of the kids of the big born-in-the-mid-1970s baby dip, of which my birth year, 1975, was the nadir), which sent kids from the other schools to my larger, arguably more central school. And with this came a lot of new friends, one of whom had an older brother who possessed all the 1st Edition AD&D books.
As I said yesterday, I was fairly ignorant of Dungeons & Dragons when I first explored roleplaying, but it quickly became our choice. Borrowing and then eventually buying the PHB, DMG, and so forth, I was completely sucked into the game.
So much so that I immediately began worldbuilding. This was before I was able to get my hands on the Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms boxed sets, so for my first group, I took to creating a world which was actually pretty advanced for someone only 12 years old.
My continent consisted of six sheets of graph paper. In the northwest was a rocky peninsula, occupied by the last of the dwarven nations in the mountainous interior, and along the coast a fascist (yes, I even denoted in my notes they were fascists) society of human seafarers who harassed the dwarves in the interior and anyone else who tried to sail their way.
Just to the south in the more temperate regions was the ancient elven nation, along the coast in a heavily forested area, bordered on the east by more mountains (yes, I did my climatic research!). In those mountains were the forgotten red dragons, hunted unto near extinction.
I forget what was in the southwest sextant of the map, but on the southeast graph paper was a huge desert, split up between the blue and brass dragons. I noted from the MM that both were desert-dwelling nations and boom, there they went. There was a tinge of the “lost empire in the sands” trope here, as I pictured vast sand-buried ruins suited for draconic-sized bodies.
In the east sextant was another temperate forest and a large human nation. When the magic-user in our party drew the Throne card from the deck of many things, I plunked down his “instant castle” here. I believe this human nation was called Estonia, which tells you a lot about how I grew up in the Cold War and likely didn’t even know Estonia as a nation ever existed.
WE DID SO MUCH WRONG. Memorizing spells, combat, and yes, even just plain old gameplay. I didn’t understand the AD&D 1st Edition rules; who the hell could, anyway? I read back through them now and I’m still baffled most of the time. I really came of age with AD&D 2nd Edition which was released the next year in 1989. It was new and attractively packaged and the monster art didn’t look like Napoleon Dynamite scribbling a liger in his Mead notebook. I grew up with 2nd Edition. But I can claim I did start with 1st.
Tomorrow I’ll talk about purchasing my “first” RPG (actually probably more like my third at this point, but again, we’re cheating here) and the story of my childhood geek store and the beginning of my morbid fear of medical professionals. Yes, they’re all related.
* As I mentioned yesterday, technically Marvel Super Heroes RPG is the answer to all three of the first questions, which for GMs like me speaks to a slight design flaw in this meme, but no matter. I’m going to spend the next two days talking about my first experiences with AD&D.
The Marvel Super Heroes RPG
In January of 1987, when I was 11 years old, I went into Robinson’s News in Malden, MA and twirled the comics rack that seemed to be present in almost every corner store (or spa as some people call them here in New England; no, I don’t get it either) and finally looked seriously at the comics. I think I’d been faintly aware of them around the corners of my life up to that point (remember, comic movies had a brief resurgence in the 70s thanks to Donner’s Superman but this was well after that and two years before Burton’s Batman), but never before had I looked inside their pages. I picked up Uncanny X-Men #214, with Storm restraining the Malice-possessed Dazzler on the front. This was the immediate aftermath of the Mutant Massacre, whose shadow was very long in the X-titles of the late 80s. Pretty soon, I had to know the whole story.
And so probably a few weeks later, I went to our local comics store, New England Comics (I know you’ve heard of them) and picked up tons of back issues of Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor, New Mutants (hey, these characters are more or less my age!) to flesh out the stories that had been unfolding over the past year or two.
To paraphrase Henry Hill in Goodfellas, it was a GLORIOUS time. Mutants were all over the place.
One day, likely in New England Comics (again, I’m reconstructing this more than 25 years after the fact), I saw a game associated with Marvel Comics (I already knew Make Mine Marvel, although I’d dabble in DC later in junior high) and said, oh, neat, maybe I can play this at home by myself.
Nope. I couldn’t. It was something called a “role-playing game.” And in it, yeah, you could play the X-Men but each character would need a player.
And so the box languished on my 6th-grade self’s shelf, and would do until junior high. Although once I got my dad to “playtest” Marvel Super Heroes on a vacation the summer of 1986. He picked the Silver Surfer, not because he was a min-maxer, but because he was the coolest Marvel hero my dad could remember from his teen years (my dad was solidly DC and had his mother throw out a treasure trove of Silver Age 1950s and early 60s classics: Green Lantern was his favorite). I unfolded the map of New York City streets (by this point I’d gotten the Advanced Marvel Super Heroes RPG, with more characters and little standups) and I had Norrin Radd proceed to beat up on some generic thugs with Typical Strength and Poor Intelligence. Kind of a mismatch, and my first gamemastering error.
I also can’t imagine I got anything in the rules right, being 11 going on 12 and my dad being completely confused. I just knew there was a colorful chart on the back and when I rolled percentile dice and compared them to the table on the back of the book, I had my answer on how well my dad did on his rolls.
So all things told, I didn’t think much of RPGs when I first tried them, and I didn’t revisit them until junior high, when I met some people who also had heard tell of other RPGs, including the granddaddy of them all.
(Since I first Gamemastered and bought the Marvel Super Heroes RPG, I’ll be talking in the next two entries about my junior high dalliance with Dungeons & Dragons and how I did almost Everything wrong.)