Friday, December 31, 2010

In the Beginning...

The indefatigable Johnn Four recounted the tale of how he discovered RPGs in this week's Roleplaying Tips issue. That got me thinking about a gaming blog of my own, again, and I decided that there are few ways more natural to start one than the story of how it all began!

I spent most of the summer of 1988 hanging out with a friend I'd met because our respective little brothers shared a friend. (A random encounter if I ever had one.) We shared an interest in both games and computers; a PC had moved into my home the previous Christmas, while he'd owned the usual series of Commodore machines of the '80s, so he was a little more advanced in the hobby. We wrote a text adventure or two, though the coding was too boring for them to be ever truly finished.

A number of classic games were new at the time; I recall Ultima IV, Phantasie III and The Faery Tale Adventure for certain. We were greatly affected. A computing magazine ran an article about the pen-and-paper RPGs on which these games were based, and we were enthralled. One day, my friend suggested we write a P&P RPG of our own. I replied, "Wouldn't that be really hard?" (I'd fumbled for a comparable experience with the childish board games I'd created before, but it always eluded me.) He convinced me otherwise and we went to work.

And he was right! It wasn't hard, it was fun! Of course, it was mostly because the hard bits, like consistency or balance, never occurred to us, being mostly concerned with lists of cool items and spells and monsters. Within a very short time (it's hard to be sure, those childhood summers seemed to go on forever) we had a workable system. During play, we'd improvise. What passes for common sense in pre-teen kids reigned supreme.

Soon, we had our brothers and friends playing too. From the start, I was the gamemaster. (It's my karma. Either that, or the fact I was oldest.) None of us had any polyhedral dice (and anyway, I was convinced all those funny shapes made the dice a chore to use), so we just rolled bucketfuls of D6s. For an added tactical dimension, we used a chessboard for a battlemat. I distinctly recall that our Flamebolt spell bounced off solid objects, giving it the ability to scorch multiple enemies before disappearing off the grid.

Good times.

A scant few months later, I was in a new school, making new friends - one of whom turned out to be a roleplayer. I made my first D&D character (a Lawful Dwarf named Gram) and discovered RuneQuest soon after. Before the year was out, I'd been introduced both to an older friend and Palladium games. Twilight: 2000 entered the scene a year or so later.

And I never stopped designing. There were always fatal flaws to be fixed. The commercial system currently in favour always informed the design more than I even realised. But the idea of producing material as a mere add-on to an existing game never entered my mind. I was doing My Own Stuff! Even though I didn't know what to do with complete creative control, I had to have it!

I've grown since... in some ways. I can now separate core ideas from minutiae, and appreciate a detail worth stealing if I cannot recreate it in my own voice. But I still expect perfection from myself, making it difficult to seek and utilise feedback (by the time I consider a work worth sharing, I've worked on it so much I tend to resent suggestions for alterations).

So there's still much to learn! ^_^ Life's a journey. The trick is putting the things you pick up along the way to good use.

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