Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My Gaming DNA

One of the questions form yesterday tickled my fancy, so I'm going to talk about the games I've loved.

I started out with D&D, which I got into because another kid at summer camp had it when I was, like, 8 or 9. The thing I noticed was the diagram of the dragon's breath weapon shapes, and for some reason that struck me as particularly awesome. I think my parents ended up getting me the red box (Erol Otus cover) which I literally read by flashlight, under my covers because it was SO AWESOME. I later got the Expert set, which totally blew my mind, especially the magic items. I'd though the Gauntlets of Ogre Power were awesome, but then I saw the Staff of Wizardry![1]

At the same time, a cool older kid (the son of one of my dad's co-workers) showed me there was this whole _other_ D&D, with illusionists and rangers and stuff. So from about age 10 to 13, my understanding of D&D came from the boxes, half remembered bits read from the Players Handbook, a copy of the Monster Manual that I bought at Waldenbooks (because I had the money and didn't know which book to buy), a copy of one of the Slave Lords modules I got _somewhere_, then eventually a DMG my parents got me for Christmas and eventually a PHB gifted from that same older kid.

Tellingly, at no point during this period did I actually play D&D. I made a LOT of a characters (mostly Rangers named Aragorn who rode silver dragons) and rules for things like a Jedi class. I did play some other games - One friend got a Star Trek RPG, and it was totally incomprehensible to is, but it had ship weapon systems, so we used those to make a ship to ship combat game, that later became a giant Robot Fighting game[2]. At anther summer camp, I got to read the James Bond RPG (notably the Q manual) and Top Secret, and made a lot of Spy Cars, and even played in a sort of ad-hoc Top Secret game with no sheets or rules, just us talking. I lost.

During High School I actually got around to playing D&D, and if you think this has been stereotypical so far, you ain't seen nothing yet. We played D&D with all the bad habits you can imagine. We had party members who existed to steal from party members. We screwed up the Dragonlance Modules. We arranged mass suicide so we could bring in new characters when we lost all our gear n the Slave Lords modules. We were _terrible_, but we had a lot of fun.

College was when I started branching out more. I met a lot of folks through the UVM Science Fiction and Fantasy in Literature program, and got exposed to many new games[3] like Champions, Star Wars, DC Heroes, Traveller, GURPS, Vampire, Paranoia Shadowrun and such, but the big go-to game for the group was Rolemaster. We played the hell out of Rolemaster, with a constantly evolving set of house rules designed to fix problems and to reflect the game currently being played. Those were some of the best games of my life, the sort I still have War Stories from.

During this time, the Amber DRPG also came out, something I had been very excited for, both out of my love of the books and my curiosity about dicelessness. My attempts to actually run the game failed miserably, but I did get involved in playing AmberMUSH, which was good and bad in many ways.

The real zenslap for me came near the end of college when, intrigued by the back copy and some comments online by Bryant Durrell, I picked up a copy of Over the Edge. Holy crap, that book totally upended my view of games. Sure, the setting was cool and all, but the potent, elegant minimalism of the design absolutely knocked my socks off.

After college I moved to DC and hooked up with some people I'd met on AmberMUSH, and got involved with a very large monthly game involving about 20 people form up and down the east coast who got together, played all day Saturday, drank all night, had breakfast and hangovers on Sunday. It was awesome, all the more because it was really more adult gaming than I was used to. The social element of the game was as big a deal as the game itself, and I really dug that. I also ended up as one of the GMs because, well, I had a knack.

Years of Amber followed. There were other games, sure - Feng Shui was a big hit, and I actually ran some very successful Rolemaster games - but Amber was the default mode of the group. But the thing about Amber is that it's really, really easy to retool. We ran Amber under a ton of different systems, most of them being weird hybrids of ideas stolen from the game book I'd most recently read [4].

Somewhere in here I also started paying attention to what people were doing on the Internet. Fudge was fascinating, and Ron Edwards and John Wick were both writing interesting things in random places. But I tried to stick to the edges. For me, RPG.net was a place for reviews, not forums.

Anyway, towards the end of my time in Maryland, Fred Hicks ran a great Amber game called "Crown of Amber", using Fudge. it was a lot of fun, but what was most telling was that when it came time to end it, Fred ran a final session to actually bring everything to a conclusion. This blew my mind, and when 3e came out, one of my priorities with the Big Epic Game I ran was to have a satisfying conclusion. It worked out OK, I think. That same game also lead to Fred wanting to run another Amber game, Born to Be Kings. FATE was basically invented for that game lut of a long car ride to Lake Tahoe where (Fred and I geeked so hard that it drove his (infinitely tolerant) wife to the other car.

From that point on, things have taken a weird route, weird enough to probably merit their own post someday. But I figure that's a decent snapshot to get a sense how the hell I ended up here.

Extra Bonus: Games I Can Remember That Have Blown Open The Top of My Head[5]
  • Over the Edge
  • Amber DRPG
  • Feng Shui
  • Fading Suns
  • Run Out The Guns
  • Everway
  • Dark Space
  • Trollbabe
  • Donjon
  • Birthright (Setting)
  • Planescape (Setting)
  • Silver Age Sentinels
  • Aria
  • Heroquest
  • Changeling (both versions)

1 - One of my great regrets is that I left the expert box, with all content, on top of the heater one day. it singed a bit, but more importantly, all my dice (my crayoned dice at that) melted.

2 - Which I then programmed. In BASIC. On my Commodore 64.

3 - Including a bootlegged French game on of the guys was translating called "Magnas Veritas" which was more fully titled "Magnas Veritas: In Nomine Satanis", which lead to a big of cognitive dissonance for me a few years later.

4 - I did not make much money, but every payday I took the Metro to Twinbook and walked over to Dream Wizards to see what my extra cash could buy me. Over time, that made for a lot of books.

5 - List is far from comprehensive. I'll be regretting absences all day.


  1. Dammit. Now I have to write one of these.

  2. I've thought about doing one of these too, often stumbling against the "does anyone care?" block. This was very cool, though.

  3. I'd love to hear how each of those games that blew open your mind (which you listed) had done so. That is, what about each of them.

  4. Awesome! Currently, the gaming group that I meet with are running an Amber-themed game using the Savage Worlds ruleset. Been converting over many of the ideas from the DRPG to help us out.

    And AmberMUSH? Cool! I was on there years ago. Perhaps we crossed paths back then? Would've been late 90s to early 2001 or so for me.

  5. I just explained my Gamer DNA to Josh Roby recently. Funny how it's coming up here, too.

    AmberMUSH was probably one of the most influential periods of my entire life. If I hadn't had joined that crowd with you, Fred, Jim, et al, I wouldn't be here now, married to my wife, doing what I do. It's a Big Deal.

  6. I had forgotten that the Huge Amber Game is how we met.

    Hunh. Well, then. Thank god for the way post-college people spend their weekends. :)

  7. I think I can add D&D in front of the Vampire post I made the other day, throw in Shadowrun, Cyberpunk 2020 and Changeling to the lot, and have a pretty complete picture.

    Which of course means that I'll now write one of these up as well.

    I think you just made a meme.

  8. I know what you mean about cognitive dissonance. I was so disappointed with Steve Jackson's In Nomine after having played the original In Nomine Satanis. Especially after the supplement/flip-side game (Magna Veritas) came out and you realized that the angel hit-squads that you were so scared of as a demon were just as competent as your own side (which is to say, not very). Anyone interested in getting a glimpse of what the original French game was like might take a look at the film Ma vie est un enfer (My Life is Hell) as an example. Although your typical Paranoia session does come close.

    I definitely agree with you about Over The Edge, although I had heard nothing about it at the time (I bought it immediately as soon as my browsing at the FLGS encountered the disclaimer).

    Don't let those invisible turtles that are not actually there get underfoot! <grin>

  9. You're the only guy I know who almost drown face down in a pool of healing.

  10. @dave Oh holy crap, I had forgotten that. Man, that campaign remains one of my all time favorite. 7th Bastard of a 7th Bastard indeed.

  11. Man, I still think about that Rolemaster campaign, sometimes...

  12. I'm curious, if you have the time to indulge a random question, what blew you away about Fading Suns. I love the setting a lot, but otherwise have mixed feelings about it.


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