The Sage Welcomes You

So, here you find a blog about life in general, but with a focus on family, games, books and creativity. Other "stuff" will creep in from timt to time.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

My life with RPGs: a few thoughts

I am very close to resurrecting my life with RPGs, and I could not be more happy.  This is not to say that I have not been maintaining my interest and study of RPGs in the last few years (okay, it might actually be DECADES), but I have not played regularly in a very long time.

Now, I am about to return, with baby steps, through the magic of 13th Age.  I have also been running some pick up games using Marvel Heroic Role Playing, and that has done wonders for my confidence as a game master.

As I step (or stumble) towards this new opportunity, I am feeling a bit introspective, and I think back to how it all began.

It really began with The Hobbit.  My mother read The Hobbit to me when I was quite young, probably as a Kindergardener and first grader.  That sort of sunk into my DNA, but then was really sparked again by, of all things, the animated Hobbit movie from 1977.  I was actually allowed to watch it on TV, and even though there were many flaws with it, when I was 10 (and it premiered right after my birthday that year), it seemed pretty awesome, and even to this day, John Huston's voice as Gandalf as well as the art design for Smaug and Elrond, are pretty awesome things.  Shortly thereafter, I re-read the book and found it superior in every way to the movie.  However, I was ever thankful that the movie spurred me to read the book again.

I then proceeded to wade into the Lord of the Rings for the first time.

And then a friend (who was about 3 grades ahead of me, but whose dad worked with my dad) introduced me to D&D.  That would have been probably late 1977 (we probably went to Yosemite with that family for some winter cabin camping, if I recall correctly) and early 1978.  My friend, David, took me through character creation and some little adventures, that I don't really remember well.  He and his older friends had a game, but I was too young to be invited to that.  I had to content myself with some solo adventures with him as the Dungeon Master.

At some point around 1978/9, I acquired the Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set (and I think I still have one or two dice that remain from that box), and I tried running things for my friends.  I still had only a rudimentary understanding of the game, but I was hooked.

Then came the next real turning point.  When I was in Sixth grade (1978-79), my mother actually enrolled me in a "class" for Dungeons and Dragons.  I grew up near Monterey, California, and there was an educational enrichment organization called the Lyceum (still going strong), and my mom signed me up for all sorts of things, from caligraphy to opera appreciation.  But this time, she really went to bat for me.  She knew I was getting obsessed with D&D, but had no real outlet.  So, even though I did not meet the age/grade requirements, she argued that I was an advanced student and mature for my age and got me in the "class."

One evening a week for eight, ten, twelve weeks, I'm not really sure, I got taken into town, and I got to play the NEW Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.  Tim and Bart and Valerie ran the game.  The game world was Tim's, but Bart did a lot of the DMing and Valerie subbed in a couple of times (I think; this was 34 years ago).  Tim was a rancher in Carmel Valley and Bart was, I think, some kind of engineer/IT (to the degree there was IT in 1978) guy and I think Valerie was some kind of scientist as well, though I have to admit I don't really know (spoiler alert, of them all, I have only kept in touch with Tim).  They were all in a gaming club called The Myth Masters which met every Sunday down in Monterey.

They were amazing storytellers.  It took me a very long time to internalize all of the things that they taught us by playing the game (and I may still not have them mastered) but they really did a great job.

The first night, we made characters of course.  I was in there with a bunch of other guys (and yes, it was all guys) who were in high school, but they all treated me pretty well.

So, my first ever real AD&D character, whose scrawled character sheet I have to this day, was a fighter; Ged (yes, I had just read the Earthsea books by Ursula K. LeGuin).

Here is how he statted out:

Human, Male, 1st Level Fighter, Neutral Good alignment
Strength 11
Intelligence 10
Wisdom 6
Dexterity 6
Constitution 14
Charisma 6
Hit Points 7

[The really amazing thing I saw when I looked again at this character sheet, was that Ged had the same birth date as my first child (in real life!) just by coincidence.]

So, Ged has terrible stats.  Most of us would just roll up a new character (or use a point buy, where it would be impossible to get such crummy scores nowadays).  But this was a play them as you roll them time in the life of RPGs, and I have to say, Ged was always fun to play.

We lived in The Vale, in a small village that was cut off from the larger world.  The Vale was surrounded by a terrifying mist that no one crossed.  Our village was beset by a legendary evil, the Shadow Hound, which had recently risen again to stalk and kill inhabitants from the village.  This was a spectral half hound half human monster that seemed unstoppable.

So, the village trained and equipped the eldest sons of the village (I was the miller's son), to go into the wilds (though not beyond the Mist) to find the source of the Shadow Hound, and to destroy it if we could.  We did a lot of dungeon crawling thereafter and while I have forgotten most of the details, I do remember that we adopted a pet Goblin, named Snarg, and my character lasted until the last session, when a fumble by one of my fellow players got me killed (he hit me with his two handed sword, which the DM had clearly told him would endanger me).  When Ged died (still first level, just before the climactic battle with the Shadow Hound), I was no longer the "mature" kid.  I cried and had to be told to get a hold of myself.

I sat through the rest of the adventure.  I think everyone was first level, except maybe one or two characters.  We had one magic sword, wielded by our leader (who was Snarg's "master").  The Shadow Hound killed every one.  It was probably a three our four hit dice monster, but immune to normal weapons.  It cut everyone down, though our leader was the last and put in some hits with the magic sword.  Then Snarg actually took up the sword and killed the Shadow Hound. 

Unfortuntely, that just caused the Hound to rise, taking over the soul of its last victim, which was our dead leader.  Unfortunately, Snarg then died screaming, "no master, no!"

It was amazing.  Even though we all died (my first TPK), we all had a fun time, and even though I lost my cool, I got invited to join the Myth Masters.  Tim, who was just the nicest guy ever and a real live cowboy, lived not far from me, and he agreed to take me in to do marathon, all day AD&D every Sunday.  That was a wonderful and amazing time for about a year and a half.  I had many characters, played in several campaigns, and learned to get along with working adults, college students, army guys, and high schoolers, all of whom were included in the weekly games.

From then on, I never looked back.  I had to leave the Myth Masters in Eighth Grade, because my family relocated for a year while my dad was a visiting professor (in Philadelphia).  I continued to play some Ad&D there, and also got into games like Ogre and other Steve Jackson goodness (and amazingly, that guy is still making stuff my son loves (Muchkin to the max)).  However, when I came back and went to high school, I really found my peers to play with.  I played and ran AD&D and Gamma World, I was introduced to RuneQuest, Traveler, Top Secret, and FASA Star Trek and Call of Cthulhu.  Into college and grad school I would add Twilight 2000, Stormbringer, Cyberpunk 2013 (ha!), Paranoia, Star Wars (D6), Vampire:TM, Superworld, and GURPS. 

For many years how, I have been on hiatus from regular gaming (really since 1993), though I have had a pick up here and there, and I continue to collect read and follow systems (principally FATE, PDQ#, Cortex+ and D20 of late, but various others as well).  I have really missed a regular game, but as a guy with a wife, children, a house payment, a full time job and a (very) part time job, it is hard to fit regular game play in.

I loved RPGs.  In the end, it was always less about the systems and more about the characters and the stories.  It has been a great road to travel.  And I am about to hit the road again!

It all started with the Hobbit, and now, with the latest film iteration, I begin again with what I hope is a new birth of playing RPGs as a regular part of my life.

Watch this space for further reports.

Go play!