Sunday, July 11, 2010

I, Gamer: A Testimonial in Three Parts (2)

PART THE SECOND: Long Game’s Journey into Night (Ages 19 to 25)

So, you’re back! I guess the prospect of reading some guy’s sob story didn’t scare you off? Good! Sorry it’s taken me a few days to post this second part. I know all my readers were waiting with bated breath ;-). Let’s proceed, shall we?

To briefly recap my first post in the series, ages 13 through 19 were the years of my original foray into Dungeons and Dragons. A scant two years (13-15) were entirely dedicated to 1st edition AD&D, and I loved every minute of it. From 15 to 19 I began to play other RPGs (and moved on to 2nd edition D&D), and slowly became disillusioned with Dungeons and Dragons. We return to the story during my 19th year:

So, I began my college career in 1994, and for a short while roleplaying of any kind was on the back burner. I did indeed enjoy myself in college, academically and socially. It was a great time all around. I won’t bore you with the non-gaming details.

I was still in my first year of college when the roleplaying itch returned. How did I scratch that itch, you ask? Well, over the course of the next four years there were two primary ways:

Amber Diceless Roleplaying: If you haven’t read Roger Zelazny’s Amber books, you are doing yourself a great disservice. I heartily recommend that you check them out! For my own part, I had never heard of them until a strange little game called Amber Diceless Roleplaying (ADRPG) came along. A roleplaying game that was DICELESS?! Who could fathom such a thing? It took a man named Erick Wujcik (who had also done work for Palladium Books) to come up with the idea, and he became to me a new Gary Gygax. Both men created games that I came to love and associate with good times in my life.

The Wujcik diceless concept seemed to me the epitome of elegance, something that could strip away all the heavy mechanics many other games sported, and only pure cooperative storytelling would be left behind! It would take a skilled GM and players to handle the “high art” of the Amber game. It was me and two other old friends who primarily explored Amber, and we did so with relish. I felt like some of the magic of my original gaming experiences had returned, from a source totally separate from D&D.

So, yes, I became something of a roleplaying snob. Amber became to me the “grown-up” version of roleplaying. D&D was for kids! I pretty much vowed that I would never play anything else but the ADRPG. Silly man…

Looking back, it was just important that we were having fun. And we did a good job of striking the delicate balance between GM/player connection/trust that is so necessary to ADRPG. If you haven’t played the game, it’s hard to describe…at least for me (I may not be smart enough anymore to explain it properly!). Suffice to say that it’s sort of rules-light and yet somehow “heavy” at the same time, if that makes any sense. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that it’s rules-light but cooperation-heavy. I’ve always felt that Amber would be nigh-impossible to play with anyone but close friends. But I’ve been known to be wrong more than once. It would be interesting to hear what other people who have played Amber think (hopefully someone will read this blog and respond! ;-)

Live Action Roleplaying (LARPing): Another type of what I—at the time—considered “roleplaying for grown-ups” was LARPing, which was a relatively new phenomenon back then. Yes, some of you are shuddering. But my decision to LARP was really born out of my surge of social interaction. And part of it was the novelty of getting up from the table and still roleplaying. I was involved in acting on stage during high school and on into college, so LARPing seemed a natural extension of that. I got into a good group of people who were LARPing Vampire: The Masquerade (I’m pretty sure White Wolf almost single-handedly created LARPing…or I may be wrong. Maybe someone can clarify the history for me. Maybe the people who do war reenactments were the first to LARP in a primitive way, and I am sure the people at the Society for Creative Anachronism and Markland have something to say about their role in all of this). All in all, I had some good times LARPing, but after a while it seemed to all become more about who was dating who and other real-world social intrigues rather than the gaming aspect. So I eventually moved away from that scene.

Actually, when I come to think of it, there was a pseudo-third way in which I got a roleplaying fix: board and card games. From my late teens until just a few years ago, myself and a handful of friends played a lot of these types of games, such as Risk (and later A Game of Thrones and Munchkin, but I wouldn’t get into these until years after college) and other (sometimes more obscure) games. Personally, I liked to interject some histrionics and at least a skeleton of a storyline when playing those types of games. But that can only take you so far.

And to some extent reading fantasy novels was another indirect outlet for the gaming itch (and still is to this day). As I read, I would think about how great a novel’s setting would be as a game world, or what a character’s stats would be, or how one would resolve an intricately described combat.

Some of you might be asking: What about computer-based RPGs? Well, when I was a kid in the 1980s and early 1990s it all came down to economics. We were able to afford Nintendo, so I did play a lot of Legend of Zelda and Dragon Warrior, and Shadowgate was a personal favorite. However, I missed out on all those great Ultima, D&D “gold box” games from SSI, and other such computer games because my family couldn’t afford a computer. The only exposure I got to these types of games was through the father of a friend, who played such games fanatically. This guy eventually built himself a replica of a medieval fantasy tavern as a gaming room, which he stocked with those replica swords and miniature suits of armor you can buy from catalogs. And the heart of this really cool room was his precious computer and a huge bookshelf of games. I would watch him play for hours sometimes, amazed at the graphics, but of course there wasn’t much opportunity for me to actually play. It wasn’t until after my mid-20s that I consistently had a computer of my own with which to game. I’ll talk more about me and computer RPGs in the final post in this series.

During my college years, there were times now and then that I did indeed think about table-top Dungeons and Dragons, remembering with fondness the golden years. By then D&D was already becoming inextricably bound with my memories of my youth, and I couldn’t separate one from the other. Indeed, these table-top thoughts and the accompanying nostalgia have never truly left me. They persist to this day.

By the time of my graduation from college, I had long before gotten out of LARPing, and my Amber table-top games were few and far between. Most gaming endeavors were drowned in my transition from college to “productive” member of society’s labor force. It was the late 90's, and the (then) dreaded millennium creeping up fast. I was filled with great expectations for the new century. I read scores of fantasy novels, and kept on dreaming…

But dreams can be so easily dashed by reality. I was 25 when September 11th happened, and my hopes for the new millennium were darkened by the billowing clouds of smoke rising from American soil. Suffice to say, RPGing wasn’t just on the back burner anymore. It seemed to be banished forever, a relic of my lost youth and innocence, never to be seen again. It seemed that there would be no more innocence anywhere ever again. For a while I looked on all my pastimes as frivolous, wondering if (especially after the terrorist attacks) I should assume some stereotypical form of adulthood and give up daydreaming about gaming.

I entered a personal gaming Dark Age for a time, where only fantasy novels sustained me. I was certain that nothing would ever be the same again. It turns out I was both correct and incorrect…

To Be Concluded in Part Three!


  1. Hey dude, I found your blog link in that horrible stream of invective resulting from Tim Kask's post about the OSR. I went through the same period of RPG rediscovery two years ago, and it was totally great. I'm still riding the creative high that I picked up back then! My advice to you is, keep the faith, play the game, buy the new stuff that's coming out (insofar as your budget allows) and remember, most of your real-life buddies would rather play D&D than discuss the finer points of the who birthed the OSR and how/why it's good/bad for the hobby. The blogosphere gets a bit scholarly at times, considering they are talking about elves and orcs and armor class. Fight on!

  2. PatrickWR:

    Thanks for taking time to comment, much appreciated. And thanks for the encouragement! It's been a long time coming, this return to the hobby (I still hate calling it that...) Hope you enjoy the blog and keep reading.

    Yeah, it's a shame that this Kask guy's post is the latest in the never-ending stream of argument over the game. And you make a good point about how "scholarly" the blogs can get. Some of them come off as genuinely fascinated by the little details of the hobby, but others just sound like they're trying to be know-it-alls. I mean, I'm sitting here and I'm thinking I'll never get all the vagaries of the various early D&D editions right...and then I wonder why I am even worrying about it!