Sunday, July 20, 2014
Let's Roll Part One: An Introduction OR Every Saga Has A Beginning. . .
Tabletop roleplaying games have been a part of my life for over thirty years now. My first encounter with the medium took place almost by accident at the age of eight. We were visting my friend Owen's house in Fort MacMurray, Alberta and I discovered some orange-spined books featuring monsters on the cover belonging to his father. Being a voracious reader even back then I dove into them, and discovered in short order that this wasn't a traditional book. There was no story, just a collection of monsters, their backstories, and some odd series of numbers I didn't quite understand. This was my first encounter with the Monster Manual of first edition Dungeons & Dragons, detailing everything from goblins and kobolds to Zeus and Great Cthulhu. In the span of what had to have been a few hours visit my fate was sealed forever. Unfortunately, as I was going to Catholic school at the time (an irony not lost upon me today), my grade school self would have to wait a few more years until I could come into my own and discover roleplaying games properly.
I'm going to assume that a lot of people here are familiar with tabletop RPGs, but on the off-chance you aren't here's the thumbnail sketch: imagine the games you played in childhood (Star Wars, superheroes, GI Joe, or even the traditional Cops & Robbers) carried over into adulthood, but with a formal rule structure based around the outcome of die rolls as final arbiter of certain situations or actions ("I hit you!" "Did not!" "Did too!"). D&D is the most famous example of this, based around fantasy settings a la Lord of the Rings, but there are other mediums too. Science fiction, superheroes, Weird Westerns, Steampunk, Planetary Romance, if it's got a following chances are good there's a system to make it happen.
My next encounter with tabletop games happened a few years later after I'd moved back to Nova Scotia. Being a nascent geek, I instantly gravitated toward the emerging comicbook stores/games shops that were on the rise in the greater Halifax/Dartmouth area, and one day while at one of these shops, I discovered the volume TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES & OTHER STRANGENESS. Understand, by this point (1988 or 1989, details blur) I was a huge TMNT fan. I had the Mirage trade paperbacks, tolerated the cartoon adaption (which wasn't nearly as cool, but hey, points for robot ninjas and the Technodrome), and the notion that there was a game where I could not only play one of the characters but build my own badass mutated animal hero? Where do I sign?! I also made another discovery that Palladium Games(the company which produced TMNT&OS) also produced the ROBOTECH roleplaying game. I was hooked, and hooked hard.
Of course, the problem of any RPG is finding a group with which to play, and in Nova Scotia in the late '80s to early '90s, that was hard for me. My cousin Nathan ran a few Robotech games for myself and my brother, but his heart wasn't really in it. I played a couple more games through junior high and high school, but it never quite took off into a regular campaign.
And yet I would continually purchase roleplaying games, from the hefty core rulebooks to supplementary tomes. Like the ant in the fable with his friend the grasshopper, I kept hoarding these gamebooks for reasons quite beyond me (and beyond my parents and my own Wallet, to say the least). Even today I'll still buy a games system, though most of them gather dust on my shelf or sit idle in boxes. Why is that?
I think it stems back to a couple factors. My family moved around a lot and I was an introverted kid, spending a lot of time inside my own head. These books weren't just collections of stats and figures, they were a window into another world, where I could be more than just The New Kid. On Krynn I could be a Knight of Solamnia, in the Outer Rim I could be a daring smuggler one step ahead of the Empire, or I could be the newest costumed hero to take the fight against evil to the mean streets of Gotham City. They were an escape, and I used them to put myself into places and worlds where I felt more dynamic, more confident, and more together than I did at the time I bought them.
But a lot of these systems never got played. They sat on shelves and while I enjoyed them, I never partook of them, except for a few online excursions and play by e-mail. Well, that's going to change. This column (which will be released on a more-or-less-regular basis) is going to be me examining the game systems I own. From old favorites to recent purchases, it'll be an effort to understand why I got them, what I hope to gain from them, and maybe even how I'll run them for my friends. At the very least it'll help me put all this spent time (and money) to a productive use. At the very most it'll help me provide you with some insight on game systems you might want to try out for your own amusement. Plus, being in public and making plans about a game forces me to, y'know, actually produce something, which can only help a born procrastinator like yours truly.
So join me next time as we discuss a game system, why I got it, what's good about it, and whether or not I run it. And if you've got a favorite system you'd like to hear me talk about, comment on the blog and if I own it (I own a bunch, so its probably on my shelf somewhere) I'll be happy to rap about it.
Until next time,