Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Roll Your Own Life (3) - A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away...

I started with Traveller - around at JR's, someone I knew from school who was in a different House, invited by our mutual friend, Crud. You'll have to forgive the nicknames - they weren't great, they weren't always flattering, but it's how we knew each other. Hell, there were four in the group with the same first name, we needed nicknames just to keep things straight!

I don't remember how old I was, but it was before I moved house because to me, the trek to JR's may as well have been to Mordor. It was the other end of the sleepy little seaside town, right to the very edges of civilisation. It's only about 10 minutes walk really, but to my childlike, Hobbit-legs it seemed like forever. 

I can remember it must have been before I moved as I have a distinct memory of trying to create a new RPG based on TRON the moment I saw it at the cinema - so I must have started gaming around 1981-ish. (My first attempt at creating my own RPG, the TRON RPG started with the thing that I equated was most necessary to run a game - a map. I started designing the game grid on graph paper... and that's about as far as I got.)

There was a second Traveller session, where I created a character that I have no memory of - I don't really remember any of my Traveller characters, they all seem to be ex-Navy in their 50's who died the first time someone pulled a gun. However, after the second Traveller game I was invited to the new group's other game, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.

Some of The Eight, circa mid 90's at one of our many reunions.
I have to admit, this was all new to me, and most of these people were unknown to me except in passing at school, but there were three active RPG groups in the town that we knew of. I was blissfully unaware of the third group until I started chatting with my fellow gamers this week to refresh my memory for these posts. Anyway, there were three groups - one was the group I'd joined, and you'll have to forgive me if I get this wrong - (JR, Pete, Jinx (who didn't hang around long after I'd joined) and Crud), another was running on the other side of town (Milo, John, Campbell, Norm, Gladys), while a third had splintered off from the first group - they quickly discovered things like home-brew and girls and stuff, while we remained (mostly) dedicated to the gaming cause. While the two main gaming groups were geographically disparate, there was some interchangeability between the members as some of us (Bragi will agree with me on this) discovered we needed more gaming than one group could provide. Why just go to one game a couple of times a week when you could be in two groups and game up to five nights a week? Awesome.

Anyway, I digress...

Pete ran AD&D at his place on the kitchen table with the largest, most epic DM's screen you'll ever see. It was 3ft tall, and possibly 4ft wide with a single fold in the middle. Made out of something like chip-board or kevlar or something, it was the biggest and most over-the-top screen I've ever seen in all my years of gaming. I think there were charts and tables and stuff taped to the inside but no one ever saw around it. It was the screen of doom. 

It towered over the table casting its shadow like the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey, driving us poor gamers into a killing frenzy. All orcs must be destroyed.

It appeared that Crud had come up with an epic mission, to actually see the map that Pete was using to DM, and began chiselling away at the side of the screen with the metal nib of a propelling pencil. By the time I'd started playing with the group, the successful hole had been filled with what must have been an entire tube of Araldite epoxy resin that had solidified into a strangely organic sculpture that Giger would have been proud of.

Pete's voice boomed from behind the screen and I remained fascinated as strange 10' measurements were translated by Jinx carefully onto squared paper and the map of the dungeon was unveiled before us.

AD&D was completely unlike Traveller to me. I hadn't really read much fantasy as a kid, but I'd been given an existing character - Ivanhoe. He was a 9th level Paladin, complete with armour and +5 holy avenger. He'd been in the group for years, levelled up from a starting character, and had been passed from one player to the next when they'd become bored with the prospect of being a goody-goody. To me he was the ideal character. It would shape my gaming for years to come, and despite some dabbling with rather rubbish barbarians (thanks to Unearthed Arcana) or inept thieves, I always returned to playing Paladins. In fact, I kinda played paladins in other games as well... Star Frontiers? Paladin. Runequest? Paladin. 

Of course, this would finally change with one of the most memorable games of our gaming history - Odyssey. But we'll come onto that later.

[With thanks to Milo for the photo]

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Roll Your Own Life (2) - Like a Virgin

Like Pulp said, "Do you remember the first time?" They always say that you can, and they're right. I remember my first time... I can't remember how old I was, but I was still at school (secondary school as they called it in my day, though they probably call it High School now, so they can be like the ones the kids see on TV) and it was a Saturday. A friend of mine (we'll just call him Crud, not the nicest of nicknames but it wasn't because he was cruddy, he just liked the word and used it a lot - and it kinda stuck as a name) suggested we head over to a buddy of his' place. Crud had planned on going to JR's for a game, so I was invited to tag along. I had no idea what was going on...

Wait, you thought this was going to be about sex didn't you? Nooooooo, this is about Traveller. My first game. 

I must admit, I don't remember a great deal about the game except where it was, and that I was engrossed - which was surprising considering I had no idea what was going on really, and I didn't even have my own character. I suppose I did what every gamer does at their first game, especially one where you've joined a game in progress - I kept mostly quiet, rolled when necessary, and just tried to take it all in.

But it was enough to get me hooked. And I must have behaved myself as I got myself invited back to a second Traveller game where I spent most of it rolling up (or rather mustering out) a new character.

It was a big deal not only because I'd started roleplaying, but also because I was expanding my circle of friends. I wasn't a popular kid - chubby, funny looking, picked on, teased, bullied, yes. But not popular. I had a best friend (and if Stephen King was writing this he'd say that we were both perfect candidates for "IT"'s Loser's Club) and we spent every weekend together playing video games (ZX Spectrum, or Atari VCS). My circle of friends expanded to a couple of other kids, mostly those who had moved into the area and were assigned to me to "show them around" because I was obviously "reliable". This was great because not only were they great friends as well, but it wouldn't be long before all of us, friends old and new, would be engaging in the epic roleplaying adventures that stretched before us.

This new gaming group were mostly people I didn't normally associate with - they were in a different "house" (yes, we had houses, just like Harry Potter). Suddenly my circle of friends had grown from three to eight (sometimes more), but we gamed, and we gamed A LOT. Four to five times a week, evenings and weekends. We were "The Eight", friends I've known and kept for over thirty years. Friends I'll hopefully introduce to you over the coming weeks.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Roll Your Own Life (1) - Introduction

Things have been a little crazy over the last couple of months. My mother has been in hospital for the best part of two months, and I've been trekking up-country to visit at every opportunity I've had.

Spending time at my old house brings back a lot of memories, and this is just part of the reason for this series of blog posts.

The second reason started with an innocent photo. It was Origins 2012 just a couple of weeks ago, and Dom (my publisher at Cubicle 7) went to represent the Cubicle 7, especially as they were up for a number of awards including two nominations for RPG of the Year, and a nomination (and a win!) for Best RPG Supplement. Dom posted on the Cubicle 7 Facebook page a little photo of him with Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day, who were taking in the sites at the convention. I'd been fans of both of them for ages, Felicia Day inspiring the whole webseries thing I was involved in for a while, and Wil Wheaton has become an icon of all things good and gamey (you really should check out his amazing webseries TableTop on the Geek and Sundry Youtube channel if you haven't already).

Seeing that photo reminded me of something I'd been meaning to do for long time - to read Wil Wheaton's autobiography (which is the best way to describe it) "Just a Geek". I'm about half way through, breezing through in a matter of hours, and it's inspired me to reflect on things myself a little as well.

Finally, the last reason for starting to write these little blog-posts is my amazing wife. She had a theory about how the friends you have through roleplaying gaming share a camaraderie that could be equated to being in a war. Your friends and yourself have been through epic battles, intense situations and some moments of levity that will remain with you. I meet up with the friends I had at school and the conversations can often become filled with tales of our games, what happened, and what we did wrong almost as if we were really there and experienced the adventures ourselves.

So while I've been trying to work on WILD (and I think the system is completely fathomed now, and the back-story is coming together nicely - and is so epic it could lead to some form of fiction...), trying to concentrate on things like that can be hard. But all this reflection and nostalgia has inspired me to chronicle my life, seen through the eyes of a gamer.

Gaming has been a big part of my life. It formed my circle of friends at school, friends I've known and kept in touch with for over thirty years. It got me my first job (normal job that is, working for the County Council), it's sort of how I met my wife, and gaming was a hobby that became a dream job writing them.

I'm calling these posts "Roll Your Own Life" - it comes from playing AD&D a lot as a kid/teen, and our DMs (whether this was Pete, Milo or Bragi - names that will make sense in future posts*) had a tendency of shouting "Roll Your Own Death" and throwing a D20 at us when it was Saving Throw time. Just seemed to make sense to call these posts "Roll Your Own Life" - almost like those choose your own adventure books...

[*I've since been informed that "Roll Your Own Death" came from Bragi... Pete had the tendency of throwing a very large eraser at us when our hitpoints were running out, meaning it was nearing time to roll a new character!]