Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Roll Your Own Life (4) - Zebulon's Guide to Gamemastering

Despite the merging of several gaming groups, the prospect of playing in three to five games a week wasn't enough for me. I've been told on a few occasions that I'm an over-controlling, domineering, bossy git... I dunno, maybe they're right. But when I was a teenager, I wanted to be in control. I wanted to Gamemaster.

It was a bit of a shock to me to discover that there were other games out there. When I started gaming there really was just the big three out there - Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (because Basic was just for kids), Traveller and Runequest. There was a bit of a rule the groups had which made perfect sense - if you were a player in AD&D you didn't bring a Monster Manual or Dungeon Master's Guide with you to the game. It stopped all that nasty meta-gaming where the DM announced something like:

"You open the door and find that you're in the main Orc guardroom. Three Orcs turn to see you and stand."

First thing that would happen is the players would open their Monster Manuals and look up their HP and it'd become a boring wargame. Restricting the player's book access made the game much more exciting, and gave the DM more control. We could, however, each have our own Player's Handbook. (Later this would expand to include the various expansions such as Unearthed Arcana, and bizarre books that seldom saw use such as the Dungeoneer's and Wilderness Survival Guide.)

Where I grew up, there was nowhere to buy these game books. It was almost like a cult that required some secret knowledge to join, and the town had no way of getting hold of these books. All of the gamers in the town had requested copies of these books at the local library, and they did their best to acquire them - postcards would come through the door six months later to say that they'd managed to get a single copy of the DMG that would be fought over by a dozen or so of us.

The nearest place to buy the game books (again, the secret society initiation trials continued) was in the nearest big city. Hull.

Even that was a task of legend. 

A ninety minute bus journey into the city used up a fair amount of pocket money, and used up a fair amount of your Saturday. Precious gaming time! The bus had a nasty habit of taking the most scenic route possible as well, starting at our town and working out in random directions, sometimes going in the complete opposite way to get to Hull. My father always said that the roads were built by council workers who always had to have their backs to the wind, which explained why it was one of the bounciest, twisting, life-threatening journeys you could take.

Once in Hull, the only place to get games was a place called the Kingston Gallery. From the front it was an unassuming picture framers and gallery. I remember the first time going there with Cooper, my ever trusty companion throughout 90% of my schoolyears. We looked at the place, disbelieving the stories of game books that lurked within. But, in true Douglas Adams bureaucratic way, the real information you needed was up a narrow staircase that looked like you were venturing into the framer's bedroom, behind a locked door, and having to be escorted by the one member of staff keeping an eye on the framing business. Instead of a bedroom there was an open room with a counter, and a wall filled with rulebooks. Spinners held the smaller titles, like the many Traveller "little black books" and minis on blister-packs. It was like Nirvana. This was my place of worship. A dealer for my gaming addiction. Books, and books, and books and books of it!

It was here that I discovered there was more to gaming than AD&D, Traveller and Runequest. It was here that Cooper and I discovered that TSR had a number of other games out. It was here that I discovered Star Frontiers.

Star Frontiers was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. Just the cover of it... wow. I mean look at it. Traveller was a plain black cover, this had a crashed spaceship, a cool guy with shades and an awesome gun, a hot girl, and what was that winged monkey thing? I had to buy this!! I could play science fiction and I could GM. Everything was in it, dice, counters, maps, two books, and...  a wax crayon! Amazing.

It had everything I could want to play cool sci-fi. I could run Star Wars...  it would be cooler than Star Wars, it had Sathars that could be shot in their millions, strange rubber dudes, and big bugs. Only thing you couldn't do with it?

Leave the planet...

That would require another quest into Hull for Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks

 (Although Cooper now has my Star Frontiers collection, I still have those dice. My first D10s...  It wouldn't be until I reconvened with the other gamers that I would discover what the wax crayon was for...)


Anonymous said...

I forget about the wax crayons! I got one in my Basic and Expert D&D books, Star Frontiers (in parallel to you I seem to remember, or John got it...) and Night Hawks (even cooler but worse to play than the core rules). It wasn't until about 3-4 years after I learnt from Pete what the crayons were for. Doh!

Caroline said...

as soon as i read the bit about the crayon to hubby he said he remembers coloring his dice. and yup he still has his first dice (and most of his original books)

John said...

As well as Kingston Galleries, a lot of my stuff, and especially the white metal figures, came from QT Models in Bridlington - they were more a tabletop wargame sort of place, but had a small RPG section - where my first D&D Basic Set came from! It was owned by a huge Hagrid lookalike, who seemed friendly and knew his stuff.

My Dad would occasionally get things from there - the most memorable being a starship combat game with loads of glossy black A3 sheets covered in hexagons, which joined together as a playing board the size of a small family home. Also included some pre-cut push-out starships, some dice and some near-incomprehensible rules, all housed in a large transparent ziplock plastic bag. I think we played it a couple of times, but the Star Trek III game was a lot easier!

Anyway, QT Models... went to Brid one Saturday, and it was gone - windows bare, no stock inside, no sign explaining what had happened. A few months later Hagrid opened another shop a few streets away, selling mainly more traditional model kits, but that didn't last long either...