Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Roll Your Own Life (10) - Like My Father Before Me

After a tense couple of weeks, my wife has returned and I am once again able to write. There was something about her being the other side of the planet that meant that I just couldn't concentrate. I don't know whether it was the lack of sleep from sitting up to video-Skype with her, or just that fidgety restlessness you get when something isn't right with the world, but in the two weeks she was away, I hardly wrote anything.

I chatted with friends about WILD though, and some absolutely genius ideas came up. There are times when I'm describing what I have in mind for the game, and one of them replies with a simple "why don't you do this?" And I'm left wondering why I didn't think of that genius solution before? Maybe I'm just too close to it sometimes. I needed that break to "catch the big fish" as Lynch would say.

Before I continue with my bizarre history of the world as seen through my life in gaming, I just wanted to point people in the direction of a particularly wacky podcast called Bros and Cons, hosted by Bret and Tim (who, once again, I met through gaming). I recently appeared on Episode 5 - The Poo Poo Wizard episode, and it was a blast. Have a listen, the language is a little colourful, and there are in-depth discussions ranging from genetically grown organs, the legalisation of prostitute assassins, to catching Pokemon. Enjoy.


Back to the tales of yore!

The West End Games STAR WARS RPG
After a brief stint of trying to write Price of Freedom adventures, I discovered an advert for the forthcoming Star Wars RPG in a magazine and I was immediately sold.

Star Wars was a life defining moment for me. I may get a little sad for a bit, but bear with me. The local cinema was 15 miles away from my home town, and Hull made a big deal about the release of the first real blockbuster. This movie was big, the reception in the States proved it, so Hull reopened one of its old cinemas, The Dorchester, especially for one film, and one film only. Star Wars was the only film shown in the big one screen cinema, and it showed it for about six months. The demand was so high that I remember my dad bringing home the tickets for the film and the earliest we could go and see it was at least two months away.

I have even earlier memories of Star Wars. I remember the page in British comic 2000AD that had some stills from it, saying "This film is going to be big, you should like it." Hell, if 2000AD told you something was going to be good, in the late 70's you darn well listened.

After that (and before seeing the film), I remember my dad had to go away for conferences/training maybe once or twice a year. He went away on one of these trips and when he returned he had a couple of presents for me - two Star Wars figures - Chewbacca and R2-D2. I had no idea who or what they were, but I remembered the 2000AD feature and those were the coolest toys I'd ever had.

When the fateful day of the cinema trip arrived, it was early 1978. I'd seen a couple of trailers on TV, but knew only parts of the story. There was a Marvel comics adaptation (which I still have) that was in two parts, but published HUGE, almost A3, but I'd only read the first half. But there we were, on our way to Hull in the car, with my mum and dad, about to go and see Star Wars.

We'd had a couple of cinema trips before. I remember vaguely the trip to see Michael York in The Three Musketeers, but I have a better memory of going to see The Man with the Golden Gun, and The Spy Who Loved Me (which obviously influenced my love of James Bond movies from an early age), but Star Wars would change my life.

We sat quite near the back on the ground floor as it was near the door and easier to get my mum's wheelchair into the cinema, but it meant that the balcony seating overhung above us, cutting a fraction of the top of the screen off from view. Not much, but enough to mean that when the rebel blockade runner and the star destroyer first appeared on screen in those opening seconds, my mum was convinced they'd flown out from the balcony.

It was like nothing I'd ever seen. I was glued to the screen. It was the most amazing thing in the world. I'd seen movies before, witnessed the way the stories worked, but when they escaped the Death Star I thought the film would end... but no, there was the whole attack on the Death Star which was the most jaw-dropping spectacle my young eyes had ever seen. I could feel Star Wars seeping into my very existence, and from that day there was nothing like it.

I saved up for the toys, my dad dressed up as Darth Vader at the town carnival (with me as Luke, and my friend Jinx as Han Solo). Even my mum loved the movie - sad to think that her last birthday this year, she asked me to get her the original trilogy of Star Wars on DVD (even though they're no longer available) because they didn't have a VHS player in the home where they were trying to nurse her back to health. She never did get to see it again.

Anyway, the Star Wars RPG was a work of genius in my eyes. It took the basic system of Ghostbusters which I already loved, and made it Star Wars-y. It was epic, you could do heroic and cinematic things, you could duel with lightsabers and use the Force. It was fantastic.

My GM's eye view of running Star Wars, with
Pete peering over the screen (1989)
The presentation was a revelation as well, with its fake adverts for the Imperial Navy and tourist guide to the planets. There was a humour there, and it brought Star Wars to life for me again, just in the cold times when there was no Star Wars to light the way.

I GM'd Star Wars for a while. A group of rebels lead by Deeko Smiggins, scoundrel and pilot of the Ballistic Wombat, who would roll 30D6 to out-fly those stupid TIE Fighter pilots. And for a while, it was great.

But my gaming group was mostly away at University. The few of The Eight left behind were busy having real lives, and I just kinda festered. My only real social life besides the Eight when they returned was hanging around with the people I knew from the Council job (and then the Archaeology Unit when I was transferred over to them).

There were a few gaming highlights (mostly Pete's creation called "Odyssey" which we played as a RuneQuest-y type thing, a superhero game and in its finest incarnation, recreating the worlds of James Cameron's Aliens and beyond), but things started to go quiet on the gaming (and the writing) front.

Looking back, now, I still have very fond memories of Star Wars, and I still have the RPG books (and I've bought the more recent incarnations, and eagerly await looking at the new Fantasy Flight Star Wars game), but Star Wars itself has become tarnished by endless recuts, remasters, re-edits, and a series of prequels that try to make you sympathetic to the stormtroopers and reduces Darth Vader to a sulky teen who didn't get his own way. To me, it'll never be as cool as it was that first time, sitting in the cinema with my parents, where all three of us were transported for the first time to a galaxy far, far away.


Anonymous said...

I still have Deeko Smiggins character sheet and the floor plans of the Ballistic Wombat, complete with alcohol still in the crew area and beer barrels in the hold. Some cracking pix and cartoons with it too.

Yes, Star Wars was a fab game, run very much for fun by yourself, although the starship fighting rules were pants.

I saw Star Wars in the Dorchester too, with my bro. I had a choc-ice and was so absorbed by the film I forgot I had it in my hand. I was wearing it by the end of the film.


Anonymous said...

I was Smiggins co-pilot, Grufflewog the Wookie, who, as is the way of these things, dressed like Biffa Bacon from Viz, and collected stormtroopers' helmets, a bit like Obelix and the Romans in the Asterix books.

Yup, Star Wars at the Dorchester for me too - we went on the second night when the film *didn't* break down. We had our tickets a couple of months in advance too - My cousin was born in December '77, and I remember sitting in the Avenue hospital in Brid, reading a big glossy souvenir magazine and thinking about going to see it in a matter of weeks.

Real sense of event about it, and it was also the last time my Dad ever went to the cinema! Tried to get him to go to some of the Star Trek films in the 1980s and 90s, but he was having none of it!