Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Roll Your Own Life (12) - The Long Dark Teatime of Gaming

Strangely, there was a time when I didn't play RPGs. I guess it happens to us all, we "put away childish things" and I went back into education. Ironically I guess. Back to school I went, but my schooltime hobbies didn't come with me. I call these the Dark Times.

Me at work in the Archaeology Unit, 1989
At school I do remember being told specifically that I wasn't smart enough to go on to college or university, and the best I could hope for would be to leave after the sixth form and find a menial job somewhere. So I did. I left school, became a doley, wrote adventures for West End Games in a desperate attempt to get into the games industry, and then ended up working for the County Council in nature conservation as a cartographer. 

The program closed down and I was transferred to the Council's archaeology unit, where I spent most of my time drawing the bits of pot or bone that had been recovered from various digs, and on occasion going to the dig sites and drawing the finds on location. Not being much of an outdoor person, this wasn't ideal, but the rest of the team in the Archaeology Unit were awesome. The Unit was run by Ian who'd published his own comics as a small press publisher, so we were bound to get along. I also met Gareth, one of the most talented illustrators I've ever come across, and became the best of friends. Seriously, check out his site - the artwork is amazing.

Anyway, the project insisted that we all went to college one day a week to get more qualifications, so we ended up doing Art "A" Levels, which pleased my mum immensely as I'd dropped out of Art at school.

The A Level progressed and encouraged us to do a BTEC in Graphic Design, and soon life was dominated with college, commuting, and the desperate and angst socialising that went along with it. My mind was on drawing comics, and trying to get someone from the opposite sex to even acknowledge my existence for more than a second.

This isn't talking about games much is it? Sorry. Don't worry, I'll get back to that in a second. As I said, these were dark times on the game front, and my focus was on drawing comics, the college work, and the social life that went along with it. I got so into the college work though, one course wasn't enough. While I was doing BTEC Design during the day, I was on a Fine Art Foundation in the evening, and the second year I added an "A" Level Film Studies evening class to boot. I was a learning machine.

The BTEC really forced us into applying for a further qualification - something I'd not really considered. I had no intention of moving out from home, in my mind I was still 14 and most of the time I still acted like it. But the BTEC staff insisted, so I applied for a number of Graphic Design degrees, aiming initially to stay within reach of home. However, fate would dictate otherwise, and soon I'd been accepted on the degree course at the highly regarded Norwich School of Art and Design. I had to move out, leave my little home town, and branch out on my own.

Luckily, I didn't have to do it alone. Gareth managed to get on the same course, so we moved down together, shared a house with a US Air Force veteran who'd rented out a couple of rooms in his house to students, and set out making new friends in a new town.

Some of these new friends were gamers - I hadn't really partaken in RPGing for a very long time, my mind had been elsewhere, but the invite was given to try a new RPG called "Vampire: The Masquerade" and I happily went along.

Vampire:The Masquerade -
You have a lot to answer for...
It was like that first cup of tea when you come home after a holiday. It was fresh, but felt like home. Gaming was back in my life, and I wasn't going to let go. That week I went to the local game shop and bought about fifteen of the Vampire books (corebook, clanbooks, player's and storyteller's books, the lot) and more D10's than I could carry. I blew most of my student grant (yes, remember those days? Grants? I think I was one of the final year's worth of students to actually get a grant before the student loans came into force) on gaming supplies.

The World of Darkness was my home now, and I was going to bring everyone into it. I started running a game that would incorporate some of the gamers from my home town, and the gamers from Norwich, in one massive setting. The events of the game in Norwich would effect the other and vice-versa. It was huge, and I was revelling in my slightly sociopathic urges to control everything around me.

I branched out, running Werewolf: The Apocalypse for another group from people I'd met in the local comic shop, and then moved onto Mage: The Ascension (we'll come back to that later), but one advert in the back of the rulebooks intrigued me - The Camarilla. What was that all about? (That's definitely one for a future blog post).

The massive game kinda collapsed - the demands of running games concurrently with nearly twenty players in two or three different groups, mixed with the strained social life of college and the dramatic changes that were taking place in my social circles meant that I had to give up on the bigger scheme of things, and concentrate on a smaller group.

However, in the middle of all this, I did meet some particularly good friends, and even met my wife, all through World of Darkness. Scaling back from the bigger game, I started concentrating on Mage: The Ascension, with a small group consisting of me (as Storyteller), Debs (my future wifey), and three guys we'd met through the comic shop - Stoo, Edge and Tetch. 

KULT - still one of my fave games ever
These Mage games have to be some of the most amazing gaming experiences I've had as a GM. The characters were awesome, and would become the stuff of legend. When I turned my back on Mage, and found a new game system (Kult) the characters were adapted and their epic stories continued - and became even more epic (if that was even possible). They time travelled, one gave birth to another character in the past to try to restore a wrong that had been done, one had been killed and haunted the group as a helpful spirit...  I hardly had to write anything (and if I did, the players would ignore any plotline and do their own thing). It was storytelling with characters that the players knew well, and the stories created themselves. There was a magic there that I've not encountered again in GMing... and I doubt I will again. 

These characters went on again when I changed system to CJ Carella's WitchCraft, and their tales have been adapted and became some of the inspiration behind some of Debs' fiction writing (especially her dark fantasy novel "Black Clothes, Blue Fire"). The change to Unisystem would lead to other opportunities but that's getting ahead of the game (so to speak). Next time, we'll rewind to cover Debs and my time in the Camarilla, and the important friendships that were formed there...

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