Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Roll Your Own Life (17) - Just Keep Gaming, Just Keep Gaming...

A little out of sequence again, but I really wanted to talk about marathon gaming. Not gaming involving 1980’s Snickers, or the precursor to Halo. I mean gaming for incredibly long sessions.

Our little gaming group in our youth used to game a lot. I mean, at least three or four times a week. Sundays were the big day for gaming - we’d start in the afternoon, break for the traditional Sunday roast at our own homes, then reconvene for a follow up session in the evening (finishing in good time ready for school the following day). During the school holidays, we’d do similar sessions only almost every day of the week. Day and evening would be either a long and involved game, or a mix and match of two different games, split by the much needed food break.

So involved we were, we decided to push the boundaries of gaming endurance, and we thought we’d see just how far we could take it. But, of course, we’d do it for a good cause. We’d marathon roleplay for charity.

This must have been in the mid 80’s (I’m guessing 1986 at the latest). I have a vague recollection of it being at the end of the summer term at school, so we’d have some time to recover during the holidays. It was before the internet, and before we knew about how to donate to charities outside of our local area, but one of “The Eight” (Mole)’s parents was active with the local church and we came to an arrangement with them.

Strange, considering this was probably right in the middle of the “roleplayers are all satanists” nonsense from the time. However, we decided that we’d raise money to help repair the church roof, and the church kindly let us use one of the church halls, normally used for jumble sales or Sunday School, to play the games for the extended period.

We weren’t entirely sure how long we’d need to play to warrant it being worthwhile, so we looked at the Guinness Book of Records. We couldn’t find anything in there about the world record for roleplaying. Not surprising really. I don’t think anyone had really sat down to set the record initially anyway. We looked at the official marathon rules, how you had five minutes break per hour, and we saw that there were some records for board games or something that seemed to be around 48-72 hours. 

Rubbish! We thought. We could do better than that. We already gamed more than that in a week (when we weren’t at school) so we set ourselves the ridiculous target of ninety hours. Yes. 90. Non stop. Marathon roleplaying. We figured we’d not really trained for this, but we thought if we saved up the five minutes per hour into worthwhile chunks, we could get an hour’s worth of sleep here and there.

We couldn’t imagine playing the same game for 90 hours, so we each prepared a scenario, and decided we’d take it in turns gamemastering, and we’d do lots of different games – so we didn’t go completely mad. I remember we played two or three different sessions of D&D, a couple of Star Frontiers, maybe a Call of Cthulhu, and I have this vague recollection of Gamma World being in there somewhere… I may be wrong, I may be thinking of Traveller or Space Opera or something. 

Sponsor forms were made, we got our families and the few friends we had that weren’t already gaming in the marathon to sponsor us, and prepared for the madness to come. Starting at Noon on the Sunday, non-stop gaming through to Noon on the Thursday. How hard could it be?

The actual marathon itself is a bit of a blur really for me – it was many, MANY years ago. I have a number of recollections of it though.

I have a distinct memory of pain. Something we’d not really considered was the physical strain of sitting gaming for such a long period of time. Our legs started to cramp up, and we found that we’d have to take turns walking around the table (or around the room) for a bit until the blood started flowing again.

We also discovered that sleep deprivation brings about some incredibly crazy hallucinations. Sitting up for that length of time in a strange place (the church hall) lead to some weird sights. What started as strange movements glimpsed out of the corner of the eye had evolved by the end of the marathon to almost complete belief that the place was haunted, and we were being watched constantly throughout the game.

The press came and interviewed us in the middle of it all, and seemed to be moderately confused by what we were doing. I guess that’s nothing new really when it comes to the regular press and strange hobbies like roleplaying – though I do remember him mentioning the reputation Dungeons & Dragons had with devil worship and us being in a church hall, raising money for the church roof. He’d obviously done a little research, just not very much, or anything remotely positive.

Drunks, staggering home from the pub in the early hours visited us a few times during the night. Being a little, quiet seaside town, these were your typical old guys in flat caps, wandering in because they’d seen the light on. “What you doin’ in here then?” they’d slur. We tried to explain, but they’d just stagger about and we’d look worried. After the first night’s worth of visitors, we decided to lock the church hall doors over night for the rest of the game.

By the second or third day, the games had really degenerated. I have no idea what we’d accomplished in the games, even though they were part of our on-going campaigns. I remember they had mostly dissolved down to the old classic “Open the door, kill the monster, take the treasure.” If it was more complicated than that, we’d get confused. All we seemed to be capable of after the first 48 hours was rolling dice, working out damage, and reducing hit-points. God help us if we came across a trap, or an encounter with a local villager. If we kept it to a basic dungeon crawl, we could focus, and actually enjoy the game rather than becoming confused and losing interest. 

We had one of Milo’s camp beds set up in the corner of the room where we could try to recover and get a little sleep (if we’d accumulated enough time). And we managed to get through a vast amount of junk food and take away (delivered to us by our ever vigilant families). By day four, we were so tired we just kept going until we’d accumulated enough “rest” time that we could all finish early and go home to sleep. We packed up, I called my dad from the local phone box and he came to drive me home. I remember it was just after breakfast on the Thursday morning that I collapsed into my bed, and didn’t wake again until the Friday morning. Just in time to get the local town newspaper to see a photo of our grinning (and tired) faces from the interview so many hours before.

Clipping from the town paper. Full names have been removed to protect
the innocent. (L-R: Mole, Pete (front), Milo, Alex, Bragi, Me and Crud (front))
Excuse the bad nicknames!

We’d managed it. We may have broken official Guinness rules a few times, and there was no impartial adjudicator to keep watch on us, but we’d done it. We’d gamed technically for 90 hours continually, and raised money for a charity. In our own eyes we were the Gods of the gaming world. Even if our gaming world was only the size of East Yorkshire.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Six of Eight

...and half a dozen of the other.

It had been a while since I'd returned up to my home town. The last time was a brief day there and back to bear witness to my mum's ashes being interred at their final resting place, but I thought I'd head back, see my sisters and catch up with some of my old gaming friends.

After an excellent time catching up with my sisters, reminiscing about old times, I headed through to one of the larger towns to meet with six of The Eight, my old roleplaying group.

While chatting to my sisters, one of them asked what the plans were for the evening. One even asked if we'd be playing Dungeons and Dragons. I guess most people would be offended and say "Nooo, not any more!", but in my case I just cursed - if we'd only thought about it, given them more warning, we COULD have been playing D&D for the evening. Just like old times... How stupid of me for not suggesting it.

However, the original plan was going to be get some pop in, and biscuits, and have a good catch up and talk about how life was treating us. At least, that was the original plan.

The plan quickly changed, and soon we were heading to the pub. A pub I'd not been in for over twenty years. One with a particularly apt name considering our D&D roots - The Green Dragon.

Us in the Green Dragon (click to embiggen!)
(L-R: Bragi, JR, Milo, Coop, Fordy, me)

So here we are, in The Green Dragon, Bragi, JR, Milo, Coop, Fordy, and myself (excuse using the nicknames, they're designed to protect the innocent). Many beers were quaffed, food was devoured, and I tried to keep up with their drinking matching them with pints of cola (a really bad idea in most cases).

As the evening progressed, as always, gaming came up in conversation again. 

Fordy pointed out (much as my lovely wife and I had discussed last year) that gaming seems to produce stronger bonds of friendship than any other we'd had. He agreed that it was almost like the comrade-re that is found on the battlefield, when soldiers bond in times of war. It is just that our times of war were marching through dungeons and battling orcs and goblins rather than any real threat.

We chatted about games, and again, Fordy pointed out something we'd not really considered about our old gaming. While we played a lot of roleplaying games as kids, we never really roleplayed. At least, not until later in life. Our characters were just glorified versions of ourselves, a way to escape reality and to do something more interesting with our lives, rather than just go to school, or look for work. These versions of us did cool things, like battling monsters, or fighting off alien invaders. They didn't really stretch our abilities to try to be someone else entirely. It wasn't until we'd matured a bit, and usually in later games apart from The Eight that we sampled the scope of roleplaying games, and how we didn't have to just be us. How we could be anything else. Do something different. Play at being someone new.

Fordy suggested that the only one of us who actually tried to be anything different was Mole. Mole's characters were slightly frustrating as they were usually sneaky, backstabbing, anti-heroes who may just as well sell the whole group out or kill them in their sleep than blindly following the plot of the adventure. While at the time we may have dismissed it as "Oh, it's just Mole trying to kill me again," he was the one who wanted to try something different. Mole's not a sneaky person. He certainly didn't want to kill us in our sleep. But he stretched the scope of the game, and we were too blind to see it at the time.

While you may be on the other side of the planet, Mole, hats off to you (if I was wearing a hat, at least) for trying to show us what this roleplaying stuff was all about.

More beer was consumed, the evil looking concoction called a Jaeger-bomb was revealed, and I kept drinking my colas. The conversation turned to "What was your best gaming experience, as a GM and as a player?"

As the sober one, I sat and listened. It was fascinating to hear these tales of the old games, and what made them so special. I just should have videoed the whole thing, it would have made a great (if slightly drunken) vid-blog. Conversation turned to something else (probably motorbikes or cars or something) before I had answered. So, a little later than everyone else, here's my answer. 

My best gaming experience as a player:

Probably Marines Odyssey. Odyssey was a home created system that Pete designed, which felt a bit like a faster version of BRP (RuneQuest, Call of Cthulhu). Pete ran many games of different genres using that system, but for me, the Colonial Marines game we played, based upon the setting from Alien/Aliens was possibly the best. I wrote a blog post about it a little while back. 

Using the same system, and set in the same universe, we did another SF game with a bunch of pre-gen characters that Pete provided. It felt a bit like a murder mystery in space, with a crashed ship, a hole in the ground, and someone picking off the characters one by one. In my head it looks like LV421 meets Pitch Black (during the eclipses) and it was gripping. Mostly because about half way through the game, Pete started handing me notes under the table. The thing that was taking out the characters was me. My character was the villain, and I'd started writing notes discretely back, reveling in this new-found villaindom to think up new and interesting ways to kill off the rest of the group and to make it look like an accident. This was possibly the closest I came to really "roleplaying" with the old group, and it opened my eyes to the potential of the games that could be run, when I was just making crap up as I went along in my GM'd games. 

My best gaming experience as a GameMaster:

That would have to be Mage. Or at least the Mage: The Ascension game I was running that became Kult. While I don't think I'd progressed much as a GM (I was still making huge chunks up as I went along), I think it was purely down to the players I had at the time. Stoo, Edge, Tetch and Debs made a great team who created real characters who were such individuals, so independently minded, that I hardly had to do anything. They'd start the game, they knew what their characters would want to be doing, and they'd go and do it. It was almost freeform storytelling. Debs' character was an evil little self-centred Goth, while Edge's hippy chick character died early on but continued on as a ghost. It was thrilling, exciting, and every session was a surprise. I'd warn them at the beginning of each session "I don't really have anything prepared" but by the end we were hanging on each other's every word, waiting so see what madness and horrors would come next. Awesome stuff.

Anyway, that was my brief journey back home. 

Maybe next time I'm back I'll try to get a game going.

Funnily enough, tonight I was supposed to be at a game - my first in nearly two years - but it has had to be delayed until next week. It'll be an odd experience getting back into the swing of it all again, maybe just what my game-writing needs.

Until next time, stay multiclassy!!