I was tired tonight (I had a rough seminar today) and I felt like playing a game. I then realized that writing brings me more joy and peace of mind than playing Torchlight, Half-Life 2: Episode 1 or Puzzle Pirate (yeah, I’m that casual and late in my games).
After having played for more than 25 years, I feel cycles come and go in my relationship with the role playing games I currently play. I cycle through games, styles and formulas in some sort of mystic, some would say bipolar, sine-wave. My players, being good sports, usually followed suit.
As I feel another such cycle ending in the near future, I started thinking back… 28 years ago.
Its starts with paper sheets, a pencil and a die…
I was 9, I was spending a lazy Saturday at my friend Mathieu’s place (no, not current Math). Mathieu was this highly artistic and imaginative soul that always created new stuff. We were a great team, creating awesome stories on tape and playing cool adventure games in his backyard. On that summer weekend, he had just told me about this game his cousin had shown him where you made a character, gave him weapons and explored caverns to kill monsters and get treasure.
Math: “I got killed a lot”
Phil: “Can we play?”
Math (always inventing stuff on the fly): “He had this blue box with weird blue dice, but we can invent our own rules!”
So we created a game where we put a name on a sheet of paper and added cool equipment like ‘swords’ and ‘crossbows”. Math would take another sheet and draw the cavern as I explored it and invent weird people, situations and characters for me to interact with.
I eventually had to fight a paper-thin demon that took up the whole width and height of a corridor. So we decided that combat would go as such:
Roll a d6 and consult this mental table:
- Character dies
- Character is gravely wounded
- Character is slightly wounded
- Monster is slightly wounded
- Monster is gravely wounded
- Monster dies
I’m fuzzy as to how many ‘slightly’ it took to die, but I don’t recall it being an issue…
Needless to say, I became obsessed with that game within minutes. I played it with Math time and time again. We switched positions many time. Math’s adventures were varied, occurring in caverns, trains and boats. I was a more classical game master, with dungeons, traps and magic rings that regenerated lost limbs.
I started drawing dungeons, lots of them, and filling them with traps, monsters, traps, treasures, traps, some friendly NPCs… and traps.
I showed the game to my father and mother, they didn’t seem to be that impressed. I DO recall my sports jock of a father trying REALLY hard to play along and my mother being vaguely disturbed with the implied violence of the game (and dealing with “concerned” mothers calling home over the next few years). She did type my first dungeon as an assignment for her typing class and ‘got’ that the game was the tool that was making me bloom socially.
Thanks for being so cool mom!
I eventually showed the game to my 13 year old neighbor Marc (who’s claim to fame was to be the only kid on the street to own an Intellivision!) and we played, and played and played. A few weeks later, he came to my place with an English, hardcover book. The one with the kickass wizard up there (I still find it awesome).
Marc: This guy at school invited me to play this game with them. It’s a bit like yours. He lent me this book. Look, its says ‘Advanced’ on it.
Phil: Let’s play it now!
In 1983-84, the 1e Players Handbook was not available in French and we only had one somewhat bilingual friend named Eric nearby. We invited him to play with us and we tried to piece together what the game was about, through the heavy handed prose and sheer madness that was trying to decipher Gary’s writing while being so young and one language removed.
Not-so nostalgic aside: Say what you want of AD&D 1e, I think that many loved it so much because we had to unlock the game in our own way, adopting bits of rules, ignoring most of it and making up the rest so we could get to the full fantasy RPG experience it offered. It is the one thing I miss most about it. 1e was MY game because I had no choice to hack it otherwise I’d never would have been able to play it.
We ended up playing proto-AD&D with classes, equipment and the spells (The Illusionist was the BEST, I mean Phanschmargosomething Killer? I wanna play that!). Yet, we still played combat with the 1d6 . You hit on a 4-6 (dealing damage + Str Bonus) and the monsters hit you when you rolled a 1-3 on your attack dice, dealing damage by DM fiat.
Marc bought the Player’s Handbook and the Monster Manual II (showing us that monsters had stats, XPs and treasure). Eric bough a module (Against the Cult of the Reptile God) and we played until I got killed by assassins hiding in the village’s Inn.
We bought our polyhedral dice piecemeal, you know, those transluscent, uninked dice with the sprue marks on them? As we played, our combat rules slowly became more complex as we pieced the rules together. We switched the DM’s role around. Eric and Marc (better English readers) ran published adventures like the Saltmarsh series and Against the Giants. We never finished them because I usually got everyone killed within one or 2 sessions of the adventure.
I was already an investigator player back then, fancy that.
Chatty Phil becomes a DM
When it was my turn to DM, it was usually some horrible homebrewed pre-teen dungeon that often got my older geek friends into hissy fits
Marc: Phil, the Dungeon Master can’t be a NPC that gives quest, that’s only in that cartoon you watch!
Eric: A Poo elemental eh? So mature!
When I was 11, I broke my piggy bank (I was a paperboy) and bought a few things that changed my life:
- The 1e Dungeon Master Guide (I was the first to get it in our group, we’d been playing for 2 years)
- The Village of Hommlet module
- The World of Greyhawk boxed set
On my bus ride home, I dove in the DMG and had the first of many epiphanies…
Phil: Ohhhh! So you need to roll high on a d20 to hit according to this table here? Hey! Are those naked chicks?
The last bit we needed to make the game fully playable fell into place.
It took me about 4 years to develop the English reading skills to eventually go through the whole book. I never regretted it… except the grappling and pummeling rules.
Over the next few years, I ran Village of Hommlet at least 8 times. We played campaigns made out of threadbare stories, the Greyhawk hexmap and random encounters and loved it. We also played the 2nd Dragonlance module, where I had Tasslehoff Burrfoot (the Kender Thief) as a character and got nearly killed by Raistlin 3 times for stealing his Staff of the Magus.
I finally crashed the whole game when I went out to talk to Lord Verminard in one of those scenes where sane players are supposed to listen to uberstrong NPCs make a speech, not interrupt it.
Yeah, we all got killed. I think I’m starting to see a 25 year-long trend here…
I went through a few gaming groups from the early to mid 80’s. Right up to Junior High where I met the Math that still plays with us, forming the core of my current group. We played AD&D right up to the point that the 2nd edition came out.
But that’s a story for another time.
How about you? What were your early years? Are you still in them? Tell us your stories!