Inspired by Rob Donaghue’s gaming DNA post, I decided to share my gaming history first with the early 80’s (with the 1st edition of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons) and then with the bipolar crunchy/fluffy 90’s with GURPS.
Now let’s start the decade where one polyhedral was chosen to rule them all.
A New Era…
Shortly after my 28th birthday party, I sat in my living room with the D&D 3rd Edition Player’s Handbook in my hands. After a decade away from Trolls, Drow, Mindflayers and other Gygaxian-branded fantasy tropes, I felt the strong pull to return to the world of D&D. However, remembering my attempt at re-reading the 2e Player’s Handbook back in 1998, I expected the book to be really bad…
…Instead I discovered one of the best written, most enticing role playing game book I had read in ages (surpassing my then favorites BESM and Gurps Wizard). It wasn’t long before I purchased all core books. My pleasure at reading the D&D 3.0 books only expanded from there and to this day, Monte Cook’s Dungeon Master Guide remains one of the RPG books I enjoyed reading the most (in fact, all but the 2e DMGs have a permanent space in my small gaming shelf).
D&D 3e fixed pretty much all the things that drove me away 10 years before. Gone were the subsystems, disparate XP charts and most of the annoyances I felt with AD&D 1e.
I was back baby!
I rapidly set out to create my first 3.0 campaign with my players of the time: Math, Yan, Nick (Babounne), JeeEff and Stef. Franky joined us early on while playing The Sunless Citadel. The campaign was a mix of homebrewed and published adventures that culminated in playing the first chapter of the adaptation of Gary Gygax’s Against the Giants where the players led 300 orcs to attack a host of giants and ogres.
I even made paper tokens for every damn participants in that fight! It.was.Epic!
The End of the Honeymoon
The game eventually crashed at around the 10th level when I realized that I had lost control of the power of magic items in the campaign, had no strong plot arcs and handed the campaign over to Nicolas who shocked us to the core by showing us what the system could do in the hands of a merciless (but, it pains me to admit, fair) DM.
Never again do I want to be hated by a whole city because of dopplegangers nor have to fight said shapeshifters in full darkness! Nicolas showed us the darker side of 3e and we didn’t like it at all.
At about the time that (my) Nico was born (early 2002), we started our longest ever campaign where we played through the entirety of Monte Cook’s Return to the Temple of the Elemental Evil. While we enjoyed it immensely, it forevermore burnt some of us on long dungeon crawls (You spend 10 levels of experience in 4 different dungeons).
That campaign also saw us transition from D&D 3.0 to 3.5 right in the last third of that super adventure, where an innocuous Horned Devil became the campaign’s de facto uber-bad guy by getting boosted beyond the player’s ability to deal with it. He ended up being a cool recurring villain.
Eric joined us during this campaign while Nick and Jee Eff moved out of town. Nicolas went to Sweden (you’re still there right? he he he) while Jee moved to Quebec City.
You are not as good as you think you are
Shortly after the birth of my daughter Rory in 2003, I realized that up until now, I had been depending solely on my natural skills and experience as a DM to drive the game along with my friends’ good faith and enthusiasm. I had no grand ideas about player motivations yet, much less the 5 stages of a RPG group, Tropes or even the Rule of Cool .
At that time, about 25% of sessions bombed and I often found myself thinking about quitting RPGs right after a given night where we ended up arguing too much or where the whole thing fell flat. After some of my now trademarked over-analysis, I realized that I had reached that point in my DMing career where I thought I had learned everything there was to learn about the craft.
Turns out that like black belts in Judo, I had just dirtied my belt enough to start learning the true teachings of the art. I started observing more and actively sought to improve my DMing. We worked out some form of social contract that made our lives easier and we had a great streak of awesome games.
In 2005 the Dungeon Master Guide II came out at exactly the right time and exploded into my brain, starting a chain reaction that eventually brought me here to this website today. To this day it remains one of the most influential GMing books I’ve read.
We played that second campaign until level 17 or so… where the game more or less collapsed due to overlong fights dominated by save or dies and inevitable intra-party pressures from such long campaigns with the same PCs.
After 2 full campaigns of vanilla D&D 3.X, we were looking for something new and exciting while staying within D&D’s sweet spot of lvl 5-12. In August 2006 we started an Iron Heroes campaign that lasted about 6 months and included some incredibly cool The Truman Show tropes that blew my players brains out.
Iron Heroes was this high action, low magic d20 variant written by a certain Mike Mearls. It was loads of fun! We played some awesome action-driven games such as a full dungeon crawl underwater, with silent PCs using sign language!
After that, with the publication of Monte Cook’s incredible Ptolus, I tried to merge Iron Heroes with new city setting, which failed miserably by painting myself in a corner with too many house rules to maintain a gaming world I could manage in my head.
We rebooted the campaign again and it finally managed to work after a false start, leading us one last time through D&D 3.5’s sweet spot and culminating in the destruction of my 20 year old homebrewed game world. During that time, Mike, the last member of our current group, joined us.
By then (summer of 2008), we were all ready to switch to 4e. The idiosyncrasies of 3.5 weren’t compensated by any sense of newness brought by alternative settings/rule set or accessory book anymore (including the awesome Book of Nine Swords). We were ready for some fundamental changes and 4e was here to take us to the next experience.
The Sands of Time
Another change was brought about as the 1st decade of the new millennium came to an end. The ought years saw most of us go from our mid-twenties to mid/late thirties (2 of us are over 40 now). Our relationship to the game changed progressively and so had our motivations. Real life (i.e. mortgages, kids and pot-bellies) caught up with many of us and we’re still adjusting… with predictable impact on game attendances and expectations.
Philosophical aside: I often say that the 30s is that period of your life where you absolutely have to deal with crap from your past before it crashes into today’s crap so that you can have a fair chance at a crap-free future.
The feeling that a new crossroads in our gaming is nearing looms strong in my mind.I don’t know if I’ll outright post about it, but it sure has started leaking on my Twitter account.
How about you? How has the d20 years affected your gaming and personal life. I know that the last 10 years have been a coming of age for many of the 1980 and 90’s geek kids. Tell us how your story went!