26 Years of Gaming Lessons

My wife’s birthday is coming up, which made me think of my birthday, which made me think of my age, and thus, the length of time I’ve been a gamer.

I’ve been a gamer for 26 years, and in that time:

  • I’ve lost an arm and a leg in the same fight;
  • witnessed the best ever one-shot with a thrown dagger;
  • seen the Statue of Liberty fall into the ocean;
  • watched my Lamborghini Transformer get blown to bits by a Glitter Boy;
  • and made the most awesome character… ever.

I don’t know how many more years I have in my RPG life, but I hope that when I’m done I can look back and appreciate it all. I’m going to take this moment to reflect on a few epiphanies I’ve had over the years…

Experience Matters

My very first experience with RPGs involved a very inexperienced DM. As our characters stood before a door, the DM stated, “You come up to a door. Do you go in?” We said, “Sure,” and were thus maimed because we walked into a pool of acid. Now, I’ve thought about trying acid, but not that way. What I get from this is that experience matters, both for the DM and the players.

The Rule of Cool

Back in the early days of AD&D, our group was fighting some enemies at a house. When the fight started, we knew that in the back of the house was a kennel full of war dogs. At some point, a PC saw an enemy run to the back of the house. Figuring that the enemy was going to let the dogs loose (and since we were losing the fight), he asked the DM if he could throw a dagger at the guy (even though they were on opposite sides of the house). The DM said sure, but  because he couldn’t actually see the enemy, he’d need to roll a natural 20.

Of course, the PC threw the dagger over the house and ,you guessed it, the player rolled that 20. After we picked ourselves up off of the floor, the player started figuring damage when the DM said, “No-no-no. You effing killed the guy.”

That, is the Rule of Cool.

There are Ways to Suppress One’s Fear of Flying

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a cool movie. Hey shut up! It had freakin Wayne Gretzky, on steroids! Anyway, if you have a fear of flying, a good way to suppress that fear is to play RPGs!

It was the 7th grade, I had a huge crush on Cara Bujica… and I didn’t really care for flying. However, most of our 7th grade class was flying from Reno, Nevada to Washington D.C. I’d flown before, and while I haven’t retained  an irrational fear of flying, I still don’t like it.

So, what better way to get your mind off of your fears than by playing an RPG? There we were, playing TMNT on a 747 jet, 30,000 feet in the air. Fear of flying? Not so much anymore.

Sometimes, Social Contracts ARE Needed

Nuff said.

It’s OK to Run Away

Sometimes, you just shouldn’t stay in the fight. I was playing “The Paralyzer” in Chaosium’s Super World when I (alone) was confronted by two acidicly-blooded aliens. After three short rounds of getting sprayed by acid (there’s that acid again), I lost both an arm and a leg. Lesson learned: I am not always the ultimo bad ass – sometimes it’s ok to run away.

(Editor’s Note: How the HELL did you run away with just one leg? That’s a story I want to read! /Chatty)

Rifts is too Hard to Run Correctly

T’was my first ever experience with Rifts: I made a Head Hunter, because it looked cool and I had a cool concept for him.

In the first round of the first encounter of the first session, my character died, simply because Rifts is Rifts. A couple of years later, I made a much more powerful rifts character who operated a Lamborghini Transformer. It was destroyed in the first round of its first fight by an evil Glitter Boy. My character died in the next round as the Glitter Boy kicked me across the river.

Lesson Learned: I will never play Rifts again, unless it is run by Kevin Siembieda.

I Can Never be as Cool as Wesley Crusher

Star Trek: The Next Generation was a cool show. Sure, the sets were all kinds of cheese, and the fight scenes were full of lame, but that show just drew me in. I’m sure Wil Wheaton is a cool guy, but not as cool as Wesley Crusher.

(Editor’s NoteI beg to differ, he actually reads the site. Hey Wil! /Chatty)

I liked the character of Wesley, and tried to emulate that character in a variety of ways in a variety of RPGs. You know what? My characters were never that cool, and they always fell flat. I could never pull off a Wesley Crusher – type character the way Wil can.

Lesson Learned: Be original with your PC, since you’ll never pull off a copycat as well as the original.

I’d Rather Not Sit Through a Lost Turn

Sure, penalties for your character from time-to-time make a combat encounter dynamic. I can dig it. I do dig it. But if my character gets Stunned one more time and I have to lose my turn, I’m gonna leave the game and turn on the boob tube – because watching Oobi is a hell of a lot more fun than sitting at the table doing nothing.

Kenny Rogers had it Right

I’ve been in bad groups like bad relationships. You know what I mean… You spend time with this group of gamers, hoping that you get to enjoy your hobby as well as their company, but you end the night upset and sometimes demoralized. Whether you simply don’t mesh with the group, or you have a “problem player,” you have to know when to do something about it. My time is valuable, and I want to enjoy my time with a supposed-to-be-fun hobby, so if I don’t fit in with this group, I’m out. If you cause problems in my game, you’re out. I’m done with the unfun.

Lesson Learned: You have to know when to fold’em.

If You’re Going to Make a Character, Make it a Good One

The best gaming I’ve ever done as a player happened when I put the most effort into my character. That’s where I get my enjoyment from, playing the role. I’m talking about when you figure out where your character comes from, what his goals are, his outlook on life, his quirks, the things he’s good at, the things he’s bad at, the line he won’t ever cross under any circumstances, and the thing that he believes in so much that he’ll cross any line to get there.

I’m talking about diving into the role of someone that isn’t you. When I put little effort into my character, I get little in return. That’s how it works for me. I want to enjoy my time at the table. That’s why I play the game. I get to step out of my shoes and into those of another, to go on adventures, missions, and treks across the galaxy. I get to be someone else, instead of that dude who babysits a bunch of inmates in a jail, and then goes home to a bunch of bills.

These are the ten most significant events, or realizations, in my gaming career. I consider them lessons that I’ve learned, though I don’t declare that they apply to everyone. They mean something to me, have shaped the way I game today, and made me appreciate the hobby more than ever.

Thanks for reading.

Tourq Stevens runs the resource website, Stuffer Shack, because he loves the hobby of gaming, has learned so much from it, and hopes to help make it fun for others.


  1. #11 – My gaming career is finite. I’m going to make the most of it, every session.

  2. No Rifts?? LOL! You missed out on the craziest RPG experience!

    I GM’d a ridiculously successful Rifts campaign which borrowed elements from both Warhammer and Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf series. The campaign ran over the course of 5 years back in the 90s, started with 15 players (yup… 15… but if you died you were out) and eventually ended with only 4. They traveled west to stop the birth of an evil demi-godlike creature on an island which was home to a powerful 8 pointed ley-line nexus. They encountered Archie and its minions, fled from Splugorth in Atlantis, traveled through Ciudad Juarez, trucked with vampires while crossing America’s deserts, delved into the danger filled forests of northern California and eventually fought in a massive battle royale against the forces of chaos off California’s coast.

    We had drow glitterboy pilots, centaur cyberknights, chaos worshipping bursters, ley line walkers, even a robotech pilot at one point if memory serves. No minis, no battlemats, just pure adolescent imagination. It was truly and completely ’90s RPG craziness but loaded with heaps and heaps of Rule of Cool.

    It was one of mine as well as many of our group’s most memorable and fun experiences and it still gets talked about today. Too bad Rifts didn’t give you the same memories.

    Great article. Keep them coming.

  3. Dixon Trimline says:

    No question, hands down, my favorite part of this entire article is the tone, one that doesn’t say, “You should,” but instead says, “I learned.” Your lessons are definitely applicable in my own tiny gaming universe, but you never assumed that, so you didn’t lecture. Bravo!

    Every one of these lessons speak to a bigger, cooler, shinier theme, and that is, “Let’s. Have. Fun.” It’s amazing (heartbreaking) that there are so many gamers who don’t appear to understand that, who use the system rules as a bludgeon against the other players, who seek only to run down, diminish, and marginalize other people. I’m not playing these games to feel worse about myself, I’m playing to live the life of a hero, however briefly.

    And as for how your acid-soaked character ran away, I’m imaging a fair amount of hopping was involved.

  4. And the rest of the story…

    It can be quite difficult to run away from acidicly-blooded aliens who have just sprayed you with their blood – which has now completely eaten through your right arm and left leg.

    Difficult to run away, but not impossible!

    Seeing as this was a supers game, my character was able to slightly paralyze these aliens before making his escape. He was also pretty tough, so he had the fortitude to hop over to a fleeing car with his one remaining leg, grab onto the bumper of that car with his one remaining arm, and get dragged for 20 city blocks. Left turns, right turns, and through the tunnel to some train tracks (where the freaked out driver had to stop). When the driver was alerted to my presence by other drivers waiting to cross the tracks, he took off running, leaving me lying there, exhausted and near-death, still holding onto the bumper.

    “Well, At least I’m 20 blocks away.”

    No matter. Those aliens had wings, and so they simply followed my huge (missing arm, missing leg, massive road rash) blood trail for 20 blocks and finished the job.

    The GM did not know mercy.

  5. Thanks, you reminded me of a Champions game where the GM gave the giant, anthropomorphic alien rat people “spatial awareness” through their noses…boy, did we get our butts kicked!

    Torq, I wish I could hide you and Dixon in Chris Sims luggage and sneak ya’ll all down to Houston in May, for Comicpalooza Gaming Expo!

  6. Jon Fuhrman says:

    Cool article. Personally speaking, I know RPGing has made me more empathetic and more enthusiastic about working with a team. Cooperative storytelling and adopting personas, buying into your friends personas, etc., all these things make me far more social and outgoing in a way that’s totally contrary to the gamer stereotype. It’s one of the best ways to hang out with friends, ever.

  7. Nice article. Love the lessons and love how you boil down 20 years to ten bullet points.

    The Rule of Cool wins. Stories like the 20-block bumper escape are why we do what we do. If it’s awesome and it’ll make a great story, let’s make it happen.

    And amen, @Dixon! It’s a game. It’s supposed to be fun for everyone at the table. I’m amazed that so many people approach gaming discussion with the attitude of “You’re doing it wrong.” Feh.


  1. […] Critical Hits, Tourq Stevens shares some of the wisdom he’s learned in “26 Years of Gaming Lessons. It’s amazing what many of us have seen and done in our alternate lives in RPGs over the […]