My History with Roleplay
Posted by Nathan P. on February 17, 2006
I read Tolkien really early. Like, I think my dad checked the Hobbit out of the library for me at 6, and I read the Lord of the Rings on my own shortly thereafter. So I was into fantasy shtuff right off the bat, and when I saw the old red-box D&D at Toys-R-Us with the Dragon on the cover, I snagged it.
My first memories with that, other than just reading the books and thinking it was really cool, was running around with my friend during recess in third grade. We would pick a class (this was when Dwarf and Elf were still classes, IIRC), and spend our starting money on the one-column equipment list (I always got wolfsbane). Then we would fight imaginary monsters on the playground.
Somehow, over time, this morphed into me getting the 2nd Ed. AD&D books, and me playing actual games with my friends. My memory isn’t particularly strong, so I have no idea how long this process took, but I knew I was GMing games in various campaign settings (Forgotten Realms and Ravenloft – I still love Ravenloft) by 5th grade.
Cue lots of D&D. None of it was particularly memorable – making characters, fighting some stuff, maybe two or three sessions, making new characters. I was usually playing with only one or two other people, so I would often run a character in addition to GMing. I loved reading the sourcebooks almost as fiction, but play would rarely interface with anything but the broadest color. I did run modules from time to time, but I think 3 sessions was really the longest any of that ran either.
I did a lot of stupid shit along the GM is God mode – like making a player with a wizard character actually memorize and recite to me the Magic Schools chart from the 2nd Ed. PHB, each school and its opposing school, in order to get an extra first-level spell. Like making everyone sign a contract (I don’t remember what it said at all) in order to be in the game. Like lying and telling a friend that I didn’t want to play with that I stopped playing, just so he wouldn’t ask anymore.
I remember that I drew a lot of maps, typed up a lot of NPCs and created a lot of room descriptions that never saw the light of day.
One day, sometime in middle school (7th-8th grade, somewhere in there), when I was at the bookstore (not a game store, but a Hastings with a pretty big RPG section), I saw this game called Vampire. I was into Ravenloft, and vampire-y stuff in general, so I got it.
I remember. I was all WHOAH! You don’t have to roll to make characters AT ALL! You get to choose all of your stuff, and have all these cool powers, and its in the modern day, and WHOAH! This is SO DIFFERENT!
Cue about 4-5 years of gradual WW play and collecting. We also played 2nd Ed, but I think we played more WoD games. I do remember some of these characters – and, yet again, “campaigns” would rarely last more than 3 or 4 sessions at a stretch. I don’t feel that we were particularly into making a Story, but I knew that I was totally into the mythos of each gameline, like all the Clans and Disciplines and the Metaplot and how it all hung together in certain evocative ways. There was a lot of killing things and taking their stuff.
A couple of things from this period – once, I statted up these werewolves because one my players was totally “twinking” and I wanted to teach him a lesson. He had a silver broadsword, for some reason, is all I remember. Anyway, he got initiative and took out both werewolves in ONE ROUND, and I was so pissed I threw a handful of dice at him. This was….a low point.
At the end of high school, two major things happened. One was the release of WW’s Hunter: the Reckoning. The other was my “senior project.”
Senior project was 5 weeks at the end of school where you could do anything you wanted, as long as you could make some case that it was academic and that you had some product at the end. I designed a roleplaying game. My goal was to take all the parts I liked about WW and AD&D and put them together into a fantasy/sci-fi setting where anything was possible. The less said about it, the better – though, someday, I want to revisit it and make it awesome.
Hunter grabbed me by the balls. I was so into it, all the themes and the everyman-struggling-against-the-darkness and the mystical overtones and the multiple points-of-view and everything. I somehow drifted onto the WW Hunter forum, which supported both in-character posts to the canonical Hunter-Net, a mailing-list that only Hunters had access to, and OOC posts about the game, arguing points of canon, etc. I played through an entire character arc on those boards, from Imbuing to his eventual suicide, over the period of about 6 months, and he continues to be my favorite and most fully-realized character I have ever played. My Hunter forum play will eventually get its own writeup – but this was the first time I had felt like I had put closure to a story arc.
My senior project taught me that I needed to learn more about designing games, and that I really wanted to design games. These impulses led me to the Forge at the beginning of college.
My freshman year, I played with a group that exhibited almost every single bad gaming stereotype you could think of. We played 3rd Ed D&D, a Vampire elders game set in Victorian Age Vampire, and the aborted attempts of a couple of other games. This year, combined with my introduction to the Forge, taught me that I needed to game with friends, not make friends with gamers.
The summer between freshman and sophomore year, I played a summer game of Mummy: the Resurrection with two of my good friends from my high school gaming years. It rocked on toast, and is probably still my favorite long-form game. We met every week, played, and completed a full story arc. Yes.
Last summer, played a similar game of Adventure! It didn’t click quite as well, but it was fun, and satisfying, and I wish I could play it longer.
Now, I’ve been playing a lot of one-shots of Indie games, as well as getting a game of Aberrant off the ground. The last 3 years have been a gradual upwards trajectory of play ranging from good to awesome, in a huge variety of ways.
I don’t think I had a particularly negative or damaging formative play experience, but it was very tightly limited. My wanting to design games stems less from trying to fix things that broke me, and more from the sheer joy of doing it. Now that I have some design under my belt, my priorities are changing a bit, but I still think the process is a huge part of why I do what I do.