The actual play’s the thing…

The internet has a long history of attempting to generate theories that encompass various aspects of role playing games. Since I never engaged in great depth with many, I won’t do them the injustice of a hack job recap. Recently, however, I encountered one that left me interested in engaging with it in the context of my own efforts. I’ll try to summarize, and maybe expand, on it a bit below, and then perform the embarrassing act of public thinking about what I have done, or need to do, to achieve my own aims. Read more


How I joined the hobby

This week, I’m visiting Colorado with my dad and brother, to partake in ritual hurling oneself down a snow-covered mountain. The downhill portion rather requires one’s attentions (and will eventually punish you for your lapses), but lift rides to the top can be slow, and so leave plenty of time for other considerations. One of this week’s topics is what I should blog about. I have a few thoughts that are working their way through – emergent properties and optional rule systems as related to encumbrance, RPG theory and game categorization, as a couple of examples. In the meantime, I figure on settling for something simple and autobiographical.

Way back in grade school, my genre obsession was Mystery. I read every Encyclopedia Brown, owned a shelf full of Hardy Boys, had gone through all the Sherlock Holmes and Poirot stories I could find, and was getting new children’s mysteries via interlibrary loan, because I had gone through what the local library had on hand. I even wrote my own series of stories for the state’s Young Authors competitions, and won out in my school district and went to the state convention several times. In short, I had it bad.

Then in fifth grade, I got a boxed set of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings for Christmas. From there, I followed my old, familiar pattern: books, and lots of them. The Chronicles of Prydain, the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Chronicles of the Shadow War… lots of chronicles, is the point I’m trying to make.

Then one day I was hanging out with a friend when he showed me this cool game that he was playing. It was called Magic: the Gathering, and it was at the very beginning of the Rath cycle, and for all the years I played at the card game, I was enthralled by the outlines of the story that came with each new expansion, and the hints and details about this enormous multiverse and the epic struggles that are continually reshaping it. I eventually found the comics and the novels, read through the Brothers’ War, the accidental unleashing of Phyrexia, the cosmic war and ultimate defeat of a hegemonizing evil. Airships, planeswalkers, slivers and other stranger monsters. O true apothecary, thy drugs are quick.

One day, hanging out at the local game shop, wasting time waiting to play Magic, I espied a group setting up a table with several large tomes, and some dice. They invited me to join them, and I received a crash course in playing Dungeons and Dragons. For over a year, this was my D&D group, and we played second edition during some of its final years. The only other game I played with this group was Villains and Vigilantes, but I heard the lore as well – strange coincidences worked by modern mages, surviving friend computer, and so on.

Then came high school, and third edition. I had two mostly separate gaming groups, elements of which I still game with today. For one group, I ran a years-long epic campaign spanning multiple planes of existence. There was even an airship, in case my influences weren’t showing. The other group traded off game mastering responsibilities and had a variety of adventures, several featuring a shared setting that we collaborated on. We dabbled very briefly in the Forgotten Realms (it didn’t take), and also played in Eberron. In my personal favorite, I ran a one-shot locked room murder mystery set on board a lightning rail – Murder on the Orien Express.

Come college, I eventually assembled a new gaming group. I never wrangled an invitation to the highly regarded local Vampire game, but some of its players went on to play a GURPS/In Nominee fantasy game, and I got myself in. The following year (with, bizarrely, inspiration that came from prolonged exposure to Japan), I reconvened several of that group, pulled in some new faces, and ran a Mage: the Awakening campaign set in World War II London during the Blitz. As an aside, I like to think that I was responsible for two weddings by running that game. The year after that, I ran a sequel game with a handful of returning faces and a few new additions (but no new weddings). Besides those long investments, I played Exalted, Cyberpunk 2020, and Dogs in the Vineyard, as well as running a DitV session myself, and a nWoD mortals game using a scenario from the Call of Cthulhu d20 sourcebook. They weren’t expecting that…

After college, I wound up getting back together with the old gang. This was the age of Fourth Edition and virtual tabletops. I also discovered Fate, and after long years of gazing from afar, wound up failing to sustain several games with it – a Fate dragons game, and a Mass Effect game, both with extra crunch of my own devising/adapting. I have also run Legends of the Wulin, and played Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine. Now I’m designing, running, and playing my own D&D-lineage game.