In third grade, I was enthralled when I came across two of my teachers and some older kids playing a strange game. They seemed to be creating their own adventure — like in The Hobbit or The Chronicles of Prydain, both of which I’d loved — with paper and pencils and a strange collection of dice. There were snakes and giants living in clouds1, and I could not get enough. Soon after, I completely devoured the copy of the Players [sic] Handbook Ms. Pulford lent me.2 Some time later — maybe the summer between third and fourth grades? — I bought my first RPG thing, the Dungeon Master’s Guide (I still have the book).3
There weren’t that many kids my age who played RPGs, so I mostly DMed my friend Tom through a series of TSR’s AD&D modules4, though I did play with some other friends on occasion. We dabbled in other games, but almost entirely TSR’s other offerings — Gamma World, Marvel Superheroes, and Star Frontiers. In one notable exception, we eschewed TSR’s Top Secret for Victory Games’s James Bond 007.
My game store in those days was the Military Corner, which moved and changed its name to Bridgetown Hobbies, and which still seems to be in business — though before I found them, I managed to buy some things from the mall toy store, Kay-Bee Toys if memory serves.
In high school, interest waned a bit until the release of second edition AD&D. I managed to get a group together for a few sessions, though it fell apart pretty quickly. A college game of AD&D fizzled out pretty quickly, too.
In our senior year, a friend found Ars Magica, and we played that fairly regularly after we graduated.5 Ars Magica’s basic premise is that magic and wizards exist, more or less hidden, in medieval Europe. The game was fairly mind-bending for us — in particular, its troupe-style play and intentional lack of balance between character types. I started a different Ars Magica game (this time with its fourth edition) shortly after I moved to Seattle, which lasted for a couple years. Aside from D&D, this is the game I’ve played the most.
Some time later, I started a game of Nobilis with the people who’ve ended up as the core of my subsequent gaming — my brother and a close friend. Nobilis is a diceless (though not systemless) game where characters are humans who’ve been given the powers and responsibility for a fundamental aspect of the world, to prevent its destruction at the hands of unfathomable beings from beyond creation. A little while after that game ended, we took turns running a few one-shot scenarios of different games.6
Finally, we played a campaign of third edition D&D. On the notion that a prepared scenario would take less of my time than creating one7, I ran The Savage Tide, Paizo’s last adventure path before they spun off the Pathfinder game system. This was a kick, and the players made it up to level 15 and defeated an aspect of a demon prince before my daughter was due and we wrapped it up.
I’m starting to get a hankering for another game. I think I’d be happy to run (or play) Unknown Armies, Night’s Black Agents (if the bad guys in the Bourne movies were vampires), Nobilis again, Hillfolk (emulating HBO-style series featuring interpersonal drama), this newfangled fifth edition of D&D….
- This was Under the Storm Giant’s Castle. [return]
- As with many D&D games in those days, the rules they used were a blend of Blue Box and AD&D. [return]
- I still remember why I chose it: Its appendix E had brief summaries of monsters (so I could put off getting the Monster Manual) and some spells (so I could kind of put off getting the PH, I guess?). [return]
- Against the Giants (which I bought hoping it was the giant’s castle in the cloud adventure I’d remembered1), Dwellers of the Forbidden City, the classic meat grinder Tomb of Horrors, etc. [return]
- The third edition, published by White Wolf, shortly before they sold it to Wizards of the Coast, a few months before Wizards bought TSR and offloaded the game to Atlas Games. [return]
- Unknown Armies (modern occult conspiracy), Godlike (superheroes in World War II), and Legend of the Five Rings (Japanese-based fantasy), all relatively traditional games. [return]
- A sound premise, but undermined by the fact that I wasn’t 100% comfortable with the rules (just as I got used to what the characters could do, they’d level up and get new feats or spells, and each new scenario had new monsters with new abilities), so I had to do a bunch of prep before each session anyway. [return]