Saturday, September 26, 2009

Auto-Ethnography of a RPG'er

I have been a role-playing gamer since 1981 or ‘82 when I got my first "Dungeons and Dragons" boxed set as a fifth grader. That was the very popular 1977 Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set with the blue tinted cover depicting a magic-user and a fighter confronting a red dragon—I had one of the later (post-1979) printings that included module B2: The Keep on the Borderlands. As says of that Basic D&D rules set, it “focused on only the first three levels of play, and was intended as a bridge between the original D&D and the AD&D rules rather than a simple introductory version of the game. Although this Basic Set was not compatible with AD&D, players were expected to continue play beyond third level by moving to the AD&D version, [. . .] even though the basic game included many rules and concepts which contradicted comparable ones in the advanced game.” As this passage suggests, it would not be long before I would be exposed to Advanced D&D.

Indeed, after playing Basic D&D for six months or so, in the sixth grade I met friends who were already playing AD&D, so due to their influence and at the aforementioned urging of the Basic D&D rules manual itself, I began to play AD&D almost exclusively and bought my own copies of the three core hardcover rulebooks. Interestingly, that same sixth-grade year, a friend introduced me to Ken St. Andre’s Tunnels and Trolls: a few of us would reserve a conference room in our elementary school library and play T&T at lunch and recess. My interest in T&T did not last long – I was still pretty big into AD&D then – but T&T's less-is-more, “rules-light” ethos (not to mention its sense of humor, something I enjoy a lot in my RPGs) would come back with dramatically increased appeal and impact for me within a few years.

Sometime around the time AD&D 2e came out in 1989, I realized there was no way I was going to keep up with the world of published AD&D products, not in a whole new edition anyway. I was still a high school / college kid with very little money, so buying a whole new set of hardcover rulebooks felt out of reach to me. Plus, I had no real interest in updating or changing the rules I was playing by. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” I thought, and so my friends and I continued to play by the first-edition rules of AD&D, for awhile. . .

Throughout late high school and college, I started drifting away from AD&D altogether, instead playing other RPGs in different genres: Traveller, Gamma World, Marvel Super Heroes, Paranoia, and Shadowrun, to name a few. I also got pretty heavily into Steve Jackson’s Car Wars for a few years in there. Finally, unable to find a game that I wanted to stick with long-term, I co-designed a homegrown fantasy RPG called “Crimson Blades of Ara” (hereafter CBOA) with a friend, David Miller. Dave and I worked on CBOA starting in summer 1988, when we were on a camping trip together discussing all the things that disgruntled us about AD&D and other RPG rule systems currently on the market. We thought we could design our own game with a skill-based rule system and a well-thought-out campaign setting (called Ara) that would be much more fun for us to play with our friends than any game we could buy. So we designed CBOA and played it pretty much exclusively from about 1990 through 1998.

Then I stopped playing RPGs altogether from roughly 1998 until 2004, mainly because I moved around and led a nomadic lifestyle during those years that made it difficult to find a group with whom to play RPGs. After moving to Eugene, Oregon in 2002, I found and joined a group in 2004 that played D&D 3.5e. I have had some great times playing with that group, and it has been fun to return to my roots in D&D, but I admit that the 3.5e rules feel awfully cumbersome to me: for example, I still don’t really grok why there are both skills and feats in the game. I don’t say this because I require an explanation; it is more of a rhetorical statement meant to convey that at a certain core level I feel alienated by the WotC take on D&D, since it does not evoke or emulate the beloved TSR versions of AD&D and Basic D&D that I remember and love so well from the 80’s.

In fact, in light of recent events — i.e., my discovery of the “old-school” gaming community — it is clear to me that the answer had always been right there in front of me, provided by TSR in that 1977 boxed Basic D&D set: my flight from AD&D, and my participation in co-writing a homegrown rules system, were all inspired by a need to escape cumbersome rules, to instead play within a system that was “rules-light” and allowed for the most player-referee flexibility. Obviously, once my friend Carl turned me on to Mutant Future a few months ago, I realized that Old-School Gaming is for me! Now I will begin development of my own OD&D campaign using the Labyrinth Lord rules. My campaign will take place in the setting my friend and I developed for our homegrown game: The Lands of Ara. I now commence the work of converting that campaign setting and its denizens into OD&D terms; this blog is where I will share the fruits of my labors!

1 comment:

  1. I can't wait for you to start up your Labyrinth Lord campaign! Onwards to the Lands of Ara!