Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Diary Of A Dice Fiend

I've been playing tabletop RPGs since 1985, when I was eight years old and living in Scotland. My older brother Chris had played a lot of AD&D when we lived in the States and would fill my second-grade mind with tales of his gnome illusionist, who was digested by a purple worm and then reincarnated as a lecherous boggle. When he did decide to run a game for me, I played a halfling fighter - who I named "Red Falcon" in a transparent attempt to impress him. I don't remember much about that session, except that my character kept trying to bribe monsters with food rather than fighting them. Anything to stay alive. (See, I got the old-school style down without even trying.)

Later, when I was in fifth grade, I got hooked on the Dragonlance novels and bugged my brother about D&D. So, Chris mapped out an elaborate mega-dungeon on graph paper, wrote down what he could remember of the AD&D ruleset (we only owned the Monster Manuals), and ran a few sessions for me and two friends. I was a wizard, Bill was a barbarian, and some other kid was a ninja. I remember a bit more about these sessions, which found our brave heroes in your typical "mad wizard" style dungeon. There was a giant tapestry that you could walk into, and it would transport you to a dinosaur-infested jungle island ruled by giant spiders. There was another room where a goblin was painting a portrait of a naked lady, who ended up being a half-kender thief-acrobat. We asked her to join the party, naturally. I also remember that we fought some mummies, and the one kid's ninja character got busy with the hot acrobat girl inside one of the sarcophagi! Hey, we were going through puberty. Say what you will, but my brother understood how to play to his audience.

After my brother went to college and left me to my own devices, I started running my own games, and playing with my friends. I started with Palladium's clunky Robotech RPG, but quickly got into AD&D 2nd edition soon after it was released, having split the purchase of the Player's Handbook with a couple of buddies. Soon after that, RIFTS, that greatest of adolescent wish-fulfillment games, appeared on the scene. It had cyborgs and magic and mecha and dragons and an awesome Keith Parkinson cover with chicks in tight rubber outfits... and before I knew it, I had a new hobby.

We played tons of games, every damn weekend, and usually all night long. Besides RIFTS, our favorites were Marvel Super Heroes, Earthdawn, Street Fighter (don't laugh), and AD&D. We also dabbled in piles of other games, like CyberGeneration, Warhammer FRP, or Palladium Fantasy. Unlike most 90s gamer kids, we never got into Shadowrun or the World of Darkness stuff, though it wasn't for lack of trying. In retrospect, I guess dice pools weren't our thing.

My parents were worried about my grades, and disturbed by the unsavory-looking books, but I managed to deflect that by keeping my nose clean and doing just enough homework to ensure that I'd be still be allowed to roll them bones. By the time I graduated high school, I hadn't gotten drunk, high, or laid... but I had gotten my RIFTS mystic up to 11th level. I had priorities.

I didn't play much in college, which is probably why I finally got my ass a girlfriend or two, though I did squeeze in a few sessions of TORG. After college the drought lasted a few more years, until D&D 3rd edition came out and made the game seem fresh again. While living in Tallahassee with my then-fiancee (now wife), I even ran a fairly long-running campaign of it for a group of newbies... until, like everybody, I got burnt out on the system. I tried getting people to play Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay for a while, but nobody seemed interested.

Eventually, I ended up hooking back up with one of my original gaming buddies and playing with his group. I'm currently playing D&D 4th edition and having a good time with it, but I have been reading a ton of older, more obscure fantasy games recently, some of which I intend to give in-depth reviews of here.

There you have it: my RPG gaming history.


  1. You forgot to mention that in my half-remembered version I had you guys roll your stats with a d20.

    That made for some seriously random characters.

  2. See, I forgot about that. I couldn't complain about having a natural 20 Strength, though...

  3. i want to imagine that Chris' "dinosaur-infested jungle island ruled by giant spiders" was in fact administered by assorted giant spider bureaucrats and functionaries, with a bicameral legislature, and an elaborate federal political structure. but somehow i imagine that he didn't spend much time on the intricacies of gargantuan-arachnid political systems, inasmuch as this would not really "play to his audience."

    you may already know this, but i got my start on Robotech. i was a huge fan of the cartoon, so when a kid in my 7th grade art class let me borrow the Palladium book, it drew me into RPGs. i soon picked up that book as well as TMNT and Other Strangeness (what the hell kind of name is 'Wujcik' anyway?) and naturally had no hope of avoiding the gravitational pull of Rifts. you hit that one on the head there: the wish-fulfillment only got worse with time. i stopped paying attention around the time Phase World gave you the option of becoming nigh-invulnerable and demigod-like (more powerful than actual demigods in the game, if i recall).

    the last time i played any RPG was with Ryan T. as DM in 3rd ed. D&D, as a Fey-Ri with pretty sick stats (ridiculously lucky rolls). i constantly butted heads with Bo's brother, who had a Paladin, and so was naturally out to smite my evil ass. Bo's gnome illusionist was a kick though, and Ryan's in-character performance of his aunt (a batty but tremendously powerful mage, and our patron) was absolutely hilarious.

  4. Yes, I think my fifth grade friends and I were more interested in blowing shit up with fireballs and "doing it with hot chicks!!" than we were with the power-sharing structures in mega-arachnid governing systems.

    I knew you were into the Palladium stuff around the same time I was, but didn't know you started with Robotech, too. I think Siembieda's Robotech RPG ads in all the comics of the era really paid off. That hooked a lot of us, I'd wager. Too bad he refuses to give his system a decent revision, or even to use modern desktop publishing and layout techniques...

    Anyway, yeah, the power creep in RIFTS was bad to begin with, but when CJ "Cosmo-Knights!" Carella started writing for the system, it got completely out of control. I remember being pissed when he introduced Naruni weaponry, which was just like the stuff out of the main rulebook, but better.

    By the way, I think Wujcik was Polish, just like a lot of the other Palladium alums. He recently passed away. Too bad - he wrote some of the best stuff for that company.

    I would have loved to play with Ryan, Bo, and... uh, Bo's brother again. TORG with those kids was a blast.

  5. Erick Wujcik did do some solid work. his Mystic China was one of the most flavorful RPG worlds i've ever read; his research and love of the Chinese martial arts milieu was crystal clear and gave the book a real power that excels his work in Ninjas and Superspies. he also wrote the Amber Diceless RPG, based on the series that i adored as a high-schooler. TMNT and Other Strangeness was actually the first RPG that i played very much, so Wujcik had a pretty big impact on my life, you might say.

    Ryan is practically custom-made to be a DM. his idiosyncratic blend of experiences in creative writing, theater, and long-running love of fantasy, sci-fi and RPGs, melded with a terrifying work ethic and perfectionism make him top-notch in the role. Bo's a great player, especially in the goofy role (a gnome illusionist natural). i think i'd be good at planning a campaign, but not necessarily at running it.

    Cosmo-Knights! i was trying to remember the specific class that just totally broke any concept of balance...

  6. Hey now: I was interested in WFRP (and Traveller, for that matter). But all we ever did was roll characters...

    Anyway, looking forward to the blog.