September 3, 2013

Confessions of a Jaded Geek: 1/30

Saw the 30-day D&D Challenge at Armchair Gamer, and it got me reminiscing over my first RPG experiences. My first RPG ever was of course Dungeons and Dragons (BECMI), but I can’t consider myself much of a D&D player because I’ve played more sessions of other games than D&D. I had the luck of getting into gaming at a time when many other options were becoming available, so I got to spend time exploring those. Thus for me this 30-post challenge will be as much a search for insights on RPGs through the lens of D&D as a celebration of that grandfather of all RPGs.

So, Day 1: How I got Defl – er, Started
First, a confession: I am an old, and somewhat jaded, gamer. Old as in I got into gaming at a rather late age – it was in 1992 or 93, and I was in my early 20s, with my tastes in fantasy fiction already well-set. 

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What I remember D&D BECMI best for is that it served as a platform for some good casual fun. It allowed us to blend in influences from anime, Howardian sword and sorcery, Tolkien, and the Elder-Gods-know-what-else into one crazy, incoherent, yet amusing hash.

My first session was with the group that would later become infamous as the Band of Rorax (more on Rorax later!), with Augs as DM, his brother Vic playing the busty, warhammer-chucking cleric Zhardanie Hammertoss, Barry as a fighter, JJ and John as (perverted) thieves, and I made a nomad fighter named Jehangir. As JJ and I were making characters to join an existing group, Augs allowed us to start at a higher level than usual – I think we started at level 3 or 4, maybe even 5.

Fortunately for me, the module Augs was running was a wilderness adventure – I would later find out that dungeon crawls bored me. We were supposed to run a herd of horses to some outpost in the wilds, and were attacked by goblins along the way. This was great for my horse archer, as Augs gave me the chance to do some shooting at the gallop that turned out to be quite effective. The same goblin tribe would later trap us at the outpost, where I learned the value of a good AC – I’d traded a chance for a shield and better armor for a bastard sword, so with a few lucky rolls on Augs’ part poor Jehangir was quickly in trouble. He was saved only by a desperate stunt from John’s thief.

First impressions from that game – RPGs were great fun, but you couldn’t really create a viable light/swashbuckler fighter type as the rules favored tank builds, and character backgrounds didn’t really mean anything. The built-in bonuses for race and character type were all Tolkienic; there were no culture incentives, or at least none in the ruleset we used.

I also learned that different players would come to the game with very different expectations, some of which the game met more easily than others. I wanted a Howardian saga, dark and dangerous yet cinematic; JJ and John were in it for the pranks and japes; and Vic was in his cool-badass-anime-babe phase, which meant our games were always accompanied by his great art. Art was also the reason I started devouring the Cabazor brothers’ stack of Dragon magazines, looking for inspiration; it was through these that I first learned there were other role playing games available aside from D&D.

(C) Victor F Cabazor: a Rhiyannin Stormcaller from my Twilight Age game

I got to join some more D&D games with this group, but once Augs got WEG’s Star Wars I found my cinematic fix. My first Star Wars session (again GM’d by Augs) had me as smuggler pilot Ganelon Shrike, Vic as Buttfuzz the Ewok Death Commando – a white-furred Ewok with black markings oddly resembling stormtrooper armor! – Barry as a bounty hunter, and Ron guest-starring as the voice of our astromech droid D1-LD0.

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Augs’ plot called for us to be captured by the Empire, so the game opened with my ship being chased down by a squadron of TIE fighters. What Augs didn’t count on was how far we’d go to resist – we used all our escape pods as torpedoes, and we hit! Bye bye Imperial squadron, bye bye plot, hello winging it. Most important takeaway from this session was the value of being able to improvise and respond to player actions, which tend to be really unpredictable.

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The year after my introduction to D&D, we got to be part of AEGIS, a spinoff of Mensa Philippines’ gaming group, which was into a lot of different games: we got to try Castle Falkenstein, White Wolf’s World of Darkness line, Legend of the Five Rings (which we quickly turned into an anime parody) and a whole bunch of members’ homebrews under playtesting. But by far the best RPG I got to try with this new group was Chaosium’s Pendragon (4th edition). My er, magnum slowpus Hari Ragat is very much in the vein of Pendragon.

And that, friends, is how I got started in this glorious little hobby of ours. Yes, I ended up preferring other RPGs, because those supported the fiction I wanted; but the seed was D&D.

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