The Games I Play

Sometime in 1982/83 I became an RPG player and I never looked back. I started with what I call the Purple Box. It’s the one with the Erol Otus cover, and what I think most old-schoolers refer to as the Moldvay edition. I was playing with a friend who was two years older and acted as our DM for a long time. My first two characters were a Fighter named Sir Greyhawk and a Wizard named Arkaynne (you can’t make this shit up, right) and we played with very little regard to the actual rules. Over the course of the next three years or so we got a lot more serious and moved on to AD&D after exhausting the Basic and Expert rules sets.

Probably about 1986 I also discovered the Bard Games OD&D clone, Arcanum 2nd Edition. This was a fantastic game with a nice twist on classic D&D because it had a system of character advancement that allowed PCs to level normally but also to spend XP on out of class abilities. The abilities were somewhere between skills and what later D&D would call feats. I’ve written about Arcanum before though, and I love that game to this day, despite its faults (which are many, mostly in the fact that the math was almost completely ignored in to-hit, etc.).

In 1987 my parents separated and we ended up in a new town and my gaming for a while consisted of me doing a lot of solo play with my D&D books, but sometime around 1988 I discovered GURPS… which I fell totally head over heels in love with. I thought GURPS could do no wrong. I made so many GURPS characters that my original set of the books fell apart. I bought the first edition of the GURPS Fantasy softcover and GURPS Humanx at about the same time. I’ve run the adventure that came in the GURPS boxed set (Caravan to Ein Arris) more times than any other adventure in all my years of gaming. It’s one of the only pre-written modules I don’t mind using as is.

I found a gaming group that I could rely on again about 1989. We played old-school D&D (Rules Compendium style mostly) and some Champions/HERO system. I liked HERO, but still preferred GURPS for universal RPG. I also took my turn as a GM, running Call of Cthulhu between 1990-1991’ish. We ran it more as a “horror movie” style game rather than a strict “Old Ones” type plot and so we managed to keep some momentum with that game for a good while.

During this time I was reading every gaming book I could get my hands on, learning to play quite a few other games, but only playing them a little. I also discovered comedy games during this time, like Teenagers from Outer Space and Tales from the Floating Vagabond. These were seriously fun. I still break out Teenagers for conventions/one-shots every now and then. One game I did get to play a decent amount of during this time was the DC Heroes RPG by Mayfair Games. I loved this game but it was not really a great system. I just love DC so much I didn’t care.

Inevitably, in 1992 I fell under the spell of the newly emerging World of Darkness. How could I not? First Edition Vampire was a revolution, a riot of awesome, and perfectly placed for a 16/17 year old gamer geek surrounded, for the first time by friends his own age who were also gamers/geeks/drama kids/Goths. Hell, I couldn’t have resisted Vampire if you’d taken it away from me… I mean, I’m the guy who ran a D&D game (Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, btw) for my friends at the afterprom party for my senior prom. Yep. I went to prom – and I played D&D – and I played D&D at afterprom… Those were glorious days.

Oh, right, WoD. Yeah, so, what can I say, I played it all, Vampire, Werewolf, Mage, Wraith, Changeling. I ran a Mage game for some friends my freshman year of college (93/94) and later I ran a short-lived Changeling game that was stupid fun. A lesson I’m learning from writing this look back… I don’t mind a game with a crappy system (1st edition Changeling was not a well-designed game) as long as it sufficiently captures the imagination. During this time I also discovered Castle Falkenstien. I love CF to this day. It is the greatest game I’ve never run. I want to rectify this as some point. Maybe at Madicon this coming year I’ll break out a CF game. It could happen.

I also got to play Shadowrun for the first time in this period. I didn’t know it yet, but I was going to fall in love with Shadowrun. It wasn’t until I bought the second edition rulebook and started playing around with the game myself that I realized how completely awesome the system had the potential to be. I didn’t get a chance to play again until the 4th Edition came out. But that’s later.

But it was about this time that everything changed, like, forever. I mean that. I don’t want you to underestimate what I mean when I say everything changed. Gaming. Was. Never. The. Same. Again.
It was 95/96 (ish) and I was playing in a pretty long-running WoD “soup” game (a little bit of everything), but more important than that… I ran my first game of Amber Diceless RPG. I’d had the book for a long time (it came out in 91) but I’d never gotten around to running it. Well, I had a pretty amazing group together that we’d just finished playing a D&D 2E game and wanted something else. So I ran Amber. And for the next, roughly, four years, we didn’t look back. I ran nothing but Amber, obsessively, for the next four years. I mean, I was playing WoD, playing in a Star Wars D6 game (thanks to my friend John for this one, it was one of the greatest games I ever got to play in) but I ran only Amber.

Amber is possibly the coolest game I’d ever played. Yes it’s diceless – no dice, cards, charts, or anything – just players and GM. You want to talk about a game that changed gaming for me, it was this one. It was during this time that I stopped “running games” and became a Game Master. I’d told a cool story or two before… but running Amber made me better. I had a deeply committed group of players who communicated constantly outside of the sessions (with me and each other) and when we’d meet they’d have a million ideas. The Amber Universe is effectively limitless so I had to keep up with anywhere they wanted to go. And the power levels are godlike, so it was tough to say no to any idea unless it was opposed by some power equally godlike. If you want to really learn the craft of GMing, run Amber. It’s a rewarding experience.

1999 saw the release of the next big craze in my gaming life, Aberrant. I’ve always had a soft spot for superhero RPGs and Aberrant was the weirdest entry in the genre that I’d ever experienced. It was a conspiracy game that just happened to center around superheroes. I ate it up. We played a good bit of Aberrant and had some good times, but the lifespan of the game was pretty short-lived and in 2000 something huge happened.

D&D 3rd Edition was a great game (including 3.5) when it all started. I mean, I still love the freeform multiclassing and the very excellent character building options. The game got pretty crazy by the end. I learned a lesson that I wish I didn’t keep forgetting – don’t go anywhere near gaming forums if you want to keep liking the game you’re playing – the WotC forums destroyed my love of 3.5 as much as anything else.

Also during the time between 2000 and about 2006 I expanded my horizons a lot, playing all kinds of games, playing Legend of the Five Rings, 7th Sea, Deadlands (yay, Deadlands), Cybergeneration (old, but just got to it), The Marvel Saga System RPG (still one of my favorite superhero RPGs) and, of course, Mutants and Masterminds. I also got into Eden Studios’ Witchcraft RPG (a surprisingly great game) and spent a little time with Star Wars D20 system (though we quickly decided D6 was still the way to play Star Wars). We went backwards and played around with the Masterbook system by West End Games (and it was fun, but). I played the Buffy RPG, goofy fun, right?

Around 2006, the love affair with 3.5 D&D was just about over and I was looking for an alternative system to give me fantasy without D&D. One of my friends had introduced me to the Warhammer Fantasy RPG 2nd Edition. I love this game. It has its faults, though some of my difficulties with the system stem from the fact that it is tied so well to the Warhammer Fantasy world, which I do not love. But I still enjoy running this game, and it was my game of choice for fantasy until D&D4E hit stores in 2008. As anyone who is a reader here knows, I have a love/hate relationship with 4E. I’ve been running it since it came out 2 years ago, played it several times, and I’m in two summer games of 4E right now, but I’m also pretty much done with it.
While 4th Edition D&D is pretty good, another 4th edition came out in the last few years too, and one I like a lot. Shadowrun’s 4th edition (or Anniversary edition) is a fantastic game, with excellent rules (except for explosives, seriously) and a cool world. But we’ve played a lot of that in the last two years and it may be time to experiment again.

I’ve been thinking a lot about where to go next. I’ve been reading up on the various “indie” offerings out there. Houses of the Blooded, Spirit of the Century and Dogs in the Vineyard are all recent acquisitions, but I really don’t like the mechanics of any of them, or the story of Dogs, and I think “indie” games just don’t do it for me. I’ve looked at Warhammer Fantasy 3rd Edition from Fantasy Flight and I really wish games had a return policy. It is quite possibly the worst game I’ve ever experimented with. I couldn’t play this is Fantasy Flight was paying me. And I’ll play nearly anything. I’ve been looking at ICONS, the new Superhero game by Steve Kenson, and it’s pretty neat, but with the DC game coming out from Green Ronin at the end of the summer, I’m pretty sure I’ll be playing around with that, so I don’t need another Supers game… Well, I guess the only real question is, go back to Warhammer 2E, start playing Pathfinder (which I really like), or maybe even try out my swords-and-planets idea using Shadowrun Anniversary Edition… that’s experimenting, right?

Of course, I left one game out of this list, perhaps the one that should be dearest to my heart. It’s a game that I’ve run a few times, with different iterations of the rules, and had some enjoyable sessions with. That game is Legends of Ryllia. Legends of Ryllia is my homebrew fantasy game. Back in 2004 I self-published this little guy and managed to sell nearly 100 copies, but the project had some problems and I’ve always wished I could go back and do it again. And I guess, well, that’s what we’ll be talking about next time…

Until then, thanks for reading.


8 responses

  1. First! Woo!

    Hey, Lo here, doin’ the comment thing. (If someone manages to get their comment on here before me, I’m biting heads off like Pacman on crack. That means you, Jenny (squinty eyes)

    I’ve been gaming for about two years now. As I’m sure I’ve said, So all of the games I’ve played, new and old, have been brand spankin’ new to me. I’ve never had to live through an evolution of one of my favorite games (I don’t know what I’d do if they made a Shadowrun 5th edition… I might be one of those trolls online going: SOME OF US LIKE CALCULUS IN OUR EXPLOSIVE CALCULATIONS… even though I bitch about it constantly)

    So as a new gamer, it is fascinating to read about the EvOlUtIoN of gaming. It kind of makes me wish I had been there to play the campy, cheesy (now, maybe not then) games that were certainly bound to come out in the adolescence of gaming. I really hope you do run Castle Faulkenstein, RG, because it sounds like a game that a lot of us would really, truly enjoy.

  2. sweet! I had more to say, but I really wanted to be first! PART TWO: THE RAMBLING!

    I would not judge indie games by their systems though, It’s like you said… it doesn’t matter if the mechanics aspect is all that great, so long as the game inspires imagination and immersion. There is a point, however, when the mechanics do take away from the game play (Again, I will point out the math that has to be done in Shadowrun to know how much plastic explosive to use… remember the forty five minute math lesson just to blow off the wheel of the car? I thought Beast was going to kill someone or something… you know… more than normal) so I understand where you’re coming from.

    RG, What I would like from you, in this discussion of your general auto-gameography, is a selection of stories that you find particularly moving, inspiring, hilarious, and/or memorable. I think that could be a good book. A Robert Fulgum kind of short story collection that makes everyone laugh and remember the first time they ever had a character, or a character death, or a team that just… clicked.

    You’ve actually inspired a blog post from me. In the next few days everybody (shameless plugging) look at TheLoPlace for an update, and be sure to post! Thanks RG, for the chance to have a scintillating conversation, as always

    The Lo.

  3. My gaming history doesn’t stretch back quite so far as yours.. but it does cover a wide gamut of games. (including some you didn’t metion such as the Dragonlance Saga system (which was the same as Marvel’s essentially), Earthdawn, Dread).

    I too have been looking at indie games lately (specifically Spirit of the Century) and while I think that’d be a blast to run, I think they are missing the mechanics/math that my players and I (I’m not ashamed to admit) do enjoy.

    Also despite the fact that modern RPGs seem to want to demonize them, my players and I do enjoy a bit of game “accounting.” We like figuring out encumbernce, or mapping hexes or dungeons, etc. The only problem is.. we like that stuff… only some of the time. We can never be quite sure when we sit down to play if this will be the session that we throw our hands up in the air and say “Enough I just want to play a fun game!”

    We finished our 4e campaign in April (2yrs total running). It went well/alright; but like you, I now have a love/hate relationship with D&D.

    Our current plans are that my other DM friend is running a Pathfinder game (been running for a while) which has lots of ancillary house systems (not rules) that he’s designed for it (such as an influence system for local political leaders) that are essentially system agnostic. It’s been fun (and two of our players have never played 3.x D&D so this is quite an eye opener).

    Also I’m started another M&M game for the summer.

    But long-term I am still looking for SOMETHING that just really grabs me and makes me want to get SOOOO involved with gaming again.

  4. @ The Lo
    On the subject of system in most indie games: the issue is that many of these games make the system in a different way. The system is designed to make actually “playing the game” part of the role-playing experience. Take the Aspects system from Houses of the Blooded for instance. That’s more why I’m not interested in the systems of those games as compared to say, a cool game with a rule-set that is just kinda weak. I can always tweak a weak rule-set, but when the rules ARE the game, I’m way less interested. If I ever ran Houses of the Blooded (because I do love the culture) I would never use the actual system the game was written with… it’s painful.

    Yeah, I played Dragonlance Saga… it’s how I learned that the Marvel Saga game existed. It just didn’t make a huge impression on me. I only played it once — still have my set though — before packing it away. There are actually quite a few games that I didn’t list, going back over what I wrote and really thinking about it, but those I wrote about are the ones that made an impression.

    I agree with your closing sentiment though… I am looking for something, anything, to really just spark my interest and pull me all the way back in.

  5. If you are still deciding where to go next, I heartily recommend Castles & Crusades (you can check out the quick start rules for free here: ).

    It’s 3e without the clutter and plays like a mid-point between AD&D and 3e D&D. It also is very compatible with just about every edition of D&D (not sure about 4e as I haven’t played that). You could use your “purple box” stuff and convert on the fly.

    Anyhow, give it a read if you’re curious.

  6. @Dungeoneering Dad

    Thanks for the point. I looked at the quick start. It’s interesting, and it does have a few ideas for mixing up what 3e did some. I like it, but I can’t see why I would play C&C over, say, Pathfinder. But that is just me looking at the Quick Start, so I shouldn’t judge it too much yet.

    I’ll give it a closer look.

    Thanks again.

  7. It likely depends on whether you like or dislike rules-heavy systems. Like 3e, Pathfinder is rules-heavy (to me at least). Just about any and all situations have been defined, PC abilities are highly detailed, etc. C&C is rules-light and relies much more on GM judgment. The Siege mechanic is designed just for that. Just about any and all actions are boiled down to a Siege check. Also, the 3e “clutter” I referred to in my previous post is gone… very few Attacks of Opportunities, no reliance on miniatures (although you can use them easily), etc.

    I really like 3e (and in turn Pathfinder) and my current campaign is 3.5. However, I find that all the rules and miniature usage really slows down game play. The main draw of C&C for me is that eliminating a lot of stuff from 3.5 allows for faster play.

    Does that make sense? Anyhow, just wanted to suggest the system. It certainly isn’t for everyone and there are certainly plenty of other great options.

    1. Cool. I didn’t completely get that from just the quick start rules. I should give it more of a look, as a lot of the “clutter” in 3.5 did turn me off sometimes. I also tend to play 3.5 without maps, so I hadn’t thought of this.


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