I’m sure I’ve discussed my early history with this hobby in the past, but this morning I found myself thinking of how I got from there to where I am now. Before I returned to my gaming roots and started playing B/X D&D again, I went through a lot of other parts of the hobby.
The actual thought that spurned this was trying to figure out when I started playing other non-D&D systems. I think that did not happen until I went to college. In the early days, around ages 10-13, I played in snippets with siblings or friends, but never really had a solid gaming group. I knew I really wanted to play, that the game was out there, and was tantalized by the seeming largeness of the hobby presented in Dragon Magazine, but it was out of my grasp.
It wasn’t until high school that I got a regular group, and by then it was AD&D 2nd Edition. I don’t really recall when I purchased the 2e books, I just remember having them. There was certainly never a conscious decision to move from Basic to 1e to 2e, in fact, in my youth I probably had no concept that they were actually different. We played once a week at my friend Chris’ house, and though he and I would exchange DMing duty, and the other members would change, and we would experiment with different campaign settings (Ravenloft, Darksun, etc.) it was always AD&D 2nd Edition.
It’s not that I wasn’t aware of other systems. In fact, by this time I was also going to my first couple of GenCons. I even recall poking fun at the White Wolf fans when at my first Killer Breakfast I told Hickman that I was from Technicolor here to colorize the Vampire players. Hickman killed me right away, though despite this Killer Breakfast was still vastly more entertaining than it is now. As a side note, at last TotalCon I found myself alone for dinner and decided to pick up some light reading to fill the time. I bought a copy of the first volume of Dork Tower, and was tickled to see Kovalic also making fun of the goth influence on the gaming scene in the mid 90’s.
That said, I had no interest in playing any of these games, and didn’t meet someone that was until my freshman year of college. I attended the first meeting of the gaming club where a guy brought a whole suitcase full of White Wolf source books. If I wasn’t already turned off by those games yet, that did it. That meeting was also unusually crowded for the gaming club, I guess there was just gaming in the air in the autumn of ’95. We never got a tenth that kind of attendance for the rest of my four years there, so that first meeting really did set my expectations completely out of whack. However, I also met there Paul Kaiser, and signed up as interested in his fantasy setting RPG using his own system: Acheron. Actually I was more interested in AD&D, and I think he even mentioned maybe possibly running his game in that if that’s where the interest was, but no, we played Acheron.
Don’t bother looking it up, you won’t find it. Acheron was a pet project of Kaiser’s that he ultimately did self-publish down at the local Kinkos. Not sure if he ever sold a book, but I have a copy on my shelf somewhere. I guess Acheron was my gateway drug to other systems. I tried playing some AD&D in college, but it never lasted long. I also had some friends who were into Gurps and Warhammer Fantasy RPG, both of which I tried. By the time I graduated I was running my own Deadlands campaign, and no, I have no recollection of how or why I got into that game.
In ’99 I graduated and moved up to Massachusetts. I found myself with no game for a couple months, but eventually hooked up with a college buddy who had also landed in the same area, and we decided to try and start something up. We picked AD&D (2nd edition), as we figured it would be easiest to attract players. We even went out to local gaming shops and pulled numbers off of cork boards to recruit players. Remember when gaming stores had those? Do they still? I imagine the internet has taken over that particular function.
Funny thing is, that was not to be the long running campaign we envisioned, but it did spark one for me. While talking to my office mate about what we were doing he wanted to join, and soon the buzz was around the office about playing AD&D, and it seemed like almost everyone wanted to play. OK, context: I was working for a very small video game company that made online CCGs (Genetic Anomalies, which made Chron-X, if anyone out there recognizes those names). So I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised at that outcome. So we started a game in the evenings right there in the office, a game that would run for several years, and be the longest running campaign I had ever been a part of.
We did something a little unusual with that game: we had rotating DMs. We had so many players both interested in running and playing, we decided to make one cohesive setting in which each person could run some sessions. The DM would run “an adventure” which was expected to fill about 2-4 weeks of play, and then pass it off to the next DM. While DMing, the DM’s character would find an excuse to be somewhere else, or otherwise be non-present. I’ve tried this format a couple times since, and it’s never been quite as successful as that campaign. I kind of wonder if that’s not because at the time we didn’t really know each other or our gaming styles, nor did we spend much time thinking about the set-up, we just jumped in and started playing.
Eventually when 3.0 D&D was released, we converted. Delta (did I mention that job and game were how Delta and I met?) when we first started playing was all for 1st edition, but the rest of us over-ruled him and thus we were playing 2nd. I think I had the silly mentality back then that a lot of us probably had — considering 1st edition old and out-dated. Why wouldn’t you play the latest version with all the ‘fixes’? The funny thing is our desire to ‘play the latest’ and Delta’s dissatisfaction with 2nd edition made switching to 3rd edition go over extremely well. We were all pretty excited about it.
I think my character was the only casualty. At that time I was fully into all the baroque flourishes of 2nd edition AD&D, playing an Earth Elementalist using the rules from the Tome of Magic. That didn’t translate very well into 3rd edition, and based on the spell list alone I found it made more sense to convert him into a cleric, but then that didn’t feel quite right, and eventually I gave up on the character and made a new one.
Our mood had certainly changed though by the time 3.5 came out. We discussed whether or not to update, and decided against it. 3.5 offered some things that we liked, but were often frankly already house rules we were using anyway, and some things we really didn’t like. We decided to just house rule in anything we truly loved from 3.5 into our campaign, but I can’t recall anything that actually made that cut. To be honest, 3.5 was my breaking point with D&D. I’d keep playing in this campaign until it finally fell apart, along with the company itself in the early 2000’s. My eye, however, was starting to be drawn to other systems.
I’ll just a second here to mention as an aside, that that campaign is the origin of Helga’s Heroes. Basically everyone in that campaign drifted apart, but the email list I set up for coordination of that game remained, and everyone wanted to keep it to keep in touch. We then for a while used it to coordinate monthly board game days, which evolved into a more formal board game club, and eventually petered out. Before it did though, I’d start organizing an annual RPG weekend get-away called HelgaCon, which lives on to this day and is now the chief excuse for keeping that email list going.
Anyway, I now started playing with a variety of generic systems, like Simply Roleplay and eventually Savage Worlds. Savage Worlds really stuck, and I found it an interesting way to try a dozen different genres without changing systems, including fantasy, pulp, sci-fi, historic, etc. Savage Worlds still holds a special place in my heart, but I think ultimately it really was just filling in the gap left from turning away from D&D.
I also played a fair amount of Warhammer Fantasy RPG, 2nd edition. I actually think that is the best edition of those particular rules. I haven’t quite gotten to the point of forgiving all its warts like I do with D&D, but I do still quite enjoy that game. I had one particular group of players that I had an absolute blast with, and suspect the departure of one of those guys to the wrong coast is a big part of why I don’t seem to want to run it much now.
So, remember that mention above about a weekend of RPG’s called HelgaCon? Well the first one was in April of 2008, one month after the passing of Gary Gygax. Delta was there, and brought some 1st edition AD&D stuff to run in memoriam, and we had quite a blast playing Tomb of Horrors into the wee hours. He brought it again the following year, as well as the OD&D stuff he was getting into, and it’s that gathering in April of 2009 that I think I officially caught the old school bug.