Atlas Games is hosting “Reverb Gamers 2012” with 31 question prompts about gaming and gamers and games. I’m going to answer all 31 questions for good or for ill. You can do it, too! And check out @ReverbGamers on Twitter or Facebook.
REVERB GAMERS 2012, #1: What was your first roleplaying experience? Who introduced you to it? How did that introduction shape the gamer you’ve become?
When I was twelve, three friends (all girls) and I played the original Red Box D&D game at a sleepover when we were supposed to be painting our nails and giggling. To set the stage: This was a long time ago (mid-80s) in a land far far away (Brighton, Michigan), almost as distant as a Super Star Destroyer but twice as cold and less of a trap. It wasn’t my box set.* I know whose it was but I will not names to protect the nominally innocent.
No one had told us gaming was for boys and it looked like the sort of game one plays at a sleepover. It had books and manuals and dice and pieces of paper and half intelligible instructions. I dimly remember rolling up a thief. No one knew how to play. The walkthrough manual was worthless. We fought — something! Someone scored hits! Dice was rolled! Treasures were found! We played until nearly four in the morning.
And then, oddly, we never played it again. We just… never did.
I gamed a bit with a High School gaming group (all boys). D&D and a little Battletech. I dimly remember rolling a moose pilot for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game that was never played. I owned a very small number of well-thumbed D&D 2nd Edition splats by time I graduated bought from God knows where. That’s literal. I honestly do not know: God knows where those books came from.
I did not seriously get into gaming until I stepped into that open slobbering gaming maw, a college dormitory next to an engineering school. And then… and then… and then I had access to not only gamers, great insane piles and gouts of gamers, but a hobby store. Rider’s Hobby.** And you know what Rider’s Hobby stocked?
Honestly, I only ever bought a small handful of Shadowrun 2nd edition books — core book, the Decker book, another one I cannot recall as my Shadowrun splatbooks are packed away in boxes and eaten by weevils for years. How I got away with this small set of purchases over a four-year span I can chalk up to my core college addiction: music CDs. One only had so much money for Shadowrun sourcebooks when one needed Nine Inch Nails that much more. And once I laid my hands on money enough to blow on Shadowrun, I had been overtaken by Call of Cthulhu (5th edition, always 5th edition) and that demonic pox on all of humanity, Amber Diceless Roleplaying.
College was D&D 2nd edition until Shadowrun and then Shadowrun Shadowrun Shadowrun until it was overtaken by Star Trek (WEG) and CoC and ADRPG and a little Vampire and that awesome Star Trek game we played with the Shadowrun rules.
I’m left with a warm fondness for huge handfuls of dice, a vague notion in more than four stats, and a belief in a convergence between the Amber’s insane diceless dramafests and the need to quantify and roll dice to adjudicate results on a test of skill or combat. After suffering through AD&D 2nd Ed’s rules, the Shadowrun “roll a crapload of dice and use rule of sixes” was such a breath of fresh air it took over everything like a creeping cthuloid mass. Somewhere there’s an exciting table showing my gaming sweet spot: enough dramafest to keep coming back to the table, enough dice to make it feel like a game, and smooth enough rules I don’t need to read the rulebook. I tend to read RPGs through this lens and judge them all against the simplicity of “you have a 16 roll 16 dice use rule of 6s hit a target number of 30 to succeed.”
I think we’re getting there. I love FATE but it’s a little too complex. I dig Cortex but sometimes I want to roll more than 2 dice. I love GUMSHOE for the problems it solves. But what I want, at the end of the day, is to mash old Shadowrun rules up with ADRPG and have Brand hose down Caine in the Amber Tech ™ Arcology Throne Room with his two Ingram Smart Guns, enormous dice pool born of wired reflexes and an insane stim addiction and then stand there giggling and chanting “I’ve got all the BULLETS, SUCKER.”
* Until recently, I never owned a copy of the Red Box D&D set.
** Rider’s Hobby was by no means a great hobby store but it was a hobby store which was a great deal better than no hobby store whatsoever, my earlier condition.***
*** To get to Rider’s Hobby: “Walk down East Liberty until it hurts and look left. When your feet hurt, it will be before the costume store.” These instructions never failed me. What failed me was this route took me past Borders #1, then the 2nd greatest bookstore on Earth.****
**** The 1st is the Strand in NYC.