This isn’t a post about Rocket-Propelled Grenades – I’ve been thinking about RolePlaying Games lately. The post will be a bit about my personal life, a bit about old-school roleplaying games, and a bit about more modern games. If my readers don’t tell me to shut up because this is a boring topic, I’ll mix some more detailed talk about individual RPG systems in with my regular content (because I don’t have a sufficient number of unfinished blog post series going on).
When it comes to RPGs, I’m simultaneously one of the oldest of the old school/OG/grognards and a complete FNG noob. How can that be? I must have been in grade school when I first started playing Dungeons & Dragons, since I know I had the version pictured below, and I may have had an earlier version as well:
Gaming was my weekend activity – every single weekend through some of grade school, all of junior high, and my first two years of high school. My parents thought I was wasting my life, but looking back on it, I’m not sure what more-productive activity I could have done with my time. I was already in my school’s gifted program, so I was programming primitive computers (punch cards were just being replaced by keyboards) and playing chess, and the internet didn’t exist so independent learning was limited to reading library books.
Wrestling was a big sport in my geographic region, so I tried it out. I was extremely skinny, slow to grow to my ultimate height, and a year younger than my classmates, so I was by far the lightest kid around. The wrestling coaches completely ignored me, which I don’t really understand since it’s a weight-class sport. Maybe I was below gnatweight or whatever. I couldn’t really execute any of the techniques in practice because I was a beginner and half the weight of my opponents. Imagine yourself trying to roll over a professional sumo wrestler. The other big sport in the area was basketball, which my height made a non-starter.
After playing basic D&D, my small gaming group added Advanced D&D, Gamma World, Traveller, Star Frontiers, and Car Wars. OK, maybe Car Wars isn’t really a RPG, but I had fun with it. I moved midway through high school, so I lost my group. I jumped in on a session of Twilight 2000 the next year, but didn’t do much else. The year after that, and during college vacations, I picked up a little GURPS and Paranoia. There may be others I’ve forgotten about. I also owned a few games that I don’t remember actually playing, like the western Boot Hill and the espionage games Top Secret and James Bond 007.
So, with all that background, how am I a noob? Once I left college, I didn’t play any RPGs for three decades. I ended up giving away all my classic rulebooks and modules to save space. Until a few months ago, I didn’t even know that there were numbered versions of D&D. Now, for some reason, I’m thinking about RPGs again. Maybe I’m tired of putting time and effort into my career without seeing any payoff, so I’d rather just goof off. Maybe it’s because I’m thinking of moving again, and might like to make new friends. I’m not sure, really.
There are three separate directions (not exclusive) that my new interest in RPGs might take. I’ve considered playing through an online forum. This would solve many problems, like getting everyone together at the same time, and finding a group of players with similar interests. My problem is that I’m already spending too much time in front of a computer screen. I work on a computer all day, play the occasional computer game, and read/write blog posts. I’m reluctant to add another computer-based activity.
I’ve also considered merging my writing hobby with my rediscovered interest in RPGs. I worked on a couple of stories where I felt I had an interesting setting and plot ideas, but didn’t have a compelling character. Why not lay out the setting and some plot alternatives, and let people bring their own characters? I’d have to do a lot more research to get into this. I don’t know which systems allow independent writers to publish modules, which systems have enough players for anyone to even see my module, or whether players are accepting of generic, systemless modules. Any advice would be appreciated.
My third possible route back into RPGs would be the traditional tabletop gathering. The internet probably makes finding a group easier these days, but I still see a couple of potential problems. What are younger players going to think about some geezer showing up to their game? “Oh, here comes that guy who always talks about how he rode a woolly mammoth to school and slapped the Kaiser in the face.”
Another issue is that, apparently, 99% of gaming groups play D&D, and I don’t really want to play D&D. Some of this may be burnout from playing it so much as a child, and some is probably the medieval aesthetic. Maybe my mind is stuck on the dung ages, or maybe it’s that I’d much rather play in a post-apocalyptic world where killer animals have crazy mutations and defective robots think you’re an ingredient at a food-processing facility.
On top of that, most D&D players seem to be playing version 5, which I’m afraid I might not like. I’ve been reading a bit online, and apparently players are expected to write multi-page backstories for their beginning-level characters, and GMs (GameMasters) fudge dice rolls in players’ favor to keep characters alive, and against them to make sure they aren’t overshadowing other players. I’ll stay home – mail me my participation trophy.
I have heard that GMs are in short supply relative to players, though, so maybe if I offered to host, some players would try out a non-D&D game. If not, other systems are still viable for online play or module writing, so I’ve browsed a few systems and plan to look over a few more. Here’s a quick rundown of the ones I’ve considered/will consider (I plan to post about some of the more interesting ones in the future):
I think I’ve ruled out the rules-light systems Fate and its sci-fi expansion, Diaspora. I don’t know if there are necessarily problems with the rules, but people who use these systems generally play in a style that doesn’t mesh with my own.
I’ve spent time looking at the “tiny” RPGs from Gallant Knight Games. The most famous is the fantasy game Tiny Dungeon, but there is also the post-apocalyptic Tiny Wastelands, the space opera Tiny Frontiers, the Tiny Supers superhero game, and the kickstarter for Tiny Cthulhu is just about to finish. I kind of love the simplicity of these tiny systems, but I’m afraid one particular missing element would keep many players away.
I haven’t looked at Savage Worlds much yet, but it appears to fall between rules-light and rules-heavy systems.
I could go back to playing something I’ve played in the past, such as GURPS. Some people say GURPS is too rules-heavy, which I don’t recall, but my memories of it are a bit fuzzy. Paranoia was a complete blast, but I’m looking for something much less setting-specific today. I don’t think you can buy the original Traveller any more, but there are multiple clones. I feel that a certain type of setting is implicit when playing Traveller, but I’ve seen people claim otherwise.
There is a movement known as OSR (Old School Roleplaying) where players or publishers produce clones or near-clones of classic games. I ended up with a copy of Mutant Future, which seems to be a clone of the original Gamma World, one of my favorites. Apparently this was written by the same company that wrote Labyrinth Lord, one of the most popular D&D clones.
Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC) is another OSR game, with an interesting character generation/early adventuring dynamic. I feel that a few aspects of the game don’t transfer quite as well to the post-apocalyptic version, Mutant Crawl Classics, but it does have some interesting mutations, etc..
I hear a lot of praise for the Adventurer Conquerer King system (ACKS), which has your successful characters reclaim land from monsters and then manage it as a fiefdom. I haven’t read exactly how this works yet. Unfortunately for me, there doesn’t seem to be a post-apocalyptic or space opera equivalent.
I plan to check out the space opera game Stars Without Number, but haven’t done so yet.
Somewhere, I have a PDF of a post-apocalyptic RPG called Feral which I’m going to have to locate and check out.
I’m kind of curious about an RPG called The End of the World. Apparently, you play yourself as a character, so your real-life skills and attributes get boiled down to a character sheet. My biggest question is: what happens if your character dies mid-adventure or mid-campaign? There are four campaign books for sale, with different causes of the apocalypse: zombies, aliens, elder gods, and a robot uprising.
I suspect there’s a large overlap between readers of SFF and current/former RPGers. Let me know in the comments below whether you’ve ever been into RPGs, and of course, chime in with your advice about any of the topics I’ve mentioned above, or to suggest things I haven’t thought of.