Sunday, October 4, 2015

My Life as a Gamer: Me and RPGs

To quote Monty Python, "And now for something completely different."

I have a life-long love affair with Role-Playing Games, especially the original form of the genre: Tabletop Role-Playing.

Dungeons & Dragons transformed things in ways most don't expect.

May of 1974 is just a few months before my own birth, so much like getting your infant a puppy D&D and I have been linked since birth. I just wasn't aware of it until I got into elementary school, when I was introduced to it on October 9th of 1981. Like every other punk kid, I sucked harder than Hoover on overdrive. I rolled an Elf, who died on the first level. I rolled a Dwarf, who died on the first level. (Both to dragons, because the DM was a slightly-older punk kid being a shit, as we all were then.) Then I rolled a Fighter, who went on to survive and thrive; he's still alive today, though I haven't played him in years. (Retirement's been good to him.)

I'd since go on to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (both 1st and 2nd Edition), then Dungeons & Dragons (the third edition, in both of its iterations). Today, if I play a current edition, I stick with the fork--Pathfinder--over the 4th and 5th Edition of the official game. But I now prefer to play the editions I knew as a child, thanks to meeting and talking with those who were adults back then playing the game as well as meeting those who had a hand in creating it- a trend now resulting in historical works such as Jon Peterson's Playing at the World.

But not all RPGs are Dungeons & Dragons, and I like a lot of not-D&Ds out there.

From that same early era of tabletop RPGs comes the grand-daddy of Science Fiction RPGs, the D&D of the genre in this medium: Traveller. Horror has Call of Cthulhu, originally focused on the Cthulhu Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft but often bodged to be whatever the users want out of a Horror genre scenario. However, most of my not-D&D RPGs came from one company: Palladium Books. Why? While other games have their appeal, and I've played most of them over the years, it's just three games (two of them being licensed) that roped me in and kept me around for over a decade.

  • TMNT & Other Strangeness: Now published under After The Bomb, this RPG was about playing characters like--in a broad sense--the titular Turtles. You played a mutant animal, and your mutant was some form of adventurer or operative making their way in world never meant for them. You had no obligation to adhere to the comic's lore whatsoever, so you could do whatever you liked so long as you could find a way to make it work. The reason the ATB setting took off is that it gave immediate direction and context for user-generated content, so when Palladium lost the license the carryover was obvious.

  • Robotech: After Star Wars, I was a huge Robotech fanboy and that series made me a mecha anime fan for life- especially of the Macross and Mobile Suit Gundam franchises. I got into this licensed game because I wanted to be a Veritech fighter pilot something fierce, and this was the only way I could scratch that itch. Palladium got a new license a while back, so a new edition of the game--a much improved version--is available. (I play this instead of the original, when I play at all.)

  • RIFTS: This is the big blender, where everything goes, and it works well enough. All of Palladium's games technically are separate, but in practice all of them are self-sustaining supplementary lines for this game, the company's flagship. I got hooked when I saw the Cyber-Knight, a blend of Jedi and Templar, in the original rulebook and I've had a love-hate affair with it (as I do with Palladium in general) since.

There are other not-D&D games that I played then, and some I enjoy now (still, for some). This is getting long, so I'll just list the big ones here for now and go on at length another time.
  • The Star Wars Role-Playing Game: In 1987, West End Games published the original licensed Star Wars RPG. This one game line is the foundation for the vast majority of the Expanded Universe that only recently, after Uncle George sold it all to Disney, got thrown into the trash. Your Force-Sense-Alter paradigm? From this game, not the movies, and mistaking it as canon is a common error. (The Consular/Guardian thing is solely an artifact of a later adaptation, by the way, and has no basis in the actual canon.) Much of the novels, comics, etc. built off this version of the RPG- and that includes later RPG adaptations. (The current one, by Fantasy Flight Games, splits it by playable space: Scoundrels, Rebels, Jedi. I don't care for the mechanics.) I still prefer the West End version, with modifications, for my Star Wars gaming.

  • TORG: The other playable kitchen sink game, with a very different mechanical engine than Palladium's RIFTS, that I love for being an unabashed adventure game with global scope and scale as well as genre mashups you will not see elsewhere. The Drama Deck is a gimmick, but it works, and I still have mine (and the die); I look forward to the new edition, when it gets here.

  • Middle-Earth Role-Playing: This was a licensed adaptation of another D&D competitor,Rolemaster, simplified (believe it or not) and stripped down to only a 10 level playable range. The publisher--Iron Crown Enterprises--well overstepped the terms of their license, eventually resulting in termination, but no other licensed Middle-Earth RPG has anything like its playability, scope, scale, or popularity despite being out of print for 15 years now (as of this post). My experience is that most users employed this game as a supplement to the full Rolemaster ruleset, as the full game was actually referred to in many MERP products and the full game made many Middle-Earth references. While MERP can only be found used in print or in dodgy PDFs online, current editions of Rolemaster can be found here.

In another post, I'll get into RPGs in other media, and how my youth in the tabletop medium influenced how I see them.

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