Sunday, May 20, 2012

My Origin Story

I'm TDY in Rhode Island, and I was driving down New London Turnpike, and it occurred ro me that I was driving past the side street where I played my first RPG.  But let's start at the beginning...

It was 1977 or 1978, I'm not sure which.  I was a student at Coventry Junior High East, and my friends were John "Jay" Hennessy and Don Goulart. Jay and I would regularly get together after school to play board games such as Risk and Backgammon.

Don, on the other hand, had a friend named Jim. During Christmas break Jim's parents bought him a game: Dungeons & Dragons.  For those who track such things, it was the "Holmes Edition" of the original D&D game--the predecessor to the Basic Set.

I learned about the game after Christmas break when Don and Jim came up to me and said something like "You're good with words, can you come up with a name for our group?" I asked a bit about the group, which meant they had to explain the game to me.  I was intrigued. Don asked if I wanted a copy of the game, and, of course, I said yes.

Back then "a copy" meant a pirated copy.  The process was drawn out, though, and went something like this:
  • Day 1 (night): Jim would go home and re-type a page or two of text from the rule book. Remember that this was back in the 70's, before everyone owned a computer, so Jim was using a manual typewriter!  
  • Day 2 (day): The next day, he would give the type-written pages to Don.
  • Day 2 (night): Don would give them to his father.
  • Day 3 (day): Don's father would take the pages to work and photocopy them...
  • Day 3 (night): ...and then give the copies to Don.
  • Day 4: Don would bring the copied pages to school for us.
On the first page or two that Jim typed up was the description for Charisma.  "Charisma is a combination of personality, appearance, and sex appeal..."  Remember, I'm 12 or 13 at this point, and the idea "sex appeal" in a game seemed downright scandalous.  I was hooked.

Eventually, in a flash of common sense, Don's dad just said "why doesn't he just give me the book?"  So it came to pass that my first ever role-playing game was a Xerox-pirated copy of D&D. (As young tweens/teens we didn't really understand copyright, and back then there wasn't as much cultural awareness as there is today, either. In any case, within a year or two, I owned my own copy of that book and several other TSR products as well, so they got their money in the end).

I read the book, but I didn't exactly understand.  I remember asking Don what the board looked like, because in my mind all games were board games.  He explained it to me, but I didn't really understand it until my first session.

My first session was at Don's house.  His brother Steve was there, and Jim was running the game.  "He can play the cleric" someone said, so they handed me a lead miniature and a character sheet for "Bjorg the Cleric." I don't remember anything else, but I left finally understanding the game.  I got out my bootleg book and started to make a character of my own.

I wanted to play a magic-user, but my stats forced me to be a "fighting man."  That meant he was Human, because non-Humans were their own class. He had stats, and equipment, but no name. So I dubbed him "Snowgen," a word of my own creation.

Eventually one game led to others, and other gamers became friends, and life went on until today, almost 35 years later, when I still use the name "Snowgen," and I still play games.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A New Campaign Begins

Last night was the first session of a new campaign.  It was played via IRC, and the players were my long time friends Jim and Pete.  Jim was responsible for me discovering the RPG hobby back in the 1970's, and the hobby was responsible for me meeting Pete in the 80's.

The game itself was a homebrew/frankengame thing I'm calling Blurbs.  It's basically using the class system from Risus (called "cliches," but I'm calling them "blurbs"), and the task resolution system of Fudge with proverbial bailing wire and chewing gum to hold the pieces together.


It was set in the Star Trek universe, in 2371 (around Stardate 48300.0, for you Trek geeks).  The characters started out on the USS Thunderchild, but were ordered to deliver a China-class runabout to Deep Space 9.  Just as they were about the leave, Captain Sulok asked them to deliver a large duranium chest covered with Vulcan glyphs to Commander Sisko.

After they left the ship in the runabout, they detect some anomalous readings, and investigated.  Concerned with what they detected, they try to transmit a warning, but were unable to do so for some reason. Shortly thereafter they received a distress signal from the Thunderchild. The characters immediately set course back to the Thunderchild, but while trying to boost the engines for more speed, they accidentally triggered a cascading malfunction in the warp system that took hours to repair.  When they were finally underway, figuring that it was too late to help, they resumed course for DS9.


I found myself frustrated with the slow pacing that happens with online games.  Maybe I should consider shifting the game to Skype or something in the future.  The rules seemed to work ok, though the dice were very harsh on the engineer.  I think that might actually be a feature, though, as the engineering character has a low engineering skill.

Still, I left the game with the sense that it's a good beginning, and I'm looking forward to the next session.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Struggle for a Story

When I decided to start this blog, one of the things I struggled with was the name.  "GM" is short for "game master", and is kind of a genericized version of D&D's infamous "dungeon master." There are, however, other terms for that position.  Traveller used "referee," a term originating with the war games that the RPG hobby evolved from. Another early term was "judge", which inspired the name of pioneering publisher Judge's Guild. More modern games migrated towards words like "narrator" (Last Unicorn Games) and "story teller" (White Wolf Games).  I considered all of these terms before I settled on GM.

I have to say, though, the "story teller" term really irks me.  Not so much the term, but the mindset that the GM has some story that he's supposed to be telling.  In my mind that attitude is synonymous with rail-roading.  When the GM has a plot, then the he tries to protect it.  He gets upset if the players do something to "ruin the plot".  In the end, he takes choice away from the players to further the ending that he has envisioned.

It is not the GM's job to tell a story.  It is the GM's job to set the stage that allows the characters to tell their own stories.

What brings this to mind is that I'll be running a game set in the Star Trek universe on Wednesday, and I've been struggling all week to come up with plots.  It sounds hypocritical, to say on one hand that the GM shouldn't be telling a story, but then to say that I'm trying to come up with one.  The difference is that I'm coming up with the story that is happening around the players--I fully expect them to ruin it.  Maybe they'll ruin it by defeating the "bad guys" before I expect.  Maybe they'll ruin it by joining forces with the bad guys and viewing the "good guys" as the villains.  I don't know--the choice belongs to them.

But I need to set the stage, and I only have until Wednesday night to do it.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Who am I?

I was joining Trollhalla a few months ago and, as he does with everyone, Ken St Andre asked me to post an "introductory poem."  I thought that I would repost it here, so you know a little more about the dude writing this blog.

I am Snowgen, so you know,
Who faced Dungeons and Dragons long ago,

I crossed the land and crossed the sea
Seeking more Adventures in Fantasy.

I soared in the skies on silver wings,
And stumbled upon Top Secret things.

I was a Traveller brave and bold,
And conquered the Star Frontiers of old.

With companions brave I huddled and curled
On a cold, desolate Gamma World.

I've seen many Powers & Perils, and suffered damnation
After I vanquished the foul Lords of Creation.

I’ve slain the menace that lies in the east--
Making sounds of slurps and GURPS--oh the beast!

I've suffered injury, illness, and Paranoia. Don't judge!
All those problems were cured by magical Fudge!

I have dined with Grimtooth, in his home,
Made him scribble my name in his tome.

I wandered the heavens on a Star Trek.
Killed a troll with Big Eyes, Small Mouth, and no neck.

I am Snowgen, so you know,
Facing Tunnels and Trolls from long ago.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

First Post!

So I've had this account with Blogger forever, and have been wanting to blog about something.  The problem was that no matter what idea I came up with, I could never figure out why someone else would want to read about it.  Then inspiration came to me through a friend who has a great blog about mountain unicycling.  Even though I have no real interest in mountain unicycling, I very much enjoy reading his posts.  When I told him this he seemed surprised.  "I don't really write for other people," he explained. "I just write for myself."

So this is me, doing what he does: writing for myself about something that I love.  If no one ever reads this, I'll be fine with it.