My RPG DNA, Part II: The Rise of Genre

Continuing my four-part series on my personal role-playing experience... We left things at the end of the 1980s where, from primitive homebrew beginnings, a group of teenagers found its own particular way of having fun. After 4 years of intense sword & sorcery play, I was looking for other pastures. And when a hobby store finally opened in my area, just as I entered my first year of university, it opened up so many doors as to leave my head spinning. Suddenly, money burned in my pockets, and a number of important purchases were made: Much of the early output of AD&D 2nd edition, everything ever published for Paranoia (1st and 2nd ed.) and a lot of DCHeroes material, most notably the 2nd edition boxed set. And while we slowly finished up ye olde Temple of Elemental Evil (still not using proper AD&D rules), I was running side games using other RPGs, mostly Marvel Super Heroes and Paranoia.

My God, it's full of stars!
You'd think that after a veritable drought of real AD&D product in my area, I would have finally converted to proper Dungeons & Dragons, sending my group into a more balanced and structured world of gaming. And the amount of AD&D product I bought in those days would indicate I at least had plans to do this. Instead, I abandoned AD&D. Or rather, I didn't abandon AD&D, but sword and sorcery as a genre. Why play the same thing I'd been playing for four years when there were all these new worlds available? Through my university years - thanks to moving to the larger Moncton with its comic book/gaming stores - I almost became more of a collector than a gamer. All manner of games too. Those games that I was playing, sure, but really anything that seemed interesting, either based on magazine articles, ads or from back cover copy. I didn't get into Palladium's stuff or I.C.E.'s output. My favorites were instead Steve Jackson Games (I own almost every GURPS book there is), West End Games and IDW. I picked up the very first edition of Ars Magica and the latest in MegaTraveller. I gobbled up every Torg sourcebook. I delved into grown-up stuff like Call of Cthulhu and Pendragon. Small indy games like Macho Women with Guns became collector's items. I collected every issue of Challenge and White Wolf magazines. And all the while, I continued to buy up AD&D product, mostly the excellent Planescape setting's.

That first hobby store also sold really cool AD&D lead miniatures, and so I started painting them, sometimes with results I was quite happy with. However, I was seldom playing in games where they would come in useful.

In those early college years, my longest running campaign used DCHeroes and covered two groups (with one player in common with both). The "Free Spirits" as they'd chosen to call themselves were an 80s-style DC superhero team, as was best supported by the game's adventure scenarios. The characters were all original, and the players almost all recruited from people who'd never roleplayed before, a good portion of them women. This continued to my trend of consciously picking players among the ranks of the uninitiated. The few times I'd been exposed to real gamers, I hadn't liked what I'd seen. Name your negative cliché about role-players, and that'd been it. I guess I had little interest in clashing with such players over how I did things. Or perhaps I was just more comfortable playing with friends, whether they'd gamed or not in the past. Either way, this is an important part of my development as a GameMaster. The focus would remain off crunchy rules and more on juicy roles (which a superhero game can certainly encourage). Beginner-friendly was the order of the day.

Gone clubbing
After a year in Moncton, I'd met a guy in my class who was a gamer from Quebec on the lookout for other gamers. Nice enough chap, and we bonded over role-playing games. The following year, we set up a role-playing club at university together, based on his experience of coming into town and looking for other French-speaking gamers to pursue his hobby. The first meeting did not go well for me, further ostracizing me from the mainstream. Everybody was interested in D&D, but I wanted to try something else. I read over my list of potential games, and was met with either blank stares or mocking laughter. So you DON'T want to try Ghostbusters, well okay! Needless to say, I didn't put a lot of effort in the club after that.

I continued to run other games with my closer friends, but the club's co-founder went on to run AD&D for the players he'd picked up there. I was invited to a few games, of which I have little memory. I do remember making a Bard that followed a Paladin around, and writing songs (parodies of current hits) to accompany his adventures. I seldom got to play, but when I did (when I do), my characters are high on color and low on usefulness, when they're not outright pains in the ass. The guy who owned the apartment where we played thought it was a hoot, and then went back to the "I hit it" style of play. I was obviously trying to make things interesting for myself because I was essentially bored either by the way most people played or the genre itself. (D&D is, I can safely say, a genre unto itself. It goes beyond sword & sorcery, it's also strangely procedural, the way encounters are done, the characters' singular quest for treasure and XP... The way it's PLAYED has become its own genre, quite unlike any literary source). Anyway, that guy got arrested for lying on a job application and the game collapsed.

I would get to use the club's players for new and different things eventually. As I got to know them through those sleepy AD&D games, they started to trust me, and a little game called Dream Park would again change everything...

In Part III: The Rise of Multi-Genre!

Further reading about this era :
One of my failed attempts at playing
My miniatures from that era
Using my RPG book collection as reference for university papers


Siskoid said...

Parts III and IV early next week.

Jeff Moore said...

I am really enjoying this. Thanks for sharing. "Anyway, that guy got arrested for lying on a job application and the game collapsed." ... You can get arrested for lying on a job application??!


Siskoid said...

I didn't really know him. It's my understanding he had a criminal record (a bar fight resulting in an assault charge) and he didn't put it on there. Maybe he got a fine and couldn't pay it.

A few months later, I scored his vacated apartment. It has since burned down. These are all unconnected events.

Thanks for the kind words, Jeff. Say, did you ever get to play the Doctor Who RPG?

Jeff Moore said...

I have not. But I should have tried to arrange one for tonight as a one shot since my D&D game was canceled because a few players couldn't make it (including the girl friend, and there are dire consequences should one trudge ahead with the D&D campaign in absence of the girlfriend.) I'm actually running a 4th edition D&D game right now that has 8 players (gak!) in it (as the DM, I make 9.) ... Oh, well ... maybe I will try to pull together that Doctor Who play test tonight ...

Siskoid said...

EIGHT??? That's pretty big. I don't think I've ever had more than 5 players at a time, which works out to my number of chairs ;).

Jeff Moore said...

I once ran a Champions game at a comic shop that grew to 18 players. It was ridiculous. The owner of the comic shop liked talking about the game but didn't want to alienate anyone who might want to play (as they were his customers) so he just kept saying "yes" anytime someone asked if they could join. Eventually the group collapsed under its own weight.

Siskoid said...

That's practically the Legion of Super-Heroes!


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