#RPGaDay, Day 23: Perfect Game for Me

cropped-chibi-brent.jpgMuch of what makes a perfect game for me ties back to what I was talking about yesterday; it’s more the people I’m gaming with than the game itself. Good players, after all, can make even a bad or mediocre game enjoyable. And with the right group role-playing can pop up in almost any game, as witnessed by the wonderfully role-played games of Shadows Over Camelot I’ve enjoyed.

But stipulating that, I have to say my perfect game is whatever my Thursday Night Heroes are playing. I’ve played with basically the same group of guys on Thursday nights, going on 9 years now. We’ve changed locations (various living rooms, basements, and even board rooms at BioWare), games (D&D, Shadowrun, Star Wars, Pathfinder), and had a few members come and go. We also weather scheduling issues, which can become a problem for any long-running group. Somehow we keep making it work, though.

More in the spirit of the question, though, my perfect game would feature mechanics which enhance role-playing instead of interrupting it. In as much as dice rolling is necessary, it should happen quickly and cleanly, and lead right back to the GM and players telling a story. The game should feature a tangible way to reward good storytelling and role-playing, whoever does it. Many games feature rewards for players in this regard, but I’d love to find a game which rewards the GM somehow.

Yes, I know, today’s post is a bit more vague than usual. What are you going to do?

What’s your perfect game? Comment below.

#RPGaDay, Day 15: Longest Campaign Played

Recently my regular Thursday night group took a break from our long-running Rise of the Runelords Pathfinder campaign. I’ve been gaming with this particular group of guys (with some additions and subtractions along the way) for over 8 years. Of that time, we’ve been playing Runelords long enough that we started in D&D 3.5 and switched to Pathfinder. That may seem like a long time, especially since we aren’t done (currently a third of the way into Book 5 of the adventure path). But in that time we tried out other games, took breaks for summer holidays, missed nights due to work, illness, and “holy hell the rods are covered in HOW much snow and ice?!”. And our sessions, while fun, are generally only 2-3 hours long, so enough time for them to find trouble but not always enough time for them to finish it off.

But for all that, I really love gaming with these guys. There is something that happens, when you have a long running gaming group, that I’ve never been able to describe. I imagine it happens with any small group of people who share the same experiences over time. I feel connected to Ron, Scotty, David, Ben, (and now Matt) in a way that I just don’t get with a lot of my other players. Sure, friendship is part of it. But even though it’s imaginary, the experiences we’ve shared give us a weird common bond. And while we have had to put in some effort to make the group work, it’s nothing we’ve ever had to force. I’m not describing it well, but like I said, I have yet to adequately describe it to myself, never mind other people. If you’re in a long-running group you know what I mean.

#RPGaDay, Day 11: Favourite RPG Writer

I completely missed the start of this for this year, so today I’ll be catching up, working back from today’s topic. If you want to see my answers to the previous day’s questions, keep scrolling down.

 Day 11: Favourite RPG Writer

This may be one of the hardest questions for me to answer. And no, no tired “Sophie’s Choice” comparison; no one is going to execute the writers I don’t pick. Are they? No, that would be awful. They wouldn’t…no, I’m sure it’s fine.

I’m going to fudge this a little bit, and give my gaming material and fiction answers. So for gaming material, and limiting myself only to stuff I’ve read this year lest I go mad, I’m going with Kenneth Hite. I picked up a tentacle-load of Trail of Cthulhu books from a friend this past spring, and I love everything about the system and the source books. The GUMSHOE System lends itself particularly well to Cthulhu Mythos gaming, by cleverly removing the possibility of NOT finding necessary clues; you will always find an answer, but you may have to put in a bit of extra effort (and/or stability and sanity) to make that clue really pay off. It is such an elegant and simple mechanic, and made all the more clever because, used properly, it heightens the role-playing experience. If you haven’t looked at the system, do yourself a favour and check it out.

My favourite RPG fiction writer is Dave Gross. I’ve been a fan of Dave’s work for…*looks at calendar, shudders at the math*…a long time. But the work which cemented me as a life-long Dave Gross Fan Club Member was the Radovan and the Count stories found in the Pathfinder Adventure Path Council of Thieves, and the ensuing five novels.  Dave gives us, in the relationship and adventures of these two characters, a story which is at one and the same time immensely personal and intimate, and grandly heroic and sometimes tragic. That isn’t to say these elements weren’t present in earlier works, or aren’t present in his other current works. But in the Radovan and the Count stories they come together so well, the books are a joy to read and re-read. (Nerd Confession: Every time a new book in the series comes out, I go back and re-read the novels before reading the newest one. I’ve never regretted it.) If you want to read an exciting, fun story with characters you’ll love, find yourself a copy of Prince of Wolves and read yourself through the series up to the latest, Lord of Runes. You’re welcome.

Day 10: Favourite RPG Publisher

Overall, Paizo is still my favourite RPG publisher. I’m still continually impressed with how open and inclusive they are with their world-building, and their customer service and customer contact are second to none. There aren’t many companies where you can comment in the forums and get and answer directly from the lead designer on a game, never mind the CEO of the company. I often wonder when (if) they sleep, what with an already busy publishing schedule.

Since the publication of D&D 5th, though, WotC is getting better. The new edition is good, and I’m starting to like interacting with the company’s site, something that was not true for years. So they’re worth keeping an eye on.

Day 9: Favourite Media You Wish was an RPG

I’m watching some new sci-fi shows right now, and my current fav could so easily become an RPG campaign. Killjoys is all about the gritty world of reclamation agents (bounty hunters) navigating their pasts, relationships, and the twisty world of sector politics. Reclamation agents even have levels; depending on what skills and personality you bring with you to the evaluation when you sign-up, you are assigned as Level 1 (small-time courier and transport work only) up to Level 5 (Kill Warrants). It would be fun to pick a system like Fate or even AGE, and then assign each character their level based on what they develop during character creation. Hmmm…

A close second, Dark Matter is a great, slow-burning story about six people who wake up from stasis aboard a busted starship, with no memory of who they are or how they got there. Sounds like the classic start to a space-based RPG campaign to me.

Day 8: Favourite Appearance of RPGs in the Media

There are more and more of these all the time, but the line from the X-Files, “I didn’t play Dungeons and Dragons all these years and not learn a little something about courage.” remains my favourite. And yes, I do like the Community Episodes where they play D&D. Even though the first time they play, Abed is clearly not using the right map; that was obviously the map from Q1: Queen of the Demon Web Pits, so I don’t know what…ahem. Sorry. No, I’m good, it was good. All good.

Day 7: Favourite Free RPG

They’ve supplied it for the last few years of Free RPG Day, but I really like Cosmic Patrol from Catalyst Game Labs. It is a very rules light game, and delivers exactly what it promises. It definitely requires players who will jump in to the spirit of the game with both feet, but if you have those players you are going to go from picking up the book to a rollicking good time in about 10-15 minutes.

Day 6: Most Recent RPG Played

Pathfinder. My regular Thursday night group has started the Jade Regent Adventure Path, and at our last session we got stuck in to some good old goblin killing action and mayhem. Good times!

Day 5: Most Recent RPG Purchase

My most recent purchase was Odyssey: The Complete Game Master’s Guide to Campaign Management from DriveThruRPG. It’s a really good primer on how to organically organize your campaign. Even if you think you’re an old hand at running an RPG campaign, it’s worth a read. I’ve been doing this hobby for over thirty years, and there are some things I found useful.

Day 4: Most Surprising Game

I’m maybe expanding the spirit of this question, but my most surprising game recently was playing D&D 5th edition for the first time. I was surprised at how much it felt like playing the game I had played as a kid, but at the same time was very grown up and with a lot of the sharp edges I remember from back then smoothed off. If you haven’t played it yet, put aside your partisan feeling and give it a try.

Day 3: Favourite New Game of the Last 12 Months

I don’t really have a new game of the last 12 months. This past year I’ve spent a bunch of time delving back in to my gaming roots, so my focus has been backwards, not forwards. But as I said above, the GUMSHOE System, and Trail of Cthulhu in particular are great. I’ve already got a campaign idea in the works.

Day 2: Kickstarted Game Most Pleased I Backed

I’ve backed Ernest Gary Gygax Jr.’s Marmoreal Tomb Campaign Starter, and I’m excited about that. It’s already passed a bunch of stretch goals, so it looks like it’s going to be gorgeous. As I said earlier, I’ve been looking back at my gaming roots a lot lately, and this came along at the perfect time. If you want to get your hands on a campaign setting with old-school feel, check them out.

Day 1: Forthcoming Game I’m Most Looking Forward To

Again, I think I’m interpreting the question broadly, but I’m really looking forward to the first game two of my friends, Scott and Stanley, are setting up. Each of them is GMing a different Pathfinder Adventure Path, and then playing in the other, with four of us playing in both. I think it will be a ton of fun; I really like playing RPGs with these guys, and as long as we can keep the momentum going I think it will be great.

Campaign Creation: Messing with FATE

If you tune in regularly to the blog you wouldn’t be faulted for thinking all I play is Pathfinder. I’m the Venture-Captain for Edmonton, Golarion is my current favourite setting, and I am currently GMing three different Pathfinder campaigns. But despite that busy schedule, I do find time to cheat on Pathfinder play other role-playing games.

One of those games is FATE. I’m relatively new to the system, but everything I’ve read I’ve loved. So when my buddy Scott wanted to start a FATE campaign and invited me to play I jumped on-board. As we developed the ideas for the campaign we decided to set it in an alternate version of our own city of Edmonton. As part of that process, Scott asked each of us to come up with two Faces and two Places to populate our world. I thought I’d share what I created.

While the other players chose to create people and places from scratch, I used actual people and places here in my neighbourhood. I like making alternate versions of actual locations and people for games like this, and I did similar things when I ran both Shadowrun and D20 Modern games set in Edmonton. So if you’re local these might seem familiar; if you aren’t, here’s a little taste of my town.

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Faces

Mike Perrino – Mike is the owner/proprietor of Whyte Knight Market. Mike seems to know what anything (or anyone) is worth; as a result he’s become the go-to guy for folks looking to buy and sell the weird, wonderful, and worrisome. You might not like the price he offers (or the price he charges) but Mike will buy and sell anything, from a bulk lot of lightly used 1920’s bed pans to a simian phrenology statue to that weird thing that’s hung on the Market’s wall forever. It’s also common knowledge a good story might help you get a price down or an offer up. Because it’s common knowledge, your story had better be pretty damn good.

Known Aspects: Size You Up with a Glance, Amuse Me

Sam the Hat – A fixture of Whyte Avenue’s bar scene, Sam the Hat is easily spotted by the stack of cheap cowboy hats he wears on his head at any given moment. A friendly Cree man of indeterminate age, Sam appears to make his living selling his hats for a Twonie a pop to drunk bar-flies along the Avenue. Always friendly, always with a joke or a bit of clowning…and always with a stack of hats. Sometimes dozens, sometimes as few as three or four, but never running out. Maybe he has them stashed all along Whyte Avenue. Maybe some unseen partner drops them off to him. Maybe he’s Wesakechak (that’s Whiskey Jack to you).

Known Aspects: Can’t Help But Smile, Fear the Clown

Places

Whyte Knight Market (Whyte Avenue) – Some might call it a curio shop, some might call it a junk store. But if you are looking for something truly weird or eclectic and can’t think of who in the world would sell it, chances are the Market has two of them. You might just be able to find anything on the shelves or hanging on a hook. And sometimes you find things you didn’t even know you needed until you saw them. For a price, of course.

Known Aspects: The Weirder the Better, You Might Just Find You Get What You Need

The Strathcona Hotel (Whyte Avenue) – The Strat, as she is affectionately known to locals, has stood on the corner of Whyte and 103 Street since before there was a Whyte and 103rd Street, or any street, really. They’ve prettied up the outside and slapped a nice historical plaque by the door, but everyone knows the Strat for what it is: a flophouse. If you need a cheap place to hang your hat undisturbed, the Strat has a room for you. In fact the Strat always seems to have a room, regardless of how many folks check in. At least no one will bother you.

Known Aspects: Bigger on the Inside, Can Not Disturb

Any FATE players out there? What Faces and Places have you created? Share in the comments if you are so inclined.

GM Resources: One Page Dungeon Contest

There is such a wealth of Game Master resources on-line, I often find something extremely useful and then lose track of it. The One Page Dungeon contest is one of those resources, and I’m indescribably happy to have found it again.

The contest idea makes it cool enough: design an interesting dungeon (including map) which fits on a single side of a standard sheet of paper. This limitation forces the entrants to strip away any extraneous elements and focus on the essentials of their dungeon design. You might think this would lead to a lot of 1 or 2 room , simple dungeon sites. And luckily you’d be wrong. Every year the contest draws page upon page of amazing and imaginative designs, both in the content of the dungeon and the design of the page layout. Many of the entries, while great encounters, are also stunning to look at; fitting the maximum amount of dungeon on a single page leads to some incredible examples of cunning art and design. If you’d like to challenge yourself as a designer, I highly recommend entering the contest. This year it ends on April 30 and complete rules can be found here.

Now it sounds fun and worth a look. But what makes this a particularly good resource for GMs is the contest has been running since 2009, and all entries in the contest must publish themselves under the Creative Commons license. These two things make this site a veritable toy box for the busy Game Master. There are literally hundreds of excellent dungeon sites available, all of them perfect to print and play. Many of the entries are system neutral, or are at least rules/setting light, so time spent adapting to your game will be minimal. I’ve already grabbed a few to use in one of my current Pathfinder campaigns, and my total time spent working them up was 10 minutes, including print time.

A great contest and a great resource. If you have time I highly recommend just scrolling through the gallery. For me the tour was worth it just to come across a one-page dungeon set inside a certain demon idol familiar to 1st Ed. D&D players. I’ll be running that one soon…

D&D Release Dates Leaked

In a move which is either a “Whoops!” from on-line seller Barnes & Noble or a calculated testing of the waters by the Hasbro marketing team, the release dates and prices have been posted for the first new Dungeons & Dragons products in over a year (sorry, I don’t count reprints and trips back to the well). Looks like some sort of Starter Set will be available on July 15th for $19.99, with the Player’s Handbook following up about a month later for $49.95. No images, or in fact any useful information, are provided beyond book title, release date, and MSRP.

I have some thoughts about the newest Dungeons & Dragons iteration. Many thoughts, in fact, which this news has stirred up. So let me give you a few in no particular order:

* $49.95 for a Player’s Handbook!? In this age of game systems printing all-in-one core books, and even Pathfinder giving us a core book with player/GM info combined, I’m both surprised and dismayed at Wizards for hanging on to this publishing tactic. I get the D&D books have traditionally been broken down this way; I can see my 1st, 2nd, and 3.5ed books sitting comfortably on my shelf. But with all the talk of D&D Next (so glad they seemed to have dumped that moniker, by the way) being a new direction for the game, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect them to at least follow Pathfinder’s model and combine player and GM books together. Especially for a hefty half a C-note.

And assuming the other two books in the D&D triumvirate are priced the same, that’s a price tag of $150. $170, really, because as the release dates now stand there is no talk of a Dungeon Master’s Guide or Monster Manual, so if you want to play right away you’ll need to grab that Starter Kit. A prospect which, based on the quality of the 4e Red Box, underwhelms me. So $170 for the “core set”…Wizards, you are asking me to take a big leap of faith here.

* No confirmation yet, in either this  newly leaked info or in previous mentions from WotC, on whether digital downloads will be available at time of release. Or at all, actually. Again, not something you can really afford to skimp or skip these days. Given how WotC dropped the digital ball when 4e released, silence on this front could be good. But it’s debatable whether it’s worse to promise the moon and fail to deliver, or promise nothing and turn off potential pre-sales. But like many folks anxiously awaiting D&D’s return, I’m hoping they handle their digital offerings right this time.

* I am excited for a new D&D! Yeah, I know I started with a couple of negatives, but I am honestly excited to see new Dungeons & Dragons material on store shelves. D&D started me down the path of table-top gaming, lo those many decades ago. Like many first loves I’m always going to have an attraction to it, even if I’ve moved on in my heart. I want it to do well, I really do. It’s going to take something fairly extraordinary to make it my primary game again; Pathfinder has pretty well taken that spot. And with games like Numenera and Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, it may even have a running battle as my second favourite.  But even with my misgivings, I know I’ll pick up the books at Gen Con and I know I’ll at least try to like the new game.

* While I hope it does well, I’m not of the same mind as a lot of folks who put a direct connection between the health of the table-top gaming industry and a new, healthy D&D. Yes, healthy gaming companies are good for the industry as a whole; if the new edition does well, WotC gets stronger, is in a position to employ freelancers, supplemental products can be produced, and so on. But I’d argue two things: 1) The gaming industry, for all intents and purposes, has lived without D&D for close to 2 years at this point. While I wouldn’t argue it’s at its strongest, it certainly isn’t weak. And, 2) When I hear most people talk about the new Age of Prosperity which will follow the newest D&D, they use the d20 release as an example. But much of what strengthened the gaming industry when 3rd/3.5 hit the market was the Open Gaming License (it could also be argued that it later weakened it, but that’s another article). So far there doesn’t seem to be any sign of anything similar coming with this edition, so I don’t think the effect will be as monumental as some hope.

Okay, those are some of my off-the-cuff thoughts about the new D&D. What do you think? Are you excited, meh, or somewhere in between? Drop a note in comments.

Happy 40th Anniversary, Dungeons & Dragons!

As most gamers know by now, this year marks the 40th Anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons. I couldn’t possibly sum up everything D&D has meant to me as both a gamer and a person in just one post. So I’m not going to try. All through 2014 I’ll have a series of posts about D&D: my history playing the game, its influence on me, funny and potentially libellous anecdotes. But to start, here is a piece I wrote over five years ago about my introduction to the game which would change my life. Set the TARDIS for 1980 and hold on…

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Bio of a Gaming Geek

Chapter One: The Beginning

October, 1980. A Monday. I remember it was Monday, because at the tender age of ten I found it odd that anyone did anything on a Monday night. It was late fall in Fort McMurray, which meant there was already a foot of snow on the ground and I had started wearing the parka that would be my coat de jour for the next seven months. I was trudging my way to the library, unaware of how much my life is about to be irrevocably altered.

That snowy Monday night in October was my first exposure to a little game called Dungeons & Dragons.

As many life-changing moments do, this one began innocently enough. Some days earlier I was with my mom at the library, picking up my “weekly” supply of books. My mother, for draconian reasons of her own, restricted me to weekly trips to the library. This was for my own good; left to my own devices I would do nothing in my free time but read. The maximum number of books I was permitted to sign out from the library as a juvenile was eight, which taught me two things at an early age: sometimes rules are just dumb, and delayed gratification is not all it is cracked up to be.

So during my weekly oratory against the injustices of public library management, I notice my mother no longer paying attention to me. Curious as to what could possibly be more important than her eldest child’s merest rambling, I look over at the bulletin board she is perusing. While she stands enthralled with some “For Sale” ad or other, a posting catches my eye. It’s the artwork that grabs me, and I recognize it as the cover for a copy of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, which I had finished re-reading just last week. Then I start reading the poster. Role-playing game? Wizards and warriors? Storytelling? I have no idea any of that is, but it has the King Arthur stamp of approval. It looks like it could be fun. Plus whatever it is is being run here at the library, by one of the librarians. My Mom will let me go, because it is bound to be educational (everything that happens in a library is, by my Mom’s reckoning, educational). And it gets me amongst my beloved books one more time during the week; even if it sucks, I can go read.

Having hatched my diabolical plan for bibliophile domination, I swiftly put it into action. I oh-so-casually pointed out the notice, and allowed that, as much as it would be a terrible imposition on my time, attending the event might provide some slight diversion. My mother read the notice over, then checked with the librarian to make sure that a ten year old was welcome at the event. Blast! That might be the sticking point, the flaw in my cunningly crafted plan. For reasons beyond my understanding, there were some things that I was not allowed to do because I just hadn’t put in enough time. As far as I was concerned this was just an example of the adult-parental complex trying to keep me from fun.

But fate, often so cruel in a young boy’s life, smiled upon me this day. The librarian explained that kids my age were not only allowed but encouraged to take part. I was so elated by my unwitting accomplice’s aid, I ignored the kid part. Despite my mother’s standard “We’ll see”, I knew I had succeeded. Sweet library action would be mine!

And thus I found myself trudging through the snow towards the library, the keen anticipation of a few illicit hours with my books (yes, mine) driving me onward. I had already dismissed the event itself as nothing of import, and was planning the best use of my time once inside the library. There were a few books in the children’s section I wanted to read first, then on to the sci-fi juveniles. Once I was finished there, I could…All too soon, I was passing through the doors, and into the warm embrace of my “second” home.

Removing the shell of clothing that protected me from Fort McMurray’s Hoth-like environment (I had seen The Empire Strikes Back that summer which led to several winters of imagining Fort Mac as a rebel outpost on Hoth, despite a disappointing lack of tauntauns), I used the moments usually wasted by this chore to survey the terrain. Yes, yes, this would be doable, I could even see some books that weren’t there the last time. But first, I guess I should at least put in an appearance at this thing. That way, under later interrogation by my mother, I wouldn’t have to lie. Not completely, anyway.

I made my way to the activity room, ignoring the siren call of the stacks (soon, my pretties, soon). Running this thing in the activity room was already strike one. Every kid knew that nothing fun happened in there; it was the domain of “educational films” and “reading camps”. My mother enrolled me in one of that last, just once. I had an immediate and violent allergic reaction to anyone forcing me to read something I didn’t want to, which spread quickly to the other kids. It was suggested to my mother that “reading camps might not stimulate Brent’s imagination enough”, and my time as a biblio-Spartacus was at an end.

But as I entered the room, fearing the worst, some of that old familiar dread went away. No film projector for one thing, so that was a good sign. Steve, the librarian that was obviously in charge of things tonight, saw me at the door and directed me to grab a seat at the table. There were about a half-dozen other kids, sharing books and scribbling things down on various sheets of paper. Paper? Pencils? Wait a minute, I’ve been tricked! Where’s the board, the little plastic or wood pieces? This isn’t a game at all, it’s some sort of…it’s homework! Well, to hell with you, Librarian Steve, I’m not going to sit here and do homework like a chump. I began slowly sliding out of my chair, one eye on Steve the Betrayer lest he catch me making a break for the library proper.

Hey, Brent! I didn’t know you were into D&D too.” My current best friend from school, Kevin, grabbed the seat next to me. Kevin and I did pretty much everything together, including a few things that we instinctively knew our mothers never needed to know. I mean, it isn’t dangerous to jump your bike over an old sewer culvert, it’s only dangerous if you fail. (Mothers just don’t understand that)

What’s D&D?” I asked him by way of hello.

Dungeons and Dragons? You know, the game we’re here to play?” Right, I had forgotten about the so-called game in the flush of my fight-flight response. Hmmm…well, I’d never known Kevin to particularly like homework, maybe there was something here I was missing. So I let him take me through some arcane ritual called “character creation”, and endured the flood of mystical mumbo-jumbo he began spouting. Hit points, armour class, THAC0 (“Which some of the kids call THAC-zero, but that’s so lame”), alignment…as Kevin helped me make scribbles on a sheet of paper, I tried valiantly to assimilate this barrage of new terms and strange usages. Great Obi-wan’s Ghost, what kind of game took this kind of preparation? I mean, I trusted Kevin, but this had better pay off or I would seriously consider changing the password on our tree fort. Maybe some time trapped outside while the Empire was attacking would set him straight.

Once we finished that process it was time to play the game, and one thing became clear almost immediately: I would not be changing that password.

Steve starting spinning his intricately woven tapestry of adventure (which I’m sure was something as simple as, “You guys are in a town on the border of a kingdom, and nearby there is a dungeon that needs to be cleared of monsters. Do you go?”) and we were off! I was brave Sir Arthur (the king had to start somewhere, right?), a newly-dubbed knight valiantly defending the world from evil (the fact that we were defending the world from evil by going to evil’s home, kicking in their door and taking their stuff wasn’t a conundrum I would consider until much later). At that moment we were the Good Guys of Much Goodliness, and if defending the world from Most Vile Evilness meant pulling off a series of armed B&Es, then by all the Gods Great and Small that is what we would do. Huzzah!

That was at 7:15 pm. By 7:25 Sir Arthur was dead, victim of foul kobolds and their insidious net trap. I was despondent! What had I done wrong? Now my character was dead, and I probably had to leave or something. So overwhelming was my grief and despair, that I never even considered going into the library to read. How could mere stories, simple words on a page, compare to this? Any schmuck could read a book. I was living it! Except that I wasn’t anymore, my avatar in that world having met a horrible and ignoble end.

Luckily for me, the game and Kevin seemed to have a solution. “Here,” he said, handing me the book. “Just roll up another character. Steve will fit you in when you finish.” Could it be that easy? I flashed through the five stages of grief for poor, fallen Sir Arthur in the time it took me to create Anathriel, Elf Warrior/Mage and Defender of the Woodland Vales, and I was back in the game! Elves were cool; they could fight and cast spells. That was obviously the flaw in my poor, pathetic knight. After all, if the game uses magic, I should too, right? Anathriel was the obvious solution, a character to last the ages! And the ages ended at about 7:43.

The rest of that night passed in a haze of brave adventure, hurried eulogizing, and even more hurried character creation. I left only reluctantly, and then only because Steve turned out the lights (it was an embarrassment to me that, as much as I loved the place, I couldn’t stand to be in a darkened library). I recounted my courageous deeds to my parents while getting ready for bed. Though they hid it well behind the same veneer of tolerant boredom they used when I described every story I read, I could tell that they were suitably impressed by my exploits.

Impressed enough for my mother to allow me to go back, week after week, month after month. The numbers of kids grew, until we were storming the caverns of The Keep on the Borderlands with a veritable army of adventurers, sometimes twenty strong. We were not so much a “merry band” of adventurers, more a merry, angry mob. Looking back, I’m surprised the monsters didn’t just run when they heard us coming. But eventually we cleared out that dungeon, and Steve directed us to other locales in our shared world. It seemed there was an epidemic of small, out-of-the-way towns and villages suffering from dungeon infestation, just waiting for our mob to come along and clear them out.

This pattern continued for a while, as I mastered the nuances of the game. Steve was our Dungeon Master until there were just too many of us to easily handle at one table. Then he deputized some of the more experienced players, and we had several groups of stalwart heroes bravely committing home-invasions and robbing tombs all across the world (which I later discovered was called “Greyhawk”. Gawd, even the name of the world was cool!). Steve ran our club until about the time I entered junior high school, and then moved away. By that time I was playing with my friends at home, and sometimes at school where one of the teachers turned out to be a Dungeon Master as well. And then I discovered Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, and that sealed my fate as a geek and ensured I would not feel the touch of a woman until Grade 10. Luckily, it meant I wouldn’t really care about the touch of a woman until then, either.

Looking back on it, I can’t imagine what my life would be like now if I had not discovered Dungeons and Dragons. It was such a seminal event in my life, giving rise to so many of the other decisions and interests that filled my adolescence, that I cannot picture the person I would have become without it. I know that, for anyone not hooked into the role-playing game experience, it might seem like I’m overstating the game’s importance. But when I say this game changed my life, it isn’t hyperbole, just simple fact.

Consider my reading habits. I was a voracious reader, it’s true. But I was very prejudiced about what I wanted to read, and the thought of reading just to learn or that learning could be enjoyable was anathema to me. But Dungeons and Dragons changed that; suddenly, there were things I wanted to know more about, even if just to know more about something than one of my peers. That led to me reading books on subjects I would normally have never touched. Over the years that range of reading has grown to include, but is not limited to: history (various periods covering approx. 6000 years of human existence), mythology (slanted towards Western myths, but with a smattering of everyone else), comparative anthropology, linguistic history, music theory and history, history of warfare (various periods, including methods, materials, and tactics), political science, psychology, sociology, macro- and micro-economics, forensics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, logic, game theory, grammar, survey of literature (several periods, several cultures), philosophy, comparative theology, biology, animal behaviour, wilderness survival, agriculture, history of cooking, painting, art history, leatherworking, woodworking…the list isn’t exhaustive, but you get the point. I studied everything on this list because of D&D and the other role-playing games that followed. I certainly don’t consider myself an expert on any of these subjects. But barring an individual who has specialized in one of them, I probably know more about them than a high school grad with three years of college could honestly be expected to know.

And then there are the less tangible things that D&D taught me, like developing imagination, storytelling skills, socialization (a thing not usually associated with D&D, but true nonetheless), problem solving, active listening, acting/speaking skills. Of course there are other ways to gain these skills, but what one activity will grant you experience in all of them at once? Add to that the number of people I’ve had the privilege and the misfortune (add diplomacy to the list) to meet through the game over the years, and the gains column starts to look very full indeed.

And if all of that isn’t enough, then suffice it to say that I have derived more simple joy playing this game over the last 27 35 years than I have in a great many other activities so far. Not bad for a chance meeting in a library check-out line, eh?

Now, why don’t you snag that rulebook, and we’ll see about rolling you up a character. See, the nearby town of Ashenford is suffering from an infestation of kobolds, and they need a brave adventurer or three to come clean them out…