Lacking Natural Simplicity

Random musings on books, code, and tabletop games.

My Gaming Career

This post is unfinished, alas.

Part I: Origins

The first D&D game I owned was the Holmes blue-box edition of Basic D&D; the first D&D game I played was AD&D 1E. I was in junior high when I got the Holmes box set for Christmas from my parents. (If I am remembering correctly.) That summer I started playing AD&D with a group of my brother's friends from high school, and I played with them until that group gradually dispersed, some when they left the state for college, and some when they left the state after college for jobs elsewhere. I had long been DMing by then.

I remember seeing OD&D's Eldritch Wizardry in the local hobby store when I first started playing, but I never saw the original OD&D boxed set.

I don't think I ever looked at the later Moldvay/Cook or Mentzer Basic D&D lines, other than buying Isle of Dread, thinking like many that if I was already playing Advanced D&D that Basic D&D wouldn't have much to offer. 1

My younger brother joined the group at some point. He got Tunnels & Trolls as a Christmas present one year, from my uncle Chuckie, if I remember correctly. We played it several times, but it was a simpler game than AD&D and at the time seemed to offer less, though in an entertaining way. 2

Gamma World, 1st edition, was probably the first RPG I bought, other than AD&D. (How did we buy the AD&D books?) We never played Gamma World, for some reason. Probably because I wasn't able to figure out the rules, or because it was too gonzo.

While still in junior high, or perhaps my first year in high school, I ran across DragonQuest. Although it was written in a “numbered rules” style that I was unfamiliar with (having never played wargames) that required me to read it closely several times through before I understood any of it, I was fascinated by it from the very first read. DQ's skills gave all characters interesting distinguishing abilities, where as in AD&D only thieves had similar such abilities (other classes depending on selection of spells to distinguish the magic using classes and magic items to distinguish the others.) The D100 based unified mechanic used by DQ was also very attractive, as was the more detailed combat system. The professional skills seemed less restrictive and therefore less of a mere game construct than the equivalent AD&D classes. The fact that every character could learn magic also seemed freeing.

The fact that the only DQ adventure that I was able to find at the time was Paul Jaquays' The Enchanted Wood was also a plus, because I found it to be head and shoulders above any other adventure I had seen at the time.

I can seen now that most of these things I liked about DQ were the things that added to greater detail in distinguishing characters, as well as what I called realism them, but today might more accurately call verisimilitude. I think a good part of it was that by this time AD&D had become its own genre and I wanted something less tied to those particular tropes. DQ seemed to simulate a wider variety of fantasy than AD&D.

I think it is safe to say that I was suffering from an anti-D&D backlash at this point.

At some point I bought a copy of Avalon Hill's Powers & Perils. (If my memory of buying this from the hobby store in downtown Clarksburg is correct, I must have bought this fairly early on in my gaming career.) At some other point I bought Iron Crown's Rolemaster. Both of these blew my mind with complexity. P&P's setting, however, was another glimpse at a non-AD&D fantasy universe.

A friend of mine bought Traveller early in our gaming careers. We tried making characters a couple of times, but were never able to figure out what we should do with them afterwards — I think we could never bridge the gap between dungeon crawling and monsters killing characters in AD&D and 40– and 50– year old ex military characters in Traveller. I don't think we had any Traveller adventures to help us along.

I ran a very successful DragonQuest campaign in my first year at college with three of the original group and a couple of other players, using Paul Jaquays' wonderful Enchanted Wood adventure setting.

Later in college I started a long-running campaign set in SPI's minimal Frontiers of Alusia setting using DragonQuest at the beginning.

My leaning to greater detail and verisimilitude lead me in time to GURPS, with a small detour along the way for 3rd edition RuneQuest.

I bought RuneQuest, 3rd edition (RQ3, the Deluxe Boxed Set) and Griffin Island (also a boxed set) in stores, somewhere. (I think this must have been near the time they were released.) Like DragonQuest, I found them fascinating. Unlike DQ I never got my group to successfully play RQ. The players found RQ3 character generation to be too complicated, alas. RQ3 and Griffin Island were a glimpse into a style of culture-based gaming that I had never encountered in my AD&D experience, but were complicated enough that my players hated character generation, and we never got much beyond that. I never saw any of the Glorantha materials until much, much later, post Internet. Griffin Island, though, even with the occasional incoherence in its Glorantha-less state, resonated with more depth than anything I had yet seen. (I never realized, until years later, that the Paul Jaquays whose DQ adventure The Enchanted Wood had so opened my eyes was also one of the authors of Griffin Island! I guess at the time I didn't pay much attention to the authors/designers of games.)

GURPS for me was about even more finely grained definition of characters. Learning from problems my players had with RuneQuest character generation, I created GURPS versions of all their DragonQuest characters. Since, in the process of simulating all their DQ abilities with GURPS, I'd along the way upgraded their characters somewhat in power, everybody had fun and it all worked out. Already accustomed to a hex-based tactical combat system and role-under skills from DQ, it was an easy adjustment to GURPS, and the campaign continued successfully for many more sessions.

I think, however, that later I moved away from GURPS because making/updating characters was such a pain, even with the assistance of Bill Seuer's GURPS MAKECHAR program. (Let us just say that the main villain of the campaign, and evil wizard, ended up a 1000 point character, and all the PCs were 300 point characters.)

Chaosium: Call of Cthulhu, Elric!, Stormbringer, Prince Valiant, Pendragon, Universal Supplements.

I ran a short Elric campaign after my Frontiers of Alusia campaign. This worked better for my players than RQ3, as it used simpler implementation of Chaosium's house system, BRP. Despite the brevity of this campaign I have fond memories of Elric.

Part II: Hiatus

After that there was a hiatus in my gaming. I continued to buy and read RPG material, but didn't have a regular group.

Note

The rest of this is rambling and desperately needs rewritten.

WFRP — First encounted in WD? Then bought main rulebook. At first dismissive of the rules, but again fascinated by the picture of the old world and the high quality of some of the adventures. The one time I tried running WFRP things didn't work out with my gaming group.

Most of my buying WFRP was during my hiatus?

I really only came to understand RuneQuest during my hiatus from gaming, in the 90s, when I started seriously to track down the RQ3 material I'd never know about, including the post RQ3 fanzines. I even found a copy of RQ2 in a game store in Austin, Texas, while there on travel for work.

RQ found … earlier than GURPS, later? but only understood much later in 90s during my serious RQ buying days after I ran a long GURPS campaign (Call of Cthulhu/Elric helped understand/like RQ?) and bought RQ2. Early GURPS gaming at college BAMF? Compare to dates of Alusia becoming GURPS?

Tékumel. Call of Cthulhu. Jorune.

Part III: Gaming Again!

Hiatus ends. Fudge Bunnies & Burrows, BESM, Buggin, Toon, Savage Worlds with kids.

Reading John Eric Holmes's Fantasy Role Playing Games - Dungeons, Dragons and Adventures in Fantasy Gaming (ISBN 0-88254-514-0) at work leads to other gamers, and some D&D 3.5e and Star Wars D20 gaming, and eventually to Savage Worlds.

After my hiatus from gaming, I was looking for simpler games. Fudge, BESM, and finally Savage Worlds.

Retro-gaming: interest in early classic AD&D modules we missed (which lead to Wilderlands and Tegel Manor then Badabaskor, Caverns of Thracia, etc. then 3e/3.5e reprints) which lead to buying lots of PDF games including classic BD&D module B10 (superb!) leading to RC purchases, then other BD&D modules and AD&D modules, pondering running BD&D for B20, then buying Thunder Rift, Mystara interest online maps, retro clones to original D&D interest, buy PDFs from rpgnow, pondering running OD&D, Swords & Wizardry, download retro modules for OD&D, philotomy, other current OD&D player/gm sites/campaigns/blogs, more JG and understanding which JG were OD&D, more pondering BD&D for B10 and other B/X modules, and finding the OD&D Caverns of Thracia, by Paul Jaquays!

Road building costs in JG Ready-Ref sheets! (PDF just as confusing as I remember printouts! Did Ray end up with them?) [2019-11-10: I ended up buying a new copy of the Ready-Ref sheets over the internet several years later!]

parallel thread: tactile pleasures: card, bennies, status chips,

custom poker chips for wounds, shaken

1

Boy, was I wrong! After the retro-clones started to appear, especially Labyrinth Lord, I bought the Moldvay/Cook Basic/Expert rules, and was pleasantly impressed.

2

We completely missing out on the flexibility of the T&T saving roll system — not surprising, since we never saw any of the T&T solos that used it so extensively — and how that gave T&T gamist tactical play without complicated rules, unlike D&D 3e and 3.5e. I think we'd have played T&T more if we'd understood that, but I only really understood after reading some of comments Ron Edwards made about T&T in 2003, first in the rpg.net thread Sell me Tunnels & Trolls! (his post), and then in a series of followup threads at the Forge: 1, 2, 3, 4).

Last edited: 2020-08-03 16:01:42 EDT

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