Some graph paper, numbers and arcane abbreviations.

Since having to cancel XM Radio, I’ve been doing a lot of catching up on podcasts lately, listening to them in the car. One that I fell way behind on and have been doing some marathon listening to, is Fear The Boot–a role-playing game based podcast.

I’ve been a long time RPG’er. Since I was 8, lo some 30 years ago. Since around 2003 I’ve been a member of a local gaming group, boasting as many as 40 dues-paying members. We;ve shown up en force in local gaming conventions, have hosted our own conventions, and some of the members have been involved in regional and even national activities dealing with game and adventure design.

Well, since I started back to grad school, my involvement has gone from very active to non-existent. In fact, I think I’ve attended a game once in the last 12 months. 🙁 And I used to run games (especially Spycraft) a lot. (I had an adventure I wrote for their “living” campaign published.) Well, since listening to the gaming podcast, I’ve started to miss gaming very terribly!

But it’s also made me feel nostalgic for the halcyon days of Dungeons and Dragons and disappointed at D&D they came out with version 3.0 around 2001. D&D has become a tactical table-top minis game and really no longer puts any focus on role-playing. The rules and character attributes/features are centered around 1″ grids and power-gaming. I miss role-playing.

Now, one can make a legitimate argument that the origins of D&D are steeped in crunchy rules and tactical battle as the focus–since the game did evolve from a table-top tactical minis game back in the early 70s. But the thing is, regardless of D&D’s origins, the days of AD&D 1 and 2 tended to be imagination focused play with seat-of-the-pants rules using, and minis used just for visual enhancement. The 3.0, 3.5, and 4 rules are written with 1″ grid battlemats and appropriate minis required, while the old rules, meh.

Here’s a memory I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: I must have been about 12 years old. Maybe 13. I was still living in Denver at the time and just entered actual Boy Scouts instead of Webeloes (sp). I’d gone to this weekend long Boy Scout convention, and I remember a convention hall filled with everything from camping displays and woodcraft demos, even a rappel wall and zip-line. Booths and booths of demonstrations and how-tos. And some entertainment-based events masquerading as education of some sort. One troop had a booth with TRS80 computer running the old ASCII Star Trek battle game. Loved that! But what really got me, and got me in trouble for spending too much time there instead of helping at my own troop’s booth enough, was a group that was running D&D games all weekend long.

Now, like I said, I’d been playing D&D for around 4 years already by that time. But with the same 3 or 4 friends in my class. Using pretty much the same “red box” basic rules, then the 1st ed. AD&D core books (player’s guide, dungeon master’s guide, monster manual). Fun fun, but also a little routine. This group were gasp! honest to god teenagers! And the way they were playing, I don’t know–I recalled had some appealing and intriguing style to it. Their display table had all sorts of early D&D paraphernalia I’d never seen before in my local Waldenbooks store. And while my group had always used standard character sheets, these guys had their characters hand-written on graph paper, using only a few lines for the the important info:

Name, class, attributes (str, int, wis, dex, con, cha), the 5 saving throws, hit points and armor class, and your weapon or two with to-hit and damage bonuses. Minimalist, to the point, efficient and deadly. But, that was it in those days. And that was all that was needed in order to have a group of players imagine they’re in the middle of adventure.

It was also the first time I got a taste of culture, society with the D&D universe. Those first few years was all about dungeon crawls and amassing treasure. The monsters had no life about them, just their stats in a book. The dungeon master at this Boy Scout convention booth described a near miss by an arrow with black dyed goose feather fletchings. One of the players nodded knowingly, “all, orcs!” Wha?! A creature can have a known and persistence cultural trait beyond what’s described in the rules? No way!

And a whole new world of fantasy gaming opened up to me. Where before I sat at that table, a character consisting of a few hand-scratched stats on the table in front of me, surrounded by somewhat scary and intimidating “old kids” who were infinitely wiser and more knowledgeable than I–I was a child fiddling with a toy. After that day, my innocence was gone and I had developed a thirst for realism, verisimilitude, story and plot, rich character development. And from then on I stopped being happy being a player and I started becoming primarily, if not completely, a game master. I wanted to create these worlds and experiences and help other players see what richness can come from the imagination. I despised rules lawyering, despised power-gaming. Story and character and drama ruled above all in my games.

…and that was all made infinitely harder to promote once D&D moved to rules crafted in such a way as to demand 1″-grid table-top tactical roll-playing and encouraging min-maxing character stats and “breaking the game” rules contorting in order to get that tactical edge. Bah!

So, my exile from gaming the last 2 years has lately been mainly for lack of time, but it started with discouragement at the way D&D was being played by pretty much everyone I knew. All d20 games, even the Spycraft I really enjoyed.

Unfortunately, storytelling, role-playing focused games like Serenity (based on the Firefly series and movie) and the new Savage Worlds came out at the time grad school was getting going hard, so I never got a chance to try those to revitalize my gaming spirit.

But man, listening to these podcasts that really speak to the role-player in me, and eschew the D&D empire that rules this area, has really got me egging to get involved. Soon….