My rpg history

7 May, 2009 at 3:41 pm (roleplaying)

Secret and very informal Finnish rpg blogger history carnival. Well, actually, Sami just emailed a bunch of us to write about our roleplaying history.

Early years

Before roleplaying I was a huge fan of fantasy literature; I started with Tarzan and Jurassic Park, moving on to such classics as Eddings and Dragonlance books and basically everything that resided in the regrettably small fantasy shelf of my the library of Ylöjärvi. Occasionally I even read a scifi book or two.

This guy called Niku introduced me to roleplaying when I was 12, +/- 2, years old. For context, I was born in 1987. He had already been playing with his friends. I had the joy of running one session of Miekka ja magia (translation: Sword and sorcery), a Finnish dungeoncrawling rpg of unremarkable quality, pretty near the start of my roleplaying career.

I had this intricately (given my age an experience) designed cavern, which had a bunch of challenges and specific ways of passing them. There was also a dragon in there, in a sulfurous cave, of course. So, the brave party of adventurers enters the nameless dungeon. There was this stone block acting as a door to somewhere; the players spent a good deal of time trying to open it but eventually managed to push it, hence opening their way. Talk about pixelbitching on my part. The next obstacle was some sort of slime or ooze or mass of tentacles; there was also some burning metal-like substance in trenches that kept it away. Players, of course, cast some slay monster-style spell instead of jumping through whatever hoops I had designed and started immediataly experimenting with the burning substance. That was fun. I don’t really remember anything else about the game. Lesson learned: Don’t bother planning as the plan will not hold anyway. Especially don’t bother trying to guess what the players will do.

Around that time we observed how bad the rules of Miekka ja magia were. Naturally we made our own. We had character classes and attributes, later also races. Fighters were immune to fear, I think. Different races and classes rolled attributes in different ways. There was also hit points and maybe magic points, too. I may have a character sheet or two from that age still in my archives. From that game on certain computer games were a huge influence on our design work; later it was mostly my design work. To name the most influential: ADOM (a roguelike). I also loaned all roleplaying games in the library of Ylöjärvi and later of Tampere; there was Cyberpunk, Rolemaster and MERP, Elhendi, Ultima Thule (the local librarian asked if I was certain I wanted to loan it, as it was classified in some section of the library related to ancient Finnish history or customs or something similar), THOGS, Stormbringer, Amber diceless, Paranoia, Over the Edge, Ars Magica, Warhammer frpg, some World of Darkness stuff and maybe others. We played some of them but never stuck with them for long. My own game designs had two major branches: Dungeoncrawling games and “proper” roleplaying games, the latter of which usually included lots of statistics. Characters had 13 stats at some point. I’ve got plenty of those character sheets remaining. We also played freeformish cyberpunk with magic (we did not know of Shadowrun). I was an avid reader of Johnn Four’s rpg newsletter.

Overall, gaming of that age was mostly character generation: We built characters, played for a session or two of arbitrary encounters and maybe sometimes storming a location, and then moved on to new shiny characters. My game mastering style was refined: Throw something, possibly orcs, at the characters, see how they are decimated, desperately scrape until you can figure out something else that happens, possibly roll dice (high is good, low bad) to get inspiration and so on. Sometimes there were strange shrines and other stuff; having players interact with them was fun, as it still is.

Somewhere along the way we had Gastogh try roleplaying; the game was Paranoia, session utterly sucked, but he was hooked regardless.

Internet, the Forge, Dragongame, D&D

So, at some point near one of my first visits to Ropecon, the very best roleplaying con there is that everyone should attend, I figured out that the new edition of D&D was not AD&D (which sucked, though I have no idea how we knew that; AD&D was not real roleplaying, but mere hacking and slashing; so were our games, but we did not know that) but rather some thing called third edition. Around then I also started participating in the official D&D forums. Just so you know, undead are not inherently evil, railroading is inherently evil, assassins and poison use are not inherently evil, +2 intelligence or whatever else is not inherently unbalancing, there should be paladins of all alignments, alignments in general suck, and various other facts I learned and fiercely defended therein. I was Gilean back there and had dragon of some sort in my avatar. For all I know the account is still alive.

So, we bought D&D and various books, including Savage Species and Draconomicon, for it. We played some D&D, playing style much as before. It was not significantly better or worse than previous games, I think. My homebrewing went on as before, though maybe a bit more refined due to age and having read Over the Edge (freeform traits!).

I discovered many an interesting new things in the Internet. Namely: Beyond role and play which started me on the paths of rpg theory and to some degree philosophy (I learned semiotics from BRaP, later encountering them in a philosophy book), wherein discussions where much more useful than on WotC’s forums, and finally the Forge. Year was at least 2004, seeing the release date of BRaP. I soaked all the rpg theory I could find, learning GNS and big model stuff and seeing that my games were not actually fun, but rather incoherent/simulationism messes.

Namely, the one game we had going is nowadays called Dragongame, wherein players played dragons. It started as 3rd edition D&D but we later changed to a homebrew system of my design, which Gastogh also started tweaking. The rules were somewhat broken and my game mastering style had not greatly developed from “encounter strange things, interact, occasionally there is a fight, continue”; it was eminently not suited to the game I wanted to run and the game my players wanted to play. Dragongame eventually died. Gaming was again fleeting bits of games and character generation.

The Forge. I became a Forge zealot of the worst kind: Spouting off and spreading theories I hardly understood. I was also a jerk on the internet at that time (and possibly earlier and occasionally still). I literally flamed myself off the D&D forums (they just could not understand GNS even though I pointed them the links and repeated what I thought they said so many times!) and participated in several “debates”. Thanuir was my handle at that time, as it still tends to be.

Eventually I calmed down and realised that yeah, maybe GNS was not all that I thought it were and maybe I had been a jerk and a troll. My gaming situation did not improve much; I still lacked the techniques to run games in style but the one mentioned before and I found that style unsatisfying. Actually, there were a few pretty good games, too, now that I think of it. Homebrewing happened as before, though now I had some idea what I was doing; consequently, the designs moved closer to minimal in terms of rules material. Niku, know that most of the designs were made with your style in mind, though the level of success was not very good.

Burning Wheel, army, Jyväskylä

I discovered Burning Wheel and bought it from Arkkikivi/Arkenstone after having read a few reviews and some threads. It opened my eyes to an entirely new way of roleplaying; or, more likely, finished the process of figuring it out that had been going on for a while. We tried playing some BW, but it just did not work that well due to various reasons. Gastogh hated it because, umm, I have no idea, really.

So, I moved to Jyväskylä to study mathematics. I discovered the local roleplaying game club, Ropeapina, and participated in sessions. I GM’d one short game whose idea I had stolen from the BW demo scenario “The sword” and played in some games; this was the first time in long while that I actually got to play roleplaying games, as opposed to running them. It did not work very well.

Half a year of army with no roleplaying, though I did read a bit about them on the ‘net.

After the army my roleplaying life, and other life, too, suddenly took on a much better quality. My self-confidence was boosted by seeing what people of my age were like in the Finnish Defense Forces (I’ve never been a huge fan of my own generation) and by noticing that hey, I’m actually pretty good at this mathematics stuff. That was a year and a half ago, I think. I also started this blog. Since then I have had two roleplaying groups: The weekly university group where I GM roughly 2/3 of the time or so (there are three games going on at any one time there) and a group of friends where I’ve been the only GM for some time now. I’ve GM’d Burning Wheel successfully. I’ve played various games, traditional and indie alike. 4e and old school D&D I still want to play. I’ve run a bunch of games, still mostly homebrewed. I’ve been following blogs and letting forumers reside in their own land, not well suited for sharing elaborate ideas. I still occasionally come off as hostile on the ‘net.

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