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.


  1. gastogh said,

    “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.”

    I remember nothing about the system or what were supposed to be the improvements that set it above the systems we had been using. What I do remember is that I didn’t understand them at the time any better than I remember them now.

    I have a guess as to my attitude; there are certain issues with my personality and life experiences dating back beyond my recall. But as a result, for as long as I can remember, I have *always* been resistant (if not downright afraid, sadly) to try out anything new, and have what I will call an “extremely reserved” view on anything that is in *any way or degree* advertised as an improvement over something that I have already tried and not hated. Sets me back on my heels, makes me want to show folk that the previous and known system is good enough as is. Might be more accurate to say “I want them to think that…” than “I want to show them how and why…”, but hey.

    I can work around or through these issues when I feel there’s reason to – and feel I’ve always been able to do so – but back then I never saw any such reason.

  2. Bruce said,

    Hi Tommi

    Nice post. It’s really interesting to read about your roleplaying history.

    Over the years I’ve tended to play rather than GM and haven’t tinkered with homebrew systems as much as you have but I can see a lot of similarities between us.

    In particular I note that a lot of the time you seem to suggest that you’ve been kind of “muddling along” or “struggling to get things right”, which I very much appreciate. I wonder how many of us roleplayers would say the same thing.

    I’ve been lucky to be involved in some really cool games for sure but looking back there are lengthy periods of failing to make games work. Certainly far more failures than successes; but I keep on hoping to create those magic moments.

    When you read the Forge it always sounds easy. There are techniques or sets of rules that produce the kind of play you want, but then when you try it with your group it just doesn’t work. In most cases to be fair, my roleplaying buddies and I don’t even get it off the ground. Perhaps we just don’t have the degree of spontaneous improvisation skills that it requires.

    Anyway, I’m starting to waffle on now so I’ll stop :-) Your post has provoked much thought

    Thanks for sharing my friend

  3. Tommi said,

    Hello gastogh.

    I assume my delivery was far from perfect when explaining why Burning Wheel is good. I give it partial credit for opening my eyes to ways of game mastering that would, I think, have made Dragongame much better, especially for Niku and other potential players. BW is heavy on rules, much like modern D&D tends to be, so I’m nowadays more inclined to GM other games.

    Hello Bruce.

    In particular I note that a lot of the time you seem to suggest that you’ve been kind of “muddling along” or “struggling to get things right”, which I very much appreciate. I wonder how many of us roleplayers would say the same thing.

    I can’t remember what I enjoyed in gaming when I was young. There must have been something in the act itself, I think, because nothing else happened regularly. I’m inclined to think that the mere act of roleplaying and creating characters and imagining together is sufficient for young people. All else is bonus or details.

  4. Mad Brew said,

    Thanks for sharing your history; I think it’s interesting how people are introduced to the hobby and how it can influence their life (and vice versa).

    Speaking of your service with the Finnish Defense Force…

    Military service is definitely an experience that [usually] quickens a person’s maturity. I have speculations on what kind of impact it has in a society where service is mandatory (and I believe it is in Finland). As I admire the Scandinavian nations, my feelings are that conscription must be beneficial. Having served for 4 years of active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps, I can attest that it has proven beneficial for me.

  5. Tommi said,

    Hello Mad Brew;

    I think the military is much like school: People are basically forced in and some find it meaningful, others do not. Some of the latter stop playing along and cause all sorts of problems, hence making the situation worse for everyone. (I think 4/5 of males and very, very small percentage of females actually serve in the FDF. Feminists take heed: here is inequality between the sexes.)

    I did not have the physique to become a good soldier, but I did have the right attitude of playing along. Consequently I did not have much problems and occasionally even enjoyed it.

    Note that by calling something play I am not holding it as “not valuable” or “not serious”.

  6. My roleplaying history « Six-Die Samurai said,

    […] roolipelihistoriani Other brothers to answer the call: NiTessine: My Gaming History Thanuir: My rpg history Eero Tuovinen, in his usual Eeroish style writing so much he had to divide it into five separate […]

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