“This is a game that is fun. It helps you imagine.”
-Preface to the D&D Basic Rules Set, 1983
I’m following the “blog less while you’re writing stories” rule, so I can stay on target and get this novella finished before Duke Nukem Forever ships.
So, very briefly:
Playing a tiny bit of D&D 4e at PAX made me massively nostalgic for tabletop RPGs, and I’ve spent more time than I probably should since I got home reading through my library of sourcebooks and handbooks. Thanks to Twitter, I found out that you can buy ancient D&D modules as PDFs for next to nothing from Paizo, so I picked up the D&D Basic Rules Set and module B2, The Keep on the Borderlands, and returned to the place my geek journey truly began. It made me so happy to see the Lizardmen again, I tried to convince Nolan that he should get a couple of friends together and let me run B2 for them using the original rules. Sadly, I rolled a one every time.
Reading those original rules reminded me how much simpler RPGs used to be, and I got it in my head that I wanted to find and play something that didn’t require minis for combat, that would put the focus on role playing, puzzle solving, character development, and other non-dungeon crawly stuff. I didn’t recall ever using minis during our GURPS campaigns back in the 80s, so I grabbed my GURPS 4th Edition manuals and went straight to the Combat Lite chapter, where I found exactly what I was looking for. (Tangent: my friend and editor Andrew is the same Andrew who edited GURPS. Goddamn do I love GURPS.)
Without realizing it, I spent several hours reading the rules and thumbing through my various sourcebooks. On the surface, I was just refamiliarizing myself with the system, but it was actually more about a nostalgic trip back to 9th grade, with a side trip to 2038 when I found a stack of AADA Road Atlases and Uncle Albert’s catalogs.
After GURPS, I dug into Mutants & Masterminds, which has the greatest damage system ever, and that’s where I currently sit. Once I’m done with it, I’m going to go through True20, including some quality time in Freeport and Damnation Decade, and when that’s all over, I’ll finally have a chance – one year after I bought it – to wander through Monte Cook’s World of Darkness.
I’m not sure what if anything I’ll end up playing. My free time is very limited, and it’s a DC 25 – at least – to get my friends together for anything. But there’s a great essay at ComicMix called Why Game? that explains why it’s worth trying:
Why do we game? It’s a fair question, actually, and especially now with our preponderance of entertainment options. Why game when I could read a book, watch a movie, play a computer game or video game, surf the Web, play cards, play a board game, etc.? What’s so cool about gaming?
There’s the escapism aspect, of course. Had a rotten day at work? Slaughter some orcs or raid an alien enclave. Feel like you’re not getting enough respect in your life? Play the conquering general or the rescuing hero. But most of our other entertainment provides that as well, at least vicariously—you can sit back and imagine you’re John McLane or King Leonidas or Bruce Wayne, or lose yourself in the adventures of Harry Potter or Sebastian or countless others. And many of those other forms provide more immediate escapism, with far less effort. So there must be something more, something else a roleplaying game offers.
The answer, for me, lies in the definition above. Collaborative interactive storytelling.
I could have written it myself.
Clarifying afterthoughts: I’m not knocking D&D 4e or its combat system. If you like to use minis for gaming, it’s really awesome and very easy to use. In fact, their D&D Minis game is a lot of fun for what it is, and you get the added bonus of learning 4e’s combat system while you play. I’m just saying that, after years of playing mini-o-centric combat in RPGs, I’d forgotten how much I liked to roll it old school, where we’d just sit in a bunch of chairs or on couches and work together to tell a story.
I didn’t realize how much Keep on the Shadowfell is like Keep on the Borderlands until I re-read Keep on the Borderlands this weekend. It’s not even that subtle, but it’s incredibly awesome and makes me like Shadowfell even more than I already did.