Guest Blog by Will Hindmarch: The First RPG

Will Hindmarch is a freelance writer, game developer, and graphic designer.

Listen, I know you’re busy, but let’s talk about how you can help me out.

Some of you, maybe a lot of you, play roleplaying games like Wil and I do. Maybe you’ve just recently given them a shot after seeing things like Dragon Age or Fiasco featured on Tabletop. (You’ve seen those episodes, right?) Maybe you’ve been playing for years and the first RPG you started with has faded into legend.

Either way, I want to axe you two questions:

  1. What was your introduction to roleplaying games?
  2. What do you want in an introductory RPG today?

If you think these questions don’t apply to you, please reconsider. Don’t play RPGs (yet)? How did you first hear about them? What would you want an RPG to be to get you to give it a shot—faster, cheaper, more or less digital, more or less random?

I want to be smarter. Give me your knowledge.


70 thoughts on “Guest Blog by Will Hindmarch: The First RPG”

  1. My older cousin introduced me to D&D around 1978 (I think). He had the original red box. I played with him once and insisted on wearing chain mail under plate armor even though it gave me no additional AC. I think the party was wiped by a few goblins behind the first door we opened.

    A few years later in fourth grade, my friends were playing it. I convinced my father (who was visiting from across the country for my birthday) to buy me the blue box (which I figured I could “do” since I’d played before). A few days later I convinced him to buy me the red box (he was buying a lot of stuff that trip — it is one of my most cherished memories since he died a few years later).

    I ended up playing RPG’s much longer than most of the other 4th graders. Through high school and into college I played D&D, Gamma World, James Bond RPG, Paranoia, Shadowrun, Star Frontiers, Gamma World and probably a few others. I still have most of my books (although I often have a desire to find them a new home where they will be appreciated).

    I don’t have a lot of time to play these days (read: “any”) and I’m okay with that. My favorite part of RPG’s was always the world building. I loved reading through sourcebooks devouring worlds. The GURPS sourcebooks were especially fun for that. If I were to buy RPG’s today, it would probably be to just read about the world. Short stories sprinkled through out the book would be an added bonus.

  2. What was your introduction to roleplaying games?

    When I was around 14 years old or so, my dad brought home this new game that his coworkers had been really excited about called “Dungeons and Dragons”. He ran one campaign with myself and the 3 siblings younger than me. We had a blast, but he didn’t have the time or inclination to run any more scenarios, so I began creating my own, but became bummed out because I was the only one willing to GM stuff and the only other D&D players I knew were guys in my math class, who seemed terrified to have a girl play with them – and to be honest, I was too terrified to ask them to let me join them, even though I was sometimes talk D&D stuff with them during lunch. (I did later play some with my brother’s friends and then AD&D games with friends I made through local BBS’s.)

    What do you want in an introductory RPG today?

    I’m not sure. Clear rules? My two kids get into fights when we do role-playing like stuff together because older one figures out an angle and the younger one thinks it’s cheating (let me point out that they are both in their 20s now). When I try to point out that it’s part of the fun, the younger gets pissed off and refuses to play. Then when I get the younger one to try the game again, the older one decides he doesn’t want to play because he doesn’t like his sister’s attitude. And then I get annoyed because I could have sworn that I raised them better than this. They are actually very well-behaved at non-rpg games – even to the point of losing with grace. It may be that the two of them can’t play rpgs together. I’ve done one-on-one with each one, with much success – until I have both of them play with me and then they won’t even play with me afterwards. I’ve pretty much given up on rpgs with them now.

  3. 1. If you consider Heroquest as an RPG, then Heroquest when I was 10 or 11 (I can’t remember). Otherwise The Call of Chthulhu when I was 13. I joined a club an we used to play several games (Runequest, Cyberpunk, Stormbringer,…) but that one was the first I ever played (and it was EPIC).

    2. I don’t think it is a matter of “what is the game” but “who is the game master”. The Call of Chthulhu is a pretty complex game, but I didn’t even noticed any of the underlying difficulties thanks to the game master’s ability to run the game smoothly.

  4. What was your introduction to roleplaying games?

    In fifth grade (’86 or ’87), I was at my babysitter’s house, and her son and a friend of his were playing some RPG. I wasn’t really paying attention until they encountered a wooden statue of a naked woman (maybe it was at the bow of a ship), and then my ears perked up. One of them said, “Okay, I try to have sex with the statue,” and the DM said, “You got a splinter.”

    So the lesson is, sex makes fifth graders pay attention. Or something.

    What do you want in an introductory RPG today?

    I’ve never actually played. I’ve always wanted to try, but I don’t know anyone who plays. I assume it would be more fun with an organized group and a good DM. I love computer RPGs, so I’m familiar with much of the terminology and traditions, but of course they’re still not quite the same.

  5. 1. First edition D&D, in 1978. It was very free-form and loose — the rules provided an outline, but we really had to fill in the blanks by ourselves if we wanted to play the game.

    2. I want goals.
    I want short-term goals that provide the focus for a game session, about 2 hours.
    I want long-term goals that create the overall framework for the game sessions.
    I want the consequences for meeting or failing to meet those goals to be relevant to the game.
    Endless sandboxes are boring.

  6. A lot of commenters have had some really awesome points. I didn’t read them all, but here is what stood out to me: Knowing the style of game is really important (do you need a party, or will 2-3 folks work, for example). DMs make the game, and short term/long term goals make an incredible difference.

    1. What was your introduction to roleplaying games?
    I am in my early 30s and have been playing for 2 years. An experienced player really wanted his fiancée to play and understand D&D, so he convinced 3 more friends (including me) to give it a shot – none of the players had ever played. He explained the rules, helped us create our characters, and basically taught us how to manipulate both him and the rulebooks. We played a few session into the campaign, with no real end goal, until the DM decided he wanted to play and gave one of the newbies a chance to DM. That new game had the potential to be a great campaign, but it died after only one session since the new DM was relocated for work, and shortly thereafter, I moved out of town.

    I have played in a few other single session games (either designed to be single session, or new campaigns that died for one reason or another), and since that first session have wanted an actual group to game with and have a real campaign. I finally found what I consider my first real campaign recently, and am *still* learning new things each session. For instance, last night after leveling up to 5th level (from 0 xp start of campaign – about 3 mths of weekly 3 hr sessions), that you add your base attack bonus to your to-hit score. (In my defense, this is my first time playing a fighter, as I have always played magic uses previously.)

    2. What do you want in an introductory RPG today?
    Limited “ready to play” availability, that is expandable to a full RPG. The first encounter I had after the first failed gaming group was a single session game. (It was a play test for D&D.) I liked the fact it had pre-drawn up characters to choose, and pre-formatted single session adventures to choose. This made it much less intimidating to just sit down and play. I know half of the fun of full RPGs is creating your own character and for DMs creating an awesome campaign, so making an RPG that is fully fleshed out, but also has “starter” character sheets and sessions would be awesome.

    Official “cheat sheets”. Another failed campaign I played was Dresden files, though a different die set, had a great little cheat sheet you could print for all the players on how the combat rounds worked. I would love to see an official cheat sheet that can be printed to give the general flow of rounds for the different class types (fighters, magic users, etc.). (See above with base attack mishap.) DM screens are awesome for this, but it’s not practical for everyone to have a screen. It’s also not practical to scour the internet for a cheat sheet, only to learn it has incorrect information.

    1. Regarding the Dresden files thing – curious if you gave Fred/the Evil hat team feedback. They’re always looking for what the next best thing to do for their games is 😀

      My first RPG experience was my step brother trying to convince me to play D&D with him and our younger brothers. I was about 10 or so and it just wasn’t working for me. My first serious gaming experience was D&D 2E. I played the hell out of that.

      Now? I’m looking for stuff that’s fairly easy to pick up and play. I’m always on the lookout for something I could possibly introduce young children to.

  7. My introduction to RPGs was the white box/three book D&D in the late 70’s, rapidly followed by Traveler, Tunnels & Trolls, and Top Secret. Then came Champions and everything that the Hero System spawned. I couldn’t stand D&D but really enjoyed T&T, especially the solo adventures since finding a GM before I had my driver’s license was tricky.

    What I would want? Fairly simple, small number of dice, preferably d6 so you can get them at Walmart if you need to. Minimal system, being small number of characteristics and skills. Either fairly non-lethal or very quick making new characters. I think Lady Blackbird really exemplifies this in that the rules are printed on the character sheet. You need the supplement to really go beyond the basic scenario, though. A friend of mine started running a Harry Potter RPG for his young son using LB after I ran it at a mini-con.

  8. My first exposure to an RPG was Vampire: The Masquerade. I’d heard about a couple of other systems before that (D&D, of course, a homebrew game or two) from friends and acquaintances, but the first RPG book I bought was the core book for Vampire (the revised edition with the green cover and the rose on the front–still have it, too). I tried to be a GM for a bunch of friends in high school, when none of us had ever played before. The game never really got off the ground, though. We did character creation, and some preludes with one or two of the players, but never had a full first session, really. It just sorta fizzled. I remained interested, though, and bought one or two other books in the system – mostly clan books. Sometime between my junior year in high school and my freshman year in college, I also picked up the core rulebook for Werewolf: The Apocalypse, then a bit later the Bastet supplement. Partway through my first year in college, some of my new friends decided we would play a mixed Vampire and Bastet campaign – there were 3 of us playing vamps, and myself and one other both played werecats. We played for the rest of my freshman year, and had a fair bit of fun with it. Never got it going again in subsequent years, though. I’ve since experimented, either as a player or GM, with D&D (2nd, 3rd, and 4th, though never 3.5), Star Wars Revised Edition, Star Wars SAGA Edition, GURPS (3rd and 4th), and Savage Worlds, and read some or all of the rules for several more systems. By far the bulk of my gaming experience is with GURPS, though, having been a player in 3 campaigns and GM of 3 more (one currently ongoing), of varying lengths.

    Generally speaking, I find class-based systems confining – I prefer a system that lets a player craft a character as they see fit (hence why I’ve played GURPS more than anything else). However, I’ve grown less and less patient over the years with finicky rules, which is why I’m now kind of in the market for something more streamlined. If I were looking to induct a new player into gaming today (particularly since I did just that a couple years back with one of my current players), I’d much prefer a system that can be grocked quickly, and that doesn’t take hours to get into play. Even Savage Worlds is too bulky for my ideal. Haven’t found one I’m really happy with yet, though I’ve heard some interesting things about Mouse Guard and Burning Wheel, and keep meaning to look into it more closely.

  9. 1. I’m still a noob to RPG gaming. I started playing early 2011 (at the age of 23), and played relatively regularly for a solid 8 months or so. We played D&D 3.5 edition, which we definitely customized alot with all the supplemental books. I had a pretty awesome DM (as well as a not so great one).

    I ended up falling out of D&D though. I found that I had a hard time getting lost in the world, because I knew just how massive it was and how much I didn’t know. I would feel so foolish trying to do certain things with my spells or abilities and having the DM be like “….yeah. You can’t do that.” I felt like I was just kinda staggering around like an idiot because I didn’t know how the world of D&D thrived and function… it’s hard to explain.

    I guess the way to really explain is showing a counterexample. One campaign was a homebrew of sorts. It was modern day (well, about 8 or so years into our future), where the real world and the magical D&D style world coexist (but like Harry Potter, normal people weren’t aware of satyrs and elves and nymphs). I… thoroughly enjoyed myself the whole time during that campaign. I could get into character. I knew where to go and what to do. I could improvise because I knew the rules of the world and what resources were at my disposal. (“Oh, hey, DM? Remember that bottle of vodka I got at the bar? I’m lighting it on fire and hurtling it at the monster. What do I roll for damage?”). I, personally ,just couldn’t enjoy that sort of freedom in something as intensely otherworldly as D&D without spending years ripping through all the manuals and guides and knowing just how it all worked. So.. yeah. I guess in an introductory RPG, I’d like more of that modern day feel, taking out some of the variables and making it less about the world and more about the character and the story.

  10. Hi Will, interesting questions. OK, here goes…

    What was your introduction to roleplaying games?

    Oh boy, that takes me back. It was 1986, I was 17, in my first year at university. Unbeknownst to me some of my friends in high school had been into RPG’s for some years, but because my dad was a farmer we lived out of town, so I never really got to socialise with my peers outside of school. At university many of us moved into the halls of residence opposite the campus. I suddenly had the opportunity to spend some serious social time with my mates. Now, a lot of that time was spent drinking beer, but I also discovered that they played these crazy games. So I joined in. The first game we played was Tunnels and Trolls, but we’ve dabbled in a lot of different games since then. Honourable mentions go to Champions, MERP, RuneQuest (easily my favourite), DragonQuest, Palladium, D&D, Toon, Call of Cthulhu, Top Secret, Paranoia, Traveller, and a game written by one of our group and loosely based on Traveller which he called “Future History”. Because we dabbled in so many games we rarely had the opportunity to engage with a single system, play a long-running campaign and really develop our characters. This is one of the reasons why RuneQuest holds such a fond place in my pantheon of game greats. We played a couple of quite long-running (by our standards anyway) campaigns, and I had the chance to really embrace and develop my character(s). It is still the game I know best, and as such the one I prefer to GM, although I am currently running a DragonQuest campaign. This has gone into a bit of a hiatus owing to the birth of my daughter, but one of these days soon I’ll resurrect it. I think I may be showing the first signs of withdrawal :)

    What do you want in an introductory RPG today?

    Hmm, I think an introductory RPG needs to be quite approachable, simple and fun. By this I mean it shouldn’t have too high a learning curve. In my day there were plenty of good games which were simple to pick up, weren’t too rules-heavy, and were a lot of fun to play. I think I was lucky that T&T was my first game, it had incredibly simple game mechanics, and we were equally fortunate to have a good GM. As one of the other posters above said, that is the most important factor – a good GM can make a bad system a lot of fun, and similarly a bad GM can ruin an otherwise excellent system.
    However, I am not particularly in tune with the market these days, and really have no idea what is available for players just starting out. My friends and I have between us a pretty extensive selection of games from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, so we don’t really need to buy new stuff. The best advice I can offer new players is to try it out, and if you find yourself playing in a game that is rendered unenjoyable by a poor GM and/or irritating players don’t write RPG’s off because of that. Keep looking around, or form your own group with like-minded individuals. And remember, these are games, they are meant to be, above all else, FUN!!!!!

  11. My first introduction to RPGs was waaaaaaaaaay back in the day. My parents got me a game for either my birthday or Christmas called “Powers and Perils”. I think I was in 7th or 8th grade when they got it for me. I can remember being fascinated by the box cover art. I couldn’t tell you for the life of me what was on the cover now some 25 years later. I had never seen a paper RPG before. I’m not even sure if I had played Final Fantasy on my NES at that point, but I digress. Anyway, I opened up the box expecting some sort of board and game pieces, just like in every other game I had ever gotten. To my surprise, there was no game board, just 9 flimsy paper books and a hand full of character sheets. Now, in 7th or 8th grade, I was more about Voltron and Transformers and army men than I was into reading. I tried to read the instructions and got about halfway through the second page when I gave up trying to understand what was going on.

    Fast forward a year or two to High School. I made friends with another boy who was in most of my classes named Jerry. He told me about a game he played called D&D. I asked him what it was and he hemmed and hawed a bit, but finally told me. I though ‘Gee, that sort of sounds like the game my parents got for me a while back.’ That night I went home and read through all 9 of the Powers and Perils books. It was at that point that I was hooked. I tried making up a character and it took me almost 3 hours. It was probably the most fun 3 hours i’d ever had with a pencil and paper to that point in my life. A few weeks later Jerry invited me to play in one of his D&D games. I’ve been an avid player ever since.

    I think that, if i were to be introduced to RPG’s today, I’d want something that I could get into quickly. Maybe something with some basic pre-made characters that would allow me to jump right into an adventure. One of the biggest turn-offs for me when I was younger was the amount of time it took to create a character just to be able to play. Now that I’m older and (presumably) wiser, I see the myriad of decisions that go into a character. Where do you want your character to go in the long run?, What type of hero is he going to be?, What feats/skills/spells will flush out this particular character? etc…

    Kids nowadays (did I really just say that?…sheesh) have a shorter attention span. It only takes a few minutes to generate a character in, say, Skyrim, then BOOM, you’re into the action. I think a paper RPG should have something that eases new players into game quickly, yet has the mechanics to handle pro gammers as well.

  12. 1. D&D 3rd Ed. in college, circa 2001 or so. I had heard about the “evil” game with dungeons! and dragons! prior to this, but in college I met people who actually played it, and convinced me to play, too.

    2. I’m a parent of little kids these days, so if I played an RPG, it would have to be SHORT – one-shot and less than 4 hours. Longer, campaign-style games are great, but I just don’t have the time (and if it’s been months since I last played, it is too easy to lose the thread of the story). Games that allow you to jump in quickly, and where there is a short-term goal (not just “wander around in this dungeon”). I know there’s a few games out there already that lend themselves to this (Paranoia, Fiasco, certain pre-made D&D 3/3.5/4 campaigns).

  13. The thanks, people. Have the thanks. You? Thanked.

    For real, thank you. You gave me some of your knowledge and experience and I appreciate it. For me, it’s always fascinating to get a glimpse at people’s journeys into gamerdom and the hobby at large. Thanks for sharing some origin stories and thoughts on the future. Cheers.

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