A few weeks ago, based on Rob Donaghue’s exercise of reminiscing about gaming history, I too started sharing my story, starting with my initial infatuation with AD&D covering the mid-80’s period where I was between the age of 10 and 14.
Letting an old friend go…
As I grew older, I grew progressively dissatisfied with playing AD&D only. As new RPGs emulating different genres came out, I wanted to experiment them with my friends. However, we soon observed that having to learn a whole new set of rules whenever we felt like switching genres was a significant barrier to entry.
I also grew progressively dissatisfied with AD&D itself. By that time, as many geeky teenagers were wont to do and as my rapidly rising grasp on the English language allowed, I was trying to cram as many of the AD&D rules into our games as I could. This included using the infamous Unearthed Arcana that some of our grumpy luminaries identified as what broke AD&D.
Between the cavalier’s rising ability scores, double weapon specialization and the godawful stat generation alternatives, that book, while initially cool to my munchkin-styled DMing, eventually made me regret using it. Also, AD&D’s numerous and disparate subsystems, alternate XP leveling chart and sheer “grocery store of Magic Items” that the published adventures combined to make me want to play something different.
Finally, I had a yearning for more of what I now abhor in RPGs: realism!
The Rise of the Crunch Overlord
I wanted to be free of the 1 minute round and wanted to experience the blow-by-blow, break your left knee and explode your opponent’s right eye of Rolemaster, without actually going insane running that game of limitless charts and options (I tried playing Middle Earth RPG and quit during character generation).
Before TSR started announcing the 2nd edition of AD&D in Dragon magazine, I was curious about this particular game: Man to Man. A realistic game of medieval fighters! I had long been a Steve Jackson Games fan, having bought so many black boxes of Car Wars and destroyed Midville so many times (Heavy-Rockets FTW) that I was eager-curious about anything they published.
It turns out I never purchased Man to Man. When AD&D 2e came out a few years later, I didn’t feel like re-buying all the core books (sounds familiar, dudn’t it?), so I went to the local game store looking for that fighting game.Instead I found GURPS (then in its second edition) at the store, a whole RPG based on the Man-to-Man engine (and a re-imagining of Jackson’s The Fantasy Trip). Sitting beside the GURPS Box Set was a book called Autoduelling, which offered a setting and rules to roleplay in the world of Car Wars.
I snatched the box, the book and a copy of Gurps Fantasy.
Autoduel proved to be clunky and unplayable. In fact, playing with vehicles in Gurps, as much as I loved designing them, proved too complex for my GMing style and we ended up using the more abstract rules. Gurps Fantasy also turned out to be one of the most uninteresting RPG books I had read. The generic fantasy world seemed lifeless to me (and I don’t really like the “people-from-Earth-whisked-to-a-new-world-so-we-can-skimp-on-neo-sociology” trope).
And don’t get me started on the game’s wimpy excuse of a magic system..
Math: WTF? I need 2 turns to cast a 3d6 fire ball and I can misscast it AND miss with it?
Yan: Hey, My greatsword does that every turn!
Math: Screw that, I’m making a Barbarian with a Wolf Companion.
But boy did I love the game’s engine, especially the character generation rules and combat. We played Gurps from 1988 to 2000 and some very memorable campaigns (all homegrown) were played. We played various genres, from Fantasy (our recurring staple), to Supers (another favorite) to post-apocalyptic horror and Cyber/Sci-fi.
I flexed my campaign setting design muscles with Gurps. The fantasy world I created when I was 14 is the one I finally destroyed when D&D 4e came out. Like Yan told me, GURPS was a toolbox for world builders.
I loved it so much that I eventually re-bought my whole collection that I had sold when I moved 600 miles north of Montreal with my then-girlfriend/now-wife Alex for her first job as a Speech Pathologist in 1997. At the time, (I was 24), I was struck by the very strange notion that I was “an adult now” and that I should leave RPGs behind.
Anecdotal aside to this anecdotal post: In truth I re-bought it after playing a godawful AD&D 2e game with a no less awful DM in the North. Turns out I stole all of that DM’s players when they converted to Gurps… and I threw out that DM out of my house when he was too much of an ass when I invited him to play with us.
Let me tell you about my campaign
My all time favourite was the last campaign we played when I came back from working in the Great North in 1999. (That’s where I reunited with Math and Yan and were later joined by Stef). It started with the premise of a high-technology Earth having a Shadowrun event, bringing magic to Earth. At the time, genetically engineered sentient dragons discovered and read Bilbo the Hobbit. They found Tolkien’s concept of how dragons living as kings, sleeping on piles of treasure quite pleasing.
Thus, they built arkships, “hired’ people (read: enslaved), stole human genetic material from Earth and set to colonize a nearby star to recreate this “draconic paradise”. During the millenia-long STL voyage, the dragons created the Tolkienesque races and used them to seed and terraform the planet they chose to colonize, a planet whose dominant life form were transcendent beings of pure energy that the “lesser races” called magic!
They then removed all traces of technology on the surface and settled as Kings and Queens.
The PCs were the (initially) unwitting descendants of the arkships slaves (and hidden Earth agents). They were all starting adventuring careers in a small kingdom ruled by a family of despotic Red Dragons.
My goal was to eventually unfold the campaign into a Fantasy vs Science Fiction conflict… but it never got to that point due to player revolt. When they found a crashed Spy satellite bearing a US flag, they ignored the plot hook and went to help some dwarves somewhere instead. I let it drop and chalked it up to not being too secretive about your campaign plot. 🙂
The highlights of that campaign:
- A wight NPC named Barry
- A halfling trap consultant that built access corridors and backdoors to all Dragon dungeons he built
- Turning one of my players PCs into a magic wand girl because he kept bugging me about adding more powers to his monk staff
- Said player had to get up and shout “Moon Heal” to use his “heal group” power =)
- Best PC to NPC exchange ever…
Chatty: Okay so as you enter the Dracolich’s lair you see it rear its head in your direction, but before he pounces he looks at Math’s PC (called Norim Lostlove, a sword and Shield fighting-man IIRC) he stops for a moment, as if recalling an ancient souvenir and booms, hesitantly. “Commander Lostlove?”
Math (having no idea what the hell that was about but sensing a huge plot reveal finally about to drop): You!
He he he.
After a decade, I eventually tired of Gurps. The combat system no longer met my needs. I wanted PCs and monsters to be able to do more per turn. I also found that having to use the point-buy system to create opponents was becoming more and more of a drag. While the rising availability of internet ressources helped alleviate that, I’ve always felt that all opponents in Gurps were noting but humans wearing rubber suits. To my then crunch-obsessed mind, it lacked something mechanical to set PCs and opponents apart.
In hindsight, I realize that’s because I should have used made monsters using Superheroes and Alien rules earlier in my GMing career and focus more on the fluff of it.
Damn, I think Wolfgang Baur has contaminated me!
At that time (early 00’s), I started hacking the engine to fit my needs. Combat turns became about 6 seconds long and monsters became more like multi-limbed super-villains. But the campaign lost steam and I was starting to look for alternatives. We tried BESM, which I liked a lot… (and still gauge new generic RPGs against for elegance and simplicity of design)
Then my friend Nicolas bought me a very special birthday gift in January of 2001…
The Dungeons and Dragons 3e Players Handbook…
But that’s another story…
Where were you in the 90’s?
So as you can see, I completely dodged the AD&D 2e/White Wolf/”Story” years playing one of the world crunchiest RPGs.
What was your game of choice during that time and what is your best souvenir?