Filtering the light

The games I play and have played are in every sense the filter through which I view gaming and gamers. To help make this blog make sense and give it a sense of place in the larger community of roleplayers, I guess it is important to take a look at those filters first.

Like most gamers of my generation, I started with D&D (Red Box!) and transitioned to AD&D soon after. As my circle of gaming friends expanded and as the hobby itself expanded, I experimented with more and more games and still explore new titles to this day. I began as a minimalist, owning just the core books and spending vast amounts of time on world creation. Later, as I grew older and time became scarcer and scarcer, I became a completist and parlayed spending vast amounts of cash into being able to spend more manageable amounts of time on personalization and revision of ‘canonical’ worlds and settings. These days, I have swung back around to a more (but not nearly as) minimalist approach – not because I have more time or do not value the supplements and settings being produced – but because my library of games has grown so large I will never be able to use them all in this or additional lifetimes. There are limits to everything.

I began, as I mentioned, with D&D and played it and AD&D exclusively for about 7 years. It was then that I finally gained access to a gaming store with a real selection of material. I quickly invested in Palladium’s Fantasy RPG and Call of Cthulhu. In the former, I found voice given to all of my frustrations and irritations with AD&D, and in the latter I found my own voice as a GM. I will never forget the realization that a game I was running had moved from being entertaining to being the sort of gripping and engaging activity that has players talking about it fondly, and asking for a revival twenty years after the fact. I imagine that a lot of people who have read this far into this post, will know the feeling I mean.

As this period of self-discovery took root, my friends and I explored lots of different vehicles for storytelling, some of them more memorable than others. Top Secret and Top Secret SI, Paranoia, Star Wars, Mechwarrior, Beyond the Supernatural, TMNT, Shadowrun, Ars Magica, and more. We got comfortable with how things worked, and how we told stories. I expect that a lot of you did, too.

One day, a friend handed me a copy of Vampire: the Masquerade and things changed. They didn’t change as much as we all assumed that they had of course, but it was a nice (semi-illusory) revival nonetheless, and a good time of personal re-discovery and assessment of what was becoming for us a long-term, perhaps life-long hobby. At that point, we’d all been gaming for close to ten years – intensely and often. It was time to take our tools out of the shed, clean them off and think about getting some replacements. WW for whatever reason, sparked that renaissance in us. I found a lot of stories to tell in the various settings that WW produced, and found that more of them were accessible to more players than I’d previously been able to reach. Call of Cthulhu afterall, is a niche product among niche products – not just anyone can play it well, or for long. While it is beloved, I have found it is one of those games that people love to own and discuss, yet rarely play.

My library of games continued to slowly but inexorably expand… further editions of Pendragon, Stormbringer, Cthulhu, were joined by games like Prime Directive, Nephilim, SLA Industries, and innumerable near-games from wannabe publishers. Despite an almost ubiquitous presence in every game or comics store I entered, I found I just didn’t like GURPS no matter how hard I tried. I didn’t try very long, because long before I had any need to assess a need for GURPS in my life, I had already discovered two things which rendered the attempt moot. While I acknowledge that each of us can forget the importance of these two factors as games, or a game group, become an entrenched part of our social lives, I have found that keeping them firmly in mind has only served to magnify my enjoyment and keep my collection of gaming horror stories small. The two things are:

  •  The Game is supposed to be entertaining (which to me does not have to equate to ‘fun’)
  •  The rules shape the experience.

I will not be discussing these two things in this entry, I just bring them up now in passing. Be patient; we will speak of them again~

I fiddled with rules, I created rules, I mixed and matched rules, I discarded rules and elements of rules, I amended rules, I expanded rules, I memorized rules, I discussed rules and settings and design and intent at length until all hours of the morning. Behind all of this, of course, was a seemingly endless quest for a system and setting in which nothing was left unaccounted, and no one was left unsatisfied. We all wanted to be better players, and those of us who also ran games wanted to facilitate better stories.

Eventually, I moved far away from everything and everyone I knew. I brought games with me of course, but it took quite a while to meet new people with whom to start a group. I value that time as it let me clear my head of certain assumptions, and see habits in a new light.

In some ways, it let me discover my voice again.

In the years which have followed my arrival in Seoul, gaming has been a fairly consistent, but not nearly so regular, event as it was before I arrived. Also, no system or GM has been allowed to predominate, with some shared story settings even being told under alternate rules sets. Players have been less experienced in each setting and system and have remained that way, as each new story replaces the system, setting, characters, outlook, and mood of the last. While this element is not to my liking, it has done one thing that I value. It has highlighted the natural inclinations of the GMs and brought certain habitual approaches out into the light of day. Whenever this happens, I think we can agree that an opportunity for advancement of play and storycraft is offered.

Now it is 2010, and I have been in this ever-less-foreign land for 13 years. My current gaming group is on hiatus, and the stories are piling up in the back of my brain for want of an outlet. The last game run had all the earmarks of success, yet for me was a resounding failure and source of frustration. That too, is something into which we will get at a later date.

My games of primary interest at present are Aces&Eights, and Trinity. Blue Planet, and revived thirsts for Call of Cthulhu, Pendragon, and Palladium Fantasy clamour for attention, as well as an idea for a Prime Directive/SFB campaign which I can already tell will never see actualization. Still… one can dream.

Thanks for reading this far. This shall be the last introductory blurb for a while. The next entries will have some actual content. Fear not~

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  1. […] Secret SI 0 When I started this blog a little while ago, it seemed natural to me to include a blurb about how my perspective on gaming was formed and what my rpg roots are. As I hunted around for […]



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