Today, I’m going to talk about myself. It’s a bit self-indulgent, but it’s my blog so I’m going to do it anyway.
Specifically, I’m going to talk about my history with roleplaying games, through the lens of the games that I played before I became fully immersed in the hobby about two and a half years ago.
Warhammer Quest is an “adventure board game” that was published by Games Workshop between 1995 and 1998. I was already familiar with Games Workshop’s army miniatures, having played Warhammer 40,000 for many years by this point. I even collected the army books and was invested in the story of the setting, but I had never been able to tell stories of my own in the game before.
I was introduced to Warhammer Quest by two friends of mine, two brothers, whom I’d known for years. They are the ones, incidentally, who called me Step and thus helped name this blog. The younger brother is named Duncan, which I am telling you because he said it was ok. (Duncan is the same friend with whom I played Breaking the Ice.)
In a standard game of Warhammer Quest, the players take on the roles of Warriors in the fantasy-inspired Old World, crawling through a procedurally generated dungeon, formed of randomly selected room tiles, randomly selected monster encounters, and randomly selected treasure.
But my friends and I almost never played a standard game. No, we were too much taken with the big, soft-cover book that came bundled in the boxed set: the Roleplay Book. This Roleplay Book provided extra rules for playing Warriors outside of dungeons, for gaining levels, etc.
And it gave rules for running adventures.
I’m going to gush for a minute about how huge a deal this was. There were no shops near us that had any Dungeons & Dragons books or merchandise. We hadn’t quite got round to roleplaying video games like Baldur’s Gate (which came out in 1998) or Planescape: Torment (1999).
Warhammer Quest wasn’t a roleplaying game as we’d currently understand it, but it was the closest thing we had, and we played it a lot. We created and ran adventures for each other. We bought expansions to get new Warriors (I enjoyed playing the Imperial Noble, but the Chaos Warrior and Elf Ranger were both popular) and new adventure modules. We even went online and found fan-made Warriors and adventures, and sometimes made our own. (If you ever played Warhammer Quest as a Jedi Knight, chances are it was using my rules, or rules based on mine.)
In short, Warhammer Quest planted the seeds of everything that would come later.
Vampire: The Masquerade
When I moved to secondary school (what would be, more or less, a high school in North America) and became a teenager, I started playing Vampire: The Masquerade, which was then the most stereotypically moody teenage game around.
Vampire: The Masquerade is supposed to be a game of deeply personal horror. The player characters are cursed with vampirism and immortality, struggling to retain their humanity and sense of self despite the need to feed on living blood in order to survive and the crushing ennui of eternal life. They are pawns of ancient inhuman monsters in an endless political power play in which the player characters have nothing to gain and everything to lose.
From a game design perspective, it fails to deliver this on almost every level. What it delivers is a game of vampiric antiheroes with big guns and over-the-top superpowers fighting other supernatural monsters in the streets. Even the politics was sidelined by clearly delineating the sides of an open and violent war. Even the video games based on the game (Redemption in 2000 and Bloodlines in 2004) followed this format, featuring combat as a central pillar and obvious choices between right and wrong.
But the art was gorgeous and the whole game line was deeply evocative of a bleak and gloomy World of Darkness populated by monsters of all kinds, creeping closer and closer to an inevitable end time called Gehenna.
I loved the game, really loved it, but I was not of an age to appreciate the depth of the setting. I played the rules as they were written, and what I got was… well, in the very first game I ran (for Duncan and his brother), the vampires took over a casino in Las Vegas. In another game, one I wasn’t personally a part of, there was a scene in which the player characters were fighting the cops, and one of the vampires turned into an owl, flew into the air, turned into a bear, plummeted, and crushed a police car when he landed.
But because I loved the game, I wanted to play more. It was the first game for which I planned out a campaign. I wrote up a whole city as a setting, with the key players. I had ideas for what would happen—too many ideas, really, for a GM, but Apocalypse World had not yet been published to teach me to play to find out what happens.
I recruited my circle of friends to play, a core group of three (including Duncan but not his brother, who made a character but dropped out before the first session) and the occasional extra. Getting the group together was difficult, so we played over MSN Messenger.
The chronicle lasted about 19 short sessions, many of which I still have recorded on chat logs. I made a lot of mistakes, but that’s not unusual for a young and inexperienced GM. More surprising was that I did anything right, but I flatter myself now to think that the players and I actually had fun playing while it lasted.
But in 2004, the world-ending Gehenna actually arrived. The game line concluded and was relaunched as Vampire: The Requiem, a much better system more suited for the intended play style, and I moved away from home to go to university. Our chronicle fizzled out without a conclusion.
I never actually got to play Vampire: The Requiem. In fact, I didn’t play a single roleplaying game at university. Not a single one.
Dungeons & Dragons
Dungeons & Dragons had to be on this list. It’s just so huge in the realm of roleplaying games.
But the fact is that I hardly played Dungeons & Dragons. I played some video games based on it, like the Baldur’s Gate series and Neverwinter Nights and especially Planescape: Torment. But I only played actual tabletop D&D once before I went to university.
Duncan, who went to the same secondary school as me but in a different year, took to roleplaying games as a hobby much faster than I did. For me, it was something I could do with the friends I already had, not as a way to make new friends. Duncan ran a D&D campaign at school at lunchtimes. He invited me to join it, but I only played half a session.
Then I went to university, and played no roleplaying games at all. If I had, perhaps I would have made different friends than I actually did. I can’t feel bad about that, because generally I had a good time at university. Duncan played roleplaying games at university. He met new friends as a result.
After I graduated, some five or six years after playing half a session of D&D in a lunch hour, I moved to London for work. Duncan invited me again to play a game of D&D, which had recently published the game’s fourth edition. We played a couple of games in a London pub, in an atmospheric stone-walled alcove downstairs, with the same circle of friends that we had played Vampire with years before. The game was fun, but getting the group together was difficult, so we didn’t play a third.
So that was it. I stopped playing roleplaying games again.
In 2012, I caught whooping cough. It was not pleasant. I was off work for a long time, and having no particular hobbies this proved to be a very boring period of time.
As I recovered, Duncan suggested that I go to an event for new and inexperienced roleplayers that was being held by a London university gaming society. Having nothing else to do, I agreed.
There were four sessions, every Wednesday for a month. The first one I went to was no particular system at all. We picked characters randomly based on surreal cards, and could do whatever the character on the card might reasonably be expected to be able to do. I played a character like a female Tarzan, who rode into battle on a gigantic ferret. The same game featured Viking Santa, two lobster creatures, a robot pimp, and a heavily weaponised T-Rex as a villain.
I went back the next week, and played in a game using Savage Worlds. We all played Batman villains, escaped from Arkham Asylum to enact ridiculous heists, descended into petty squabbling (between the characters, not the players), and were eventually accosted and defeated by Batman himself. I played Killer Croc. It was a lot of fun.
The rest is history, as they say. I was hooked, and I now knew enough people just from a couple of games to ensure I had regular games as long as I wanted them. One of the first was a D&D campaign run by the Riddler from that Savage Worlds game.
I haven’t stopped since.
And I don’t plan to.