My life in gaming

This started as a ridiculously long aside to my main post today.

I started in 1995 with AD&D 2e. Didn’t play much, didn’t play the modules. But had tons of fun with my HS buddies, and got introduced to tabletop RPG. Turns out I’d been playing a one-player variant for years, in the form of Lone Wolf and Fighting Fantasy books.

In 1998, at UCSC, my new friends introduced me to GURPS 3e. I never went back to tHAC0, and it was a long time before I went back to levels. You could do anything! And the level of complexity was just right for a computer science scholar (which is to say, far higher than I now believe to be the target). I ran fantasy and supers games with it, but most of the play I experienced was modern gritty stuff. I will admit that if I’d found HERO/Champions around that time, I would have played that instead.

By the time I found HERO, I already knew from moving away from GURPS that it was not my game. Comparing HERO to M&M, it’s pretty obvious which one is written by a lawyer and which one is written by a career game designer.

A year later, I started playing in White Wolf games. Mostly Mage, some Werewolf and Changeling, and a very light dusting of Vampire. This seemed almost freeform after the mega-crunch of GURPS. The d10 dice pool was elegant, but at the same time seemed indefinite. But, lots of fun was had. There was some unfun when we had a storyteller who insisted on running a sandbox game when the group really needed more structure. But that’s not really related to this discussion.

At some point during all this, D&D 3e was released. I didn’t care. AD&D 2e definitely wasn’t the game I wanted to play any more, so why would 3e be?

In 2002, I was working at Kinko’s. That, btw, was a freakin’ awesome job for a gamer! (I still work in print, so all the same benefits apply) I had pads of character sheets. Table-size maps were not a problem. When no one was looking, I engaged in copyright infringement. (the only GURPS books I still have are the copies I would never try to sell) And I got invited to a GURPS zombies game. Where I met my future wife.

That was a fun group! We played GURPS, Call of Cthulhu, White Wolf, Paranoia, Zombies! (had nothing to do with the GURPS zombie-themed game), Traveller… And at some point, I was invited to play D&D. Well, ok. My crush is playing in it, so, uh, yeah.

Holy crap! D&D 3.5e and the d20 System were awesome! They’d managed to get D&D “right”, in my estimation. And the OGL spawned a sort of renaissance in tabletop RPGs. You’d see that logo, and immediately know that you already had a strong grasp of the rules. You could pick up a 3rd party d20 sourcebook, and without going through chapters of rules minutiae jump right into telling stories and having fun.

I spent gobs of money on 3.5e and d20 books. I was going to the semi-local conventions (DunDraCon, ConQuest, KublaCon) every year. I had two weekly gaming groups and a weekly L5R card night. Those were the best years of my gaming life.

After my wife and I moved to Portland in 2006, one of my weekly games managed to keep going. Basically, over the course of a year, all but one person involved had moved to Portland, so we had varying levels of Skype/Fantasy Grounds involvement. We were using Monte Cook’s Arcana Evolved, with a couple of house rules.

Eventually that game fell apart (early 2009, which would be when my son was born), and we started playing various M&M 2e campaigns. Each one would pop and fizzle, because even the most phenomenal GM I’ve ever played with experiences writer’s block.

In the background of all that, 2007 happened and Star Wars Saga Edition came out. Purported to be essentially the “beta test” of D&D 4e. And… wow! I didn’t get to play it for like three years, but all the rules had gone a direction I liked. A reduced skill set with higher granularity. A reduced condition list with higher granularity. No iterative attacks. Front-loaded HP. Incredibly elegant multiclassing. I loved the way Force Powers were presented, and had a hope that 4e would use it for magic. The saves being flipped to become defenses was something of a non-change for me.

After reading SWSE, D&D 4e in 2008 was somewhat of a letdown. Until I started playing it. And especially when I started running it! Everything I didn’t know I didn’t like in 3.5e was fixed. I’ll get more into that later, since it does pertain to my discussion.

My wife and I briefly playtested Hoodoo Blues, by Vajra Enterprises, during what I will call my gaming dark times. It was a good experience, and we met some awesome people (including, hilariously, someone I went to HS with). We both found corner cases of the system, my character breaking it in one direction (I could tell anyone to do anything, anytime – broken) and my wife’s breaking it in another (you’re saying I’ve been casting these spells for 200 years, but I have about a 15% chance of being successful? wtf?). The ORC system almost seems familiar to a d20 veteran, but it was… too much like GURPS and HERO in some ways. The attempt at realism totally got in the way of both telling a story and playing a game.

And then! As my exile from gaming reached about two years, I got both a netbook and an iPod Touch. And I found PbP. Fourthcore Team Deathmatch! Grind4e! Giant in the Playground Forums! This ends up being a completely different style of play from tabletop. And that’s the subject of another post. But yeah, I’ve totally started getting into game cartography, and certain aspects of design because of it. And that’s awesome.

Ok, that’s that. Head back to the other post now?