Tuesday, May 20, 2008

How I Played the Game, Then & Now

I've been thinking about James Raggi's post from the other day, asking the question "Is this how D&D is supposed to be played?" One thing I know for sure? I never played it the right way!

I was about 8 years old when I started hearing about this cool game from a kid at school. Dungeons and Dragons. He didn't play himself. He just liked bragging about his older brother's god-killing rampage through the heavens and the hells. Fascinated, I asked for the Moldvay Basic set for Christmas, and dove right into it. What I did wrong was treating the game like a very elaborate kind of solitaire. I never found anyone else to game with!

I'm exaggerating, a little. But my strongest memories of the game are lonely. The hobby shop in town was devoted to model kits and trains, and had only a small selection of D&D books, modules, and minis. I tried going to a few open sessions at the local rec center but was always one of the youngest kids. The hazing I suffered might have been more friendly than I realized, but the eye-rolling over my painstakingly colored-in Monster Manual withered me. When an older player demanded my character draw from a Deck of Many Things before joining up with his party I just about cried. Yeah, I guess I was a pretty wimpy kid. I couldn't even catch a break from my confessor: the D&D playing junior priest at St Joe's took one glance at my halfling archer in leather armor and pronounced him "monster fodder." Faith, Hope and Charity my ass, Father Geoff!

I did play with some kids closer to my age, but we couldn't meet very often, and never finished a module, let alone develop an ongoing campaign. This was true in high school as well. All of my close friends were gamers, but it was a large and scattershot group. Mostly we rolled up new characters, played the start of an adventure and then broke off to shoot the shit and watch videos, never to pick up that particular scenario again. There were some pretty good runs through Pitz Burke and Legion of Gold and Tsojcanth, but the tales were never told in full.

So, yeah, I played wrong. I played with markers and crayons. I played by poring over the AD&D manuals, drawing maps, rolling up characters and running them through the Caves of Chaos or random-chart dungeonhacks. I played by making an analog spreadsheet on graph paper of all of the gods in Deities & Demigods along with their alignments, divine portfolios, favored colors, and symbols. I filled in the blanks in the artifact section of the DMG, assigning all of the powers minor, major and primary, and all of the effects malevolent and benign.

I wasn't playing the "right way," no, but I loved it. Coming back to RPGs after many years, I still find a lot of joy in the solitary aspects of the hobby, character making, rules-tinkering, adventure writing. But I'm not the shrinking lilac I was back in the day, nor the distracted teenager, and I'm ready to play to the fullest. Starting off easy, catching pick-up games when I can, while actively seeking a group to meet with regularly. I have my favorite games, but I'm open-minded: I just want to get together with some folks and throw some dice! In the short term I'll just be a player. In the long run, when I get the confidence to run a game, my plan is more diabolical. Look out! Or, look me up.


noisms said...

To be honest, I don't think you were missing out on much. We used to play big epic campaigns during my high school days, but they invariably imploded into player-on-player infighting, petty squabbling over "That's not the right way to play a Chaotic Good character!" and fights over magic items. We used to pretty generally have at least one friendship-ending argument per week (completely forgotten by the next session, of course).

Strange as it may seem, my most fun times were doing what you describe - rolling up characters by myself, creating new monsters, and playing solo games (literally - with me as both DM and player) through the little maps and worlds I created. I spent a lot of rainy Saturday afternoons doing that (and believe me, in Liverpool. there are a lot of rainy Saturday afternoons).

Jeff Rients said...

"There's no wrong way to play."

-S. John Ross

Words to live by, I think. You were having fun and harming no one, therefore you were doing it right.

James Maliszewski said...

You knew a priest who played D&D? Nifty. That he mocked your halfling archer, I have to admit, makes it even cooler. :)

Sham aka Dave said...

invariably imploded into player-on-player infighting

More than vaguely familiar to me.

There's no wrong way to play.

Truer words were never spoken.

mocked your halfling archer

Priceless, I have to admit!

Good post, Max. I have to admit, I now feel lucky to have been a DM for as long as I was. But, I think I share many of your wants and needs concerning D&D. It's all the stuff I do on my own, the maps, the house rules, the home brew, etc that really makes me enjoy the hobby so much.


Sham aka Dave said...

and all of the effects malevolent and benign.

Hey, I get it now!

Max said...

Sham: I was actually referring to the Fiend Folio when I named my blog. It's subheaded "Tome of Creatures Malevolent and Benign," and so help me it's my favorite monster book of all. It was a happy surprise to find out Don Turnbull was more than likely quoting EGG.

Sham aka Dave said...

Ah, I never realized that. Now your previous comments about the FF in regard to Crabmen makes sense.

errr...Carry on!