A few months ago I supported the Blade Runner Role Playing Game from Free League Publishing on Kickstarter. And in a fit of “it seemed like a good idea at the time” I added a bunch of their previously published games to my pledge when the project funded.
We didn’t bring (m)any books with us when we moved; some of Dawnise’s crafting books and a few of our frequently used cook books. The only dedicated bookshelf we have in the flat is in Dawnise’s craft room. So the books in the rather large box that arrived while we were away in Belgium don’t currently have a better place to be than “in the box, on the floor.”
So, I’ll need to sort that out…
Over the past few days I’ve sat on the sofa and paged through copies of Vaesen, the Aliens and Blade Runner RPGs, and the latest incarnation of Twilight:2000, which to be honest seems a little too “on the nose” at the moment.
I started playing pen-and-paper RPGs as a tween. Gaming was inspired by reading – which I did a lot of – and the desire to tell more and different stories in the worlds I’d visited. My choice of RPGs both came out of, and influenced, what I was reading. Sometimes it even got a bit “meta.”
After reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings I went on to read a bunch of what was, in retrospect, mostly terribly derivative fantasy and science fiction. I started gaming with boxed-set games from TSR – the early 80’s D&D red, blue, and green boxes, Star Frontiers, and Top Secret/SI – before “graduating” to AD&D.
The ROBOTECH TV series introduced me to a bunch of games published by Palladium Books. Works like Neuromancer, Hardwired, and When Gravity Fails brought me to the Cyberpunk 184.108.40.206 RPG and Shadowrun. A friend and his brothers introduced me to games like GURPS, and tabletop simulations like Car Wars, the original Twilight:2000, and Star Fleet Battles.
Despite the negative and often hysterical press of the time, my parents were generally supportive of the hobby – even when it occasionally meant hanging out with some kids who I, as an adult, would not encourage me to hang out with. (I’ve got a strong suspicion that it was one of those not-completely-savory teens who helped themselves to the contents of our house one year through my bedroom window, but that’s a story for a different time.)
It was the combination of RPGs and computers that led to meeting a group of like minded irregulars, many of whom I still count as friends decades later. It turned out that the BBS that I had stumbled on in the listings at the back of that free computer magazine was initially born out of wanting to turn some surplus computing hardware into a way to help a gaming group keep the story moving between game sessions. Not everyone who subsequently found The Dragon and chose to stay played RPGs, but many did; and gaming, literature, history, renaissance fair, and and arguing about all of the above and more were the threads that wove the group together.
At any given time folks in that group were involved in a least a few games. Some games and groups were into the simulation angle, using systems like Rolemaster or GURPS – built around rich detailed rules and tables. Others leaned more toward collaborative story telling, using systems like Fudge, that seemed to aim for “the simplest mechanics possible, and no simpler” to support telling a story. A few folks even tried their hand at game design, building new or augmenting rule systems that almost but didn’t quite scratch their particular itch. There were often house rules, and some incredibly rich campaign settings, a priceless side effect if you’re lucky enough to be gaming with a (then unpublished) author.
Sitting on the sofa, hard-cover game book balanced on my lap, it was impossible not to think back on times spent story telling with those friends. If it was via carefully written messages exchanged via the BBS, or interactions around someone’s dining table into the small hours of the morning – those people and those times became, for me, a probably wholly unfair touchstone for what “online community” could and should mean.
In the intervening years I got rid of some of my books – especially “old” AD&D books that were “made obsolete” by newer editions of the game. When I realized my mistake I managed to reacquire some of them from used book stores or on eBay. These days I could probably get most of them as PDFs from DriveThroughRPG. As much as I like e-books for portability and search, game books are at least as much about the physical talisman as about the contents. Having a PDF that’s always with me is great, but it was holding books in my hands that triggered the flood of memories.
I haven’t actually played or run a game in longer than I’d care to calculate. That group scattered in the normal two ways; gradually and suddenly. People got married, some had kids, and Dawnise and I moved from Southern California to Washington State – so opportunities to convene became rare indeed. There were some attempts at play-by-email, and occasional talk of using Neverwinter Nights to run an online game, but it was a long time before virtual tabletop platforms like Roll20 and FoundryVTT would make distance playing more practical.
Despite that dearth of recent playtime, RPGs are very much a part of my “residual self image.” They’re part of who I am, and how I became this person, and that’s not going to change – even if the books just continue to stare at me me from a shelf.