In a couple of months I’m turning 37 (yay!… trying to stay positive here), which means two things:
1. I’m getting older. No news there.
2. It will soon be 20 years since I started roleplaying.
Given that I discovered roleplaying at the ripe age of 17 and it has been an important part of my life ever since and, unfortunately, there hasn’t been as much gaming as I would like in the recent years, my mind is drawn back to those first days and all the good memories that followed. So, I’ve decided to externalise my thoughts and share a little collage of my roleplaying history.
And it all starts with…
I thought I’d remember my first moments as a roleplayer more clearly, but surprisingly I don’t. I remember being a member of the militia for the town of Daggerford. I remember dinosaurs and lizardmen, but not much else. What I do remember better is my first character, a half-elven Ranger/Cleric named Elrond (yeah, I wasn’t terribly original back then, sue me). The ability score requirements for a 2nd edition Ranger were pretty steep and our DM was very by-the-book (meaning you didn’t roll it, you didn’t get it), but I got pretty lucky with some of the 4d6-drop-lowest character generation rolls. Oh, oh, I also remember using one of those green AD&D 2E character sheets, the official version published by TSR in booklets. This was the first and last time our DM handed those out – he sticked with photocopies for all future games. Cheap bastard.
What a great little book that was! Back then there were only two RPG game stores in the entire country of Greece and I spent over an hour lost in central Athens looking for one of them. My reward was this fantastic compendium containing some great monsters like the Cloaker (one of my most fav DnD monsters ever).
It may seem strange buying a monstrous compendium without first getting a campaign setting or even the AD&D Player’s Handbook, but my DM was always very secretive about his monstrous compendium and that only served to pique my interest (the forbidden fruit syndrome). This was the beginning of my love affair with monstrous compendiums, which even now remain my favourite DnD sourcebooks. I would always buy any I could find, even when I wasn’t really interested in the rest of the setting.
One of the players in my group had bought the 2nd edition book and we got to play this after the Terrible Trouble at Tragidore fiasco (see below). Being in our early stages of development as roleplayers (the powerplayer/stat whores phase), we got dazzled by all the guns and goodies and didn’t really appreciate the rich setting. But this doesn’t mean we didn’t have fun, far from it. Shadowrun has given me some of my fondest roleplaying memories, especially the ones involving my paranoid rigger that spent his whole life holed up in a luxury minivan armed to the teeth.
One of the first and most important things I learned from Shadowrun is that the gung-ho tactics I was used to from DnD would not work for every game. Sometimes it pays to think before you jump into the fray. Forewarned is forearmed. Discretion is the better part of valour. You get the meaning.
Why Ravenloft? It could have been any of the others (apart from Forgotten Realms, which we were palready playing), and there were plenty of them: Greyhawk, Dragonlance, Al-Qadim, Spelljammer… Maybe it just looked different than the rest of the fantasy campaigns? I started with the original "black box" campaign setting, which I still consider the best Ravenloft edition to date, and I kept on buying stuff for the demiplane of dread even after we moved on to other games.
The first adventure I’ve ran as a DM was the Ship of Horrors, and I had the group sign on as sailors on a voyage from Waterdeep straight into the demiplane of dread. I didn’t know what I was doing half of the time, but I consider it pretty successful given my inexperience. My players breezed through most of the adventure without much difficulty (perhaps I was a bit generous with their magical items), but the last enemy (a 20th-level necromancer) managed to kill most of the party before going down. Lesson for the future: Acid fog and Wall of force is a terrific combo.
Well, that came as a natural since I was already a huge Tolkien fan even before I started role-playing. I didn’t actually know that there was a Tolkien RPG before I laid my eyes on it while browsing the game store’s fantasy RPGs shelf. At first I was amazed by all the combat detail and the critical hit tables were so much fun! After a while I realised that maybe this Rolemaster spin-off wasn’t the best system to emulate Middle-Earth. This didn’t stop me from hunting down its sourcebooks, which were both well-written and hard to find (especially the earlier first edition ones).
Call of Cthulhu is my favourite RPG ever. Part of the reason why is this long and rich campaign and the character with which I played. Dr Rudolf van Helsing, parapsychologist extraordinaire and distantly related to the famous vampire hunter Abraham van Helsing, was a rich upper-class dandy with a lot of free time on its hands and some serious superiority issues. He used to refer to everybody as "humble", e.g. "my humble fellow", "my humble police officer" etc (ok, it sounds a lot better in Greek). In fact, he did that so much that for my birthday I got an engraved zippo lighter from my group signed as "The Humble Ones". People use to ask me about it and I wasn’t sure how to explain it to them in a simple manner. Sadly, I don’t have it anymore.
It’s interesting that although Call of Cthulhu is considered a game with very high player character mortality/insanity, Rudolf managed to survive for almost 3 years of fairly regular adventuring before I retired him. He was in fact the only character in my group to make it through the entire Orient Express campaign without dying, thanks to lucky rolls when it really counted and liberal use of the flesh ward spell. Thank you flesh ward!
I didn’t actually spend a lot of time behind the GM’s screen (I always preferred being a player), and the few games which I ran were mostly one-offs. My favourite among them is probably a short cyberpunk campaign using the Alternity rules and based on TSR’s Kromosome game. The players were owners of a microcorporation trying to get by in a hostile, collapsing world. Highlights of the campaign include battling voodoo gangsters in New Orleans to secure a secret cure to a deadly disease and storming a low-orbit space station to liberate a newborn AI. It was fun while it lasted.
I bought several games that I never got the chance to play. Haven’t we all? Nephilim is probably the one I wanted to try more than the rest. I had Chaosium’s English version of the original French game and I managed to gather all the sourcebooks that were released (it was no biggie; there weren’t many). I even planned a campaign for it, but it wasn’t meant to be. There are so many things to like here. A rich background story, a complex occult world hidden behind the facade of everyday affairs, conspiracies and secret societies fighting for domination, three different kinds of magic based on historical occult practices. A terrible missed opportunity!
Well, it was fun remembering all those games and moments shaping my history as a role-player. I might have even got a little misty. Time to stop delving into the past and see what the future brings!