Friday, December 30, 2011

A brief history of gaming

I first got into RPGs in the 5th grade, sometime around 1979, with the Basic D&D set, but it didn't take me and my friends very long to get pulled into the AD&D books. We wanted to play the "adult" version of the game, naturally. We would pool our money together to buy the books and then they would get handed over to me in order to learn the rules. Thus, I sort of became the de facto DM for our group for a very long time. (Some bloggers wax nostalgic about those early games of their youth, how much they miss that excitement and wonder... but, honestly, I don't. Those games were messy, clunky, and often uninspired to my recollection. I like to think my understanding of RPGs has grown better and more nuanced over the years, and the games more mysterious and fun. But, to each their own.)

We bought pretty much everything TSR released in those heady days, but really only played AD&D with regularity. I reached a burn-out point sometime right out of high-school, living in my first apartment, DMing for five or six of my friends. I was running the Temple of Elemental Evil and sort of fizzled out my brain trying to manage everybody. Thankfully, a buddy of mine stepped in and took over, saving the campaign for everybody else. I took a little breather. It wasn't until I was deep into reading H. P. Lovecraft, and discovered Call of Cthulhu, that I felt ready to get back into RPGs. Call of Cthulhu was a great change of pace and I think it helped to mature my GMing technique. It also opened our gaming group's eyes to RPGs outside of the insular TSR world.

I ended up going to college and moving out of the state for a while and left all my games behind with my friends. Life took over, as they say, and it was a number of years before I got back into games. When I moved back to Washington, me and a couple old high-school buddies started playing Villains & Vigilantes. There were a number of old games I still had kicking around that I had always wanted to play, but never had the chance. Since I was still feeling somewhat disenchanted with AD&D, I made it my mission to try out those games whenever the opportunity presented itself. (That list continues to this day.)

As it happens, that list got interrupted by the release of 3rd edition D&D. At the time it looked to me like they addressed all the problems I was having with the game and I discovered I was missing the low-fantasy action and magic romps of those early games. So, I started running Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil as a sort of bookend to the way I left the game those many years ago. That long campaign started with just myself and one friend, but over the course of three years found some fellow gamers who joined in, bringing the regular group up to five of us. Finishing that campaign was a goal for myself to prove I could keep my focus and interest up for that long on a single game. By all accounts it was a success, but I did find that I needed another change of pace afterwards to cleanse my palate.

I discovered that while I liked the new rules of 3e D&D overall, I was becoming dismayed at the complexity of NPC generation, especially at higher levels. More and more I was leaning back toward the older games with simpler rule sets. So, we started playing 1e Gamma World, using the Legion of Gold module as a campaign setting. I had always really enjoyed the flavor of that old game and it was a real joy to finally take it out for a drive. That skinny little module kept us busy for two years (granted, I was generating quite a lot of original content as well) before I begin feeling the urge for a flavor change again.

So, that pretty much brings us up to date. My original intension was to go back to the high-level characters from our old Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil campaign and see what they are up to... perhaps take them through Rob Kuntz's Maure Castle dungeons. I sort of got distracted when our group gained a couple new players and I decided to run a low-level "sand-box" style adventure around a frontier township for a short while, just to give the new players a feel for the game. As it turns out, we are all having a fine time of it as is, and so I am not sure when will will go back to those high-level characters after all. I discovered during the Legion of Gold sessions that, as a DM, I get a lot more enjoyment out of sand-box style adventures than storyline adventures. I guess my current goal is to figure out how to run a high level 3e D&D game as a sandbox, without getting bogged down by the fugly details of NPC generation.


  1. Excellent point about the NPC generation. I should dig around and see if I can find a Rogues Gallery type resource on the Net. Someone must have put it together!

    I would agree that if the discrete pieces of an adventure are well-planned out and detailed, being able to explore the world as you will is a lot more fun than feeling like you're on a timeline.

  2. It is actually one of my pet projects to write a Rogues Gallery for 3.5E, in the same flavor and style as the 1E original, along with art by me and my friends. To be given away for free as a PDF.