I have been thinking about gaming a lot lately. I’ve decided to use this blog as a repository for some of those thoughts. As a roleplayer, I’ve gone through a variety of phases. I began gaming in the early eighties. I remember receiving Basic Dungeons and Dragons Basic (the red box, for those keeping score) as a gift when I was eight or nine years old. This confused me, as the box clearly stated that the game was for ages ten and over. I’m not sure why that struck me at the time, or why I remember it, but that is probably my first memory of holding a roleplaying game.
Throughout the eighties, I played a number of rpgs. Most of these were various TSR games: D&D, Gamma World, Star Frontiers, Marvel Super Heroes, and Top Secret/SI; but I also played some other games. Probably the most notable of these was James Bond 007.
I don’t think I payed a lot of attention to game mechanics back then. My D&D games tended to mix rule editions. I vaguely remember submitting an article to Dragon Magazine that proposed an alternative to racial level limits for demihumans in AD&D, but I can’t remember what I said. It wasn’t accepted. This wasn’t a huge surprise; I was probably thirteen or so when I wrote it. I do remember being very fond of the Marvel Super Heroes (FASERIP) rules while being annoyed by the rules of DC Heroes and TMNT. I’m still, actually, something of a fan of FASERIP.
I didn’t game much, if at all, in high school. In college, I played a bit of Champions (HERO) and Rolemaster. I might have played some Star Wars (WEG) and Cyberpunk 2020, too. It was in grad school, though, that I really renewed my interest in gaming.
Like many people, I got sucked into the Vampire Live Action Role Playing (LARP) craze of the mid 1990s. This connected me to a far wider network of roleplaying gamers than I would have ever expected. I became a storyteller in a large LARP. I ran popular one-shots at a large science fiction convention. I became a coordinator in an international LARP organization.
Then I burnt out, more or less.
While I still enjoyed the roleplaying, I became tired of the politics surrounding the game. Around this time, I moved. I stopped playing in the various Vampire LARPs I had been involved in and began playing in a small Wraith LARP while at the same time increasing the proportion of my roleplaying that wasn’t Live Action.
I am now in what I have come to think of as my third phase of roleplaying. Phase I was early in my life. It exists mostly of fond memories of a sense of wonder. Phase II is a mix between brilliant moments and massive frustrations; great friendships formed and personality clashes galore. It showed me the extremes of what roleplaying could bring, both good and bad.
In Phase III, I like to think that I’ve considered things a bit more. I’ve gained some distance on both Phases I and II. There are a variety of things to which I can credit this. It might be the types of gaming groups I’ve been involved with; they tend to be small and fairly clear on what they are looking to accomplish in a game. It might be that I am no longer blinded by novelty. Perhaps most influentual, however, have been the realizations that you can theorize about roleplaying games, analyze what it is you want out of a game, and design mechanics that facillitate gameplaying that will fulfill those desires. This is a realization that has probably been bubbling beneath the surface of my mind for some time. I went to graduate school in philosophy; theorizing is second nature to me. I’ve always tinkered with game mechanics, but I don’t know that I ever really had a well-defined goal in doing so other than to fix a particular rule that I disliked or problem that I encountered. It wasn’t until I began reading The Forge a few years back, that I really saw these ideas laid out neatly. I rarely read The Forge anymore. It seemed to get so mired in theoretical language that practical applications of the theory were nearly indiscernable. I’ve heard that it has improved now that the RPG Theory Forum has been removed. I might go back. We shall see.
What will the future of this blog hold?
I would like to think that I will intelligently question some assumptions that tend to be made, whether in game play, game design, or in the culture that surrounds gaming. I will relate some anecdotes from my actual play in order to illustrate specific points. I will provide examples of game mechanics that I have created or altered in order to improve gameplay, with explanations of why I did as I did and – if I used them – whether they accomplished what I wished them to accomplish. I will provide some notes on on-going game designs of mine. One on-going project I have been working on heavily inolves some of my graduate research in virtue theory. As a result I will be toying with a number of ways in which morality is or could be presented in terms of game mechanics. I will probably also use this as a sounding board for some campaign design, and a repository for ideas that other people are welcome to use in their own games. In addition, I won’t hesitate to point readers in the direction of worthwhile things I’ve seen elsewhere. You may also see the occasional game review or fiction recommendation. We’ll see…