Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Games I Have Known and Loved; or, the Solipsistic Spree Continues

Since I'm seemingly on a self-reflective streak, I figure now's a good time to trot out my list of games I play and have played regularly in the past. This was a bit of a meme going 'round about a month ago, so I'm a little late in coming, but on the other hand, this is another one of those posts I've been meaning to do for a while now. These are certainly not all the games I've ever played, just the ones that I once did or still do that mean alot to me.

Listed in approximate order of when I started playing 'em:

  • D&D/AD&D: So as I've written about before, I got started with the Mentzer Basic/Expert boxes. Thing is, I never had much chance to play 'em. Everyone I knew at my junior high played AD&D. Thanks to a warning in the back of the Basic Set ("AD&D is way more complicated, don't try to run AD&D modules with these rules or your eyes will explode, etc."), it didn't occur to me that I could simply sit in on a game of AD&D with the other kids. After my family moved cross-country that summer, I went out and bought the AD&D Player's Handbook (2e, of course, although I didn't realize at the time that were different editions); naturally, it turned out no one played D&D at my new school, Advanced or not. Life's funny sometimes, you know?

    Once I finally did start gaming regularly, I did manage to run a couple epic AD&D campaigns (quite a feat with only one PC!), but the halcyon days of AD&D were my late high school/early college years, thanks to Tim's enthusiasm. We played a metric ton(ne) of AD&D during that period. So much so that Alex pretty much burned out on D&D specifically and RPGs in general (although it took him years to realize this). But we did manage our greatest campaigns during that period, so it certainly was "burn-out well earned." And, in the years since, I've made peace with 2e--the system's perceived flaws are more likely to be viewed now as virtues. Prior to those days of delirious D&Ding, it was all about Palladium for Alex and me.

  • GURPS: Ah, but let us not forget the Generic Universal Role-Playing System. This was the second RPG I ever bought, quite a leap from the 64 pages of Mentzer Basic. Foreshadowing my Mythus swindle, I was lured in by the back copy on the GURPS 3rd edition rulebook. In particular, I loved the part that promised that you'd never need to learn a new set of rules "every time you switch campaigns." Considering that I hadn't run a campaign, let alone multiple campaigns that would have required switching between, it seems rather optimistic of me to have based my purchase on such criteria.

    The other thing that caught my notice was the promise that you could use the system to run any module or setting. I think I had visions of buying, say, a D&D module, setting it down next to the GURPS rulebook, and--presto!--a GURPSified adventure would somehow result. To that end, shortly after buying GURPS I also purchased the I.C.E. "Robin Hood: Giant Outlaw Campaign" (this being right after seeing both the Kevin Costner and Patrick Bergen versions of the tale--that was a good year for Robin Hood fans). I still have that I.C.E. supplement. I've kept it for purely nostalgic reasons, as I never did manage to GURPSify it. I just didn't have the level of gaming experience required for that sort of thing at the time, and my Robin Hood fervor has decreased somewhat since those days. If I were to try it nowadays, I'd probably use either Burning Wheel or Pendragon. Hmmm...anyway!

    GURPS is my own personal unrequited love, I'm afraid. To this day I'm an ardent fan of the system, but I've yet to run a long term campaign with it. One shots and short campaigns only. I suspect this is because others in my group tended to favor dedicated rulesets, so for fantasy we played D&D, horror got Call of Cthulhu, modern-day or futuristic got Palladium, etc.

    I've made a vow that the next campaign I run after I wrap up my Pendragon game will be GURPS. After all this time... We'll see if it pans out.

  • Palladium games: I think it would have been pretty hard to be a gaming neophyte in the early 90s and not have had some sort of exposure to one or more Palladium games. Not only did they have the hot licenses (Robotech, TMNT), but they were widely available, carried in book stores as well as specialist shops.

    As it turns out, Robotech was my first Palladium game. This, incidentally, was also the beginning of my strange habit of buying licensed RPGs associated with properties I have had little to no exposure to. GURPS Riverworld was another one I picked up around this time, even though I'd never even heard of the books. I just liked the setting idea. And to this day, I'm pretty sure I've never seen a complete episode of Robotech/Macross. But you needn't have seen the show to appreciate the idea of giant robots wailing on each other, especially when you're thirteen.

    I can still remember scratching my head, trying to puzzle my way through the rules at the beginning of that slim volume. Yet that sort of infectuous energy that inhabits most of Palladium's products soon infected me, and other titles were to follow. I bought Rifts and proceeded to drool over it. I picked up TMNT. Ninjas & Superspies was my next addition. We even dabbled in the Palladium Fantasy RPG, particularly after the 2nd edition came out (the illustrations in that book are some of my all-time favorite fantasy RPG illos).

    Of that list, Ninjas & Superspies and Rifts were our all-time favorites. We used the former almost exclusively for doing martial arts scenarios, pretty much ignoring the "superspy" aspect of the game (the product of coming of age during the "ninja craze" of the 80s, I suspect). And of our Rifts campaigns, much more could be written than would be of even passing interest to you, good reader. So we shall move on, pausing only to note that both Rifts and Ninjas & Superspies have been revisted by our group over the last couple years. I'll have more thoughts on that in a future post, I'm sure.

  • Call of Cthulhu: For my fourteenth birthday I received two RPGs that could not have been more unalike: Call of Cthulhu and Aliens: the Adventure Game, which was based on the trigonometrical Phoenix Command system. I got the latter because I had a friend who was a nut about the Aliens movies and, as I was still trying to get my friends to come together as a gaming group, thought I might lure him in that way. CoC I simply knew by reputation thanks to Dragon Magazine and the Wargames West catalog.

    Well sir, it was one of the strangest experiences of my life that weekend, reading a chapter of the Aliens RPG, then a chapter of CoC (I couldn't decide which to read first, so I read them at the same time). Schitzophrenic, almost. It certainly was a wonderful education in what makes a game good and what makes a game bad.

    CoC, of course, rightly deserved its reputation, and many wonderful nights have been passed scaring the bejesus out of each other. It was my gateway to the works of Lovecraft, and to a love of horror in general. We tried playing a couple of those mega-campaigns ("Masks," "Orient Express") but they never took. CoC, for us, was always about one shots and short campaigns--and unlike GURPS, I don't see that as a tragedy at all.

    (Incidentally, I did actually run the Aliens RPG once, for the aforementioned friend. I think the charts and pre-algebraic math actually drove him away from RPGs rather than suck him in.)

  • Cyberpunk: This was one of those games whose influence towers high above how much we actually played it. We spent more time talking about it, or ogling the Parente illustrations in the rulebook. Oh sure, we had a handful of short campaigns, and it turned me on to William Gibson, but it was always more appreciated than played, this one.

  • Pendragon: The new kid on the block, in its way. I've written at length about how it came to be that the longest-running campaign I've ever run turned out to be Pendragon, so I'll just leave off here by saying that this was the campaign where Des went from "casual" to "committed" gamer, and will probably remain her favorite RPG of all time because of it.
Notable by their absences, you may notice, are White Wolf games, superhero games, and classic sci-fi games.

We played a bit of Vampire (in GURPS form, no less), and we always wanted to run a Vampire: Dark Ages campaign, but never quite managed it; we were the "D&D" group. My high school also had the "White Wolf" group, led by Juan, and we sat in on each other's games from time to time, but it just never took off with us. I guess we weren't angsty enough?

Never played any of the classic 80s-era superhero games either (Marvel, DC Heroes, V&V, Champions, etc.) I owned one or two of those titles at various times, but, well, we were never big fans of four-color comics, so we never particularly felt the call. After seeing The Dark Knight I've felt a slight urge to rectify this oversight, but I doubt it'll happen any time soon. Still, I have been mulling over which ruleset I'd use...

As for sci-fi, well, I was certainly aware of Traveller, thanks in part to Roger E. Moore's war stories in Dragon Magazine, but it was sort of on its way out as I was coming in, as it were. Certainly the days of Classic Traveller were long gone. And, frankly, I like to think of Rifts as my own version of Traveller. It's what I played when I wasn't slaying orcs and just wanted to blow stuff up with lasers.

Looking back, that's a surprisingly short list, considering how many RPGs I've owned and/or played. I guess it goes to show that, in the end, you keep coming back to the games that really "do it" for you.
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