This is the second of two posts describing seven role-playing games that changed my life. In this post, I’ll go from number four to number one in the reverse chronology. There is something very appropriate (but coincidentalI about this division: apart from Alternity, the games of the last post were all games I first encountered after I left school. Now we get to the games I played in my first years as a role-player – the formative games, as it were.

Dungeons & Dragons

Seeing D&D on here is probably not a shock to a lot of people. What might surprise some is how high I put this on the list. That’s because D&D wasn’t really the game that brought me into roleplaying. Sure, the second “real” role-playing game I played was a short campaign of AD&D. But we never really got off the ground, and though I thoroughly enjoyed it, what really got me into the hobby was being in a “class” where Vampire, Call and Shadowrun were where it was at. Sure, we played Dungeons & Dragons – but it wasn’t really as cool.

Where D&D really got going for me was much later, when I had become the teacher of the class, and was organizing fantasy LARP with a group of three other guys. We hung out a lot, and soon we decided to start playing a campaign. One of the others was the GM, and the point was to play a very “political” game with no real dungeon crawling, and more story telling. In other words, this was the game that taught me how cool campaigns can be. I haven’t been so privileged as to be part of a lot of great campaigns – but this one lasted around a year, I think, and was really, truly, great. We were on the same page, we developed our characters together, and we just had a real blast. I think that is the greatest thing D&D has done for me. Sure, it showed me how much fun role-playing can be much earlier – but really, at that point I was already well and truly hooked.

Call of Cthulhu

People who remember last week will know I have tricked you – a little. You see, I said last week that Call almost took the place of Alternity. Well, it did – it was one of those games that taught me the joy of the ordinary man, even (or maybe particularly) in the face of the extraordinary.

But Call taught me something else as well. It taught me that you can play a role-playing system without using the system. In reality, most of the CoC games I played were free-form. We all had a Credit Rating and a Cthulhu Mythos score (usually 0 – we always played starting characters), and we certainly had (too few) Sanity Points.

But we rarely actually used the stats much during the game. The Basic system was very clunky, complicated and confusing, and we didn’t really need them. We used the stats to figure out who the character was, and that was a great reason to have the stats, but we almost never tested them. That also meant that at some point, the stats started to disappear. In that way, playing Call could be considered going from a trike to a bike with training wheels: in the beginning, it feels the same, but gradually, the wheels come off, and you hardly know the difference, because you were not using them anyway. And so, Call helped me get into rule-less scenarios,” scenarios with no system, which took up most of my rpg attention for several years, and also prepared me to accept Fastaval scenarios.

Like with Alternity, Warhammer FRP could go here as well: it also helped me understand this. Warhammer was more martial, and much simpler (and better explained) than Basic, and so we tested it more. But really, we only used it for fighting, and many Warhammer scenarios didn’t really have fighting.

Vampire

Hey, what did you expect? I started playing in the late ‘90ies – of course Vampire was going to be on here. And my first real roleplaying game was in fact a Vampire 2nd edition game – I played a biker type Bruhja, who was quite violent.

Later on, Vampire was all the rage. I bought all the WoD books I could afford. I wasn’t actually all that into Vampire, being more attracted to Mage and Werewolf. But everybody else was a huge Vampire fan, and I was more than happy to play – and GM – it.

Much later, I ended up GM’ing a Vampire: the Requiem chronicle that lasted for more than a year of playing at least once a week. I was living in a dorm, and two geeks who were my closest buddies at the time created a character each. I had an idea for a short introduction that ended up taking most of the time we had. That’s where I really learned what an organic thing a role-playing game can be – and how much the game gives to you if you can just sit back and listen to it. I had a fair bit more than “bangs” – but after the first session or so, I think I wouldn’t have needed much more. I could have just brought one or two bangs to the table, and all would have gone well. Of course, part of what kept the game running so well was my preparation.

And so, Vampire (and WoD in general) was the game that taught me both to be a player, and to be a GM.

Fighting Fantasy

…which brings us back to the very beginnings.

Little Elias is about 7 years old. In the after-school care, some of the older boys are playing a game. Little Elias, 7 years old, really wants to join.

The older boys are playing Fighting Fantasy, and I was hooked. For several years, I wanted to “talk a game” with my parents. I wanted  the “Monster Manual” for Christmas, and I gobbled up the “Choose your own adventure”- books in the series. Yes, indeed, I was well and truly sold. Seven years old, and I was a role-player.

Another game taught me a lot about the tropes of dungeon crawling: Hero Quest. But by the time I met Hero Quest, I had known Fighting Fantasy for years.

Fighting Fantasy is also a game of a simplicity I didn’t encounter again until certain indie games more than a decade and a half later. Three stats it had: Strength, Stamina and luck. Everything was dealt with by using one or two of those. And yet they managed to have a book of more than a hundred pages of some of the most imaginative monsters I have ever encountered.

It was not a very good system. But by golly, did it ever catch my imagination. And twenty one years later, here I am.

 

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