Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

15 April, 2016

I am a tabletop RPG aficionado
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 6:44 PM

One of my big passions is tabletop gaming. It has been a significant part of my gaming life and career, even if I’ve never directly developed a tabletop game. Well, yet, at least. :)

Let me take you on a little journey and talk about what tabletop RPGs mean to me.

The heroic origin story

I got started in tabletop RPGs with D&D, in a roundabout way. When I was young, my best friend was a fundamentalist Christian; that meant no rock ‘n’ roll (that’s a whole other story) and certainly none of that demonic D&D stuff! Of course, I was young and nerdy so we couldn’t leave the forbidden fruit alone, although we found ways even under the watchful eye of his parents.

My first RPG purchase is pretty funny in retrospect. I saw a the module “Starspawn of Volturnus” for the game Star Frontiers on the discount rack at Target. I liked the art and bought it, but of course I knew nothing about game not having the main handbooks so I didn’t really understand much about it. I read through it, but without any understanding I could actually play it. Plus, according to my friend, it was guilty by association since it was made by TSR.

But, my friend was also a bit nerdy and creative, and we did love computer games. Lots of those computer games were inspired by D&D, so we ended up making our own (often non-computerized) versions; copies of derivatives of D&D. We made little mazes on notebook paper and graph paper, had stats for characters, although we didn’t use much randomness or dice. But, we were able to slip off into our own little imagined worlds in a shared creative experience.

Even when we played, we carefully skirted using “real” magic. I remember coming up with the idea that a wizard might have a wooden staff infused with some mineral allowing it to act like a match in order to “throw fireballs”. Yep, major nerd even at a young age.

Older, but no increase in WIS score

My formal introduction to D&D happened later in high school. Attending church, I met this other awkward geeky kid and we hit it off. He talked about playing D&D, but of course his mother was worried that he was too into that game. He also introduced me to other games: Doctor Who (the show as well as the tabletop RPG), Paranoia, TMNT (and other Palladium games). Often we’d play with his brother and mother, who were sometimes willing participants.

We also shared a passion for the NES and played a lot of RPGs together on there; we got through Wizardry on the NES together, although he did end up buying the hint guide! We also played The Bard’s Tale along with the original Final Fantasy; he took on the nickname “Akal” because FF1 only allowed 4 letters for a character’s name! I’m sure if personal computers with internet connections had been more widespread, we’d have found some way to play the online games of the time.

We did play some D&D, but usually without the rest of his family. I remember him talking up Drow, and Paladins, so I made a Drow Paladin. Of course, it was one of my first characters, so I was absolutely not playing Lawful Good as you were supposed to; I remember roughing up someone to get information out of them. He informed me I displeased my god, and chided me about trying to play an overpowered character. I remember being grumpy because it felt like that was the character he was telling me to play!

I did dabble a bit in RPG design then. Still having an aversion to “devil magic” in D&D, I did some research and came across the magical properties of herbs and wanted to use that as the basis of a magic system. As I like to joke, I was introduced to witchcraft because I was trying to avoid D&D! My friend and I also worked on with a game we called “Places of Darkness”, which was an pen and paper game similar to the old “Friday the 13th” TV show about recovering lost cursed artifacts. I remember typing up a character sheet in my computer science class in high school. Sadly, none of my notes have survived from that, but I really did like the idea.

Then I went off to university. I’ll continue that tale tomorrow.


  1. My best friend when I was a teenager was also a serious Christian, who became more and more fundamentalist to the point that the last I ever saw of him was when he moved to the U.S. after graduating university to join some fundamentalist group there. Before that, however, and right up until he actually left, his obsession, like mine, was rock ‘n roll’, in that now hard to understand sense of the music and lifestyle being almost a religion in itself. At thirteen he and I were both Sabbath fans, he more so than I. Our mutual focus soon moved towards the Velvet Underground and the art-rock scene and from there it slipped very naturally into the birth of UK punk. In 1976, when we would have been around seventeen, we co-founded a punk band, which he played drums for and largely organized and motivated. He was the one who had all the posters printed and who drove the car when we went around town fly-posting for our sporadic gigs. I went to literally hundreds of rock and punk gigs with him throughout our school years and the all while he was taking religious instruction, very seriously, in various forms.

    I only mention this as an anecdote that might illustrate that you can, apparently, be both a fairly committed Christian, who supposedly takes the bible literally, and a rock ‘n’roll true believer at one and the same time. I wouldn’t know how that actually works, not being religious myself, but apparently it does!

    Comment by bhagpuss — 16 April, 2016 @ 1:11 AM

  2. Being raised a Catholic always gave you the ‘advantage’ of being able to point at Tolkien and C.S. Lewis being devout Catholics, and in general ‘let’s pretend’ and being less-strict (‘an ice-cream at sunday’ to use the Dutch expression) made it all less of an issue. Jack T. Chick etc. being on ‘our case’ already for following a more old strain of Christianity helped, too, in the acceptance. ‘Yes this character is a witch but that’s just a role, it’s not real, and we don’t believe in it’.

    That being said, the more e.g. fantasy events moved away from ‘let’s pretend’ towards displays of actual belief in fantasy religions (or more accurately, fantasies about actual ancient religions) like public rituals the less comfortable I have become with them, as in way it could be seen as the Jack T. Chicks, B.A.D.D. people, and Mazes and Monsters (w/early Tom hanks) to be right in a way all along.

    Comment by NetherLands — 16 April, 2016 @ 2:25 AM

  3. I find it interesting that people have focused a lot on the religious aspect of this. I was talking to a friend last night and she mentioned the religious angle, too.

    I think it’s to do with the specific type of fundamentalist Christian dogma of the churches he attended. They didn’t like anything was even associated with sinful things, and took it to the extreme. One game-related example: they wouldn’t use regular “playing cards” because they were associated with gambling and witchcraft, but would play with Rook decks which were a deck of 14 cards in four color “suits”.

    Personally, I never fully bought into that type of fundamentalist thinking, as evidenced by my young rules-lawyer self conveniently circumventing the appearance of playing the devil games while still essentially designing and playing them. I don’t know what ever happened to my friend from back then; we lost touch when I moved away to another school.

    On a related note: I have a copy of the Jack Chick tract “Dark Dungeons”. I pull it out occasionally when I need a good chuckle. ;)

    Comment by Psychochild — 16 April, 2016 @ 6:58 AM

  4. It’s always fascinated me how religious groups latched onto the idea that D&D would lead to devil worship or some other idolatry. My own mother was no exception, concerned at my older brother’s interest and later my own. She never outright forbade it, but it was clear she disapproved. Given the other ways teenagers waste their time, I am surprised this particular type of game drew so much ire. On the other hand, people have been up in arms about Harry Potter, too. There’s something about that mode of thinking I just don’t get.

    Comment by rowan — 16 April, 2016 @ 11:17 AM

  5. The funny/tragic thing is that, to put it highly irreverently, a game/sourcebook ‘Dungeons & Darkness: Role-playing in the world of Jack T. Chick’ could very well make for a compelling setting, as it’s a highly magical universe filled with cults, conspiracies, and constipation caused by crossed teenage daughters using potions to attend their game, I mean cult, meetings.

    And same here, my brother and I picked up a few copies of Dark Dungeons back in the 90′s as in all its hookyness it’s not only unintentionally funny but also a reminder of the history of (fantasy) gaming.

    Though what was surprising was that in the Netherlands the ‘mainstream’ media that talked the most about B.A.D.D. etc. in a supportive way (of BADD) back then wasn’t so much the fundamentalist broadcasting company EO but rather the ‘progressive’ VPRO (though they also e.g. said the D&D cartoon series and He-Man were racist because of blond guys being the hero so I guess it wasn’t THAT surprising in retrospect).

    Comment by NetherLands — 16 April, 2016 @ 12:23 PM

  6. Le geek, c’est chic ;)

    Comment by Ysharros — 16 April, 2016 @ 5:00 PM

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