2 August, 2006
Uncle Grimwell posted a comment about Star Frontiers recently. His comment stirred up some memories about how I got into RPGing. I wrote Grimwell about it and he suggested I post about it on here. I thought it might be interesting for people to see what motivated me into early gaming, and what things were like a decades ago when it came to RPGs.
In the early to mid-80′s, I feel in with a bad crowd: fundamentalist Christians. I went to a fairly small rural school even though I lived only a bit outside a large city, so serious fundies weren’t that uncommon. I’ve always been an introvert, so making friends wasn’t always easy in a smaller school. One guy, Todd, reached out and became a pretty good friend. But, his family was devoutly fundamentalist Christian. When I say “fundamentalist Christian”, I mean fairly restrictive: dancing is sinful because it represents sex, playing cards are sinful because they are used for gambling, and D&D? The Devil himself wrote D&D to snare the minds and souls of the young.
That’s the other big thing about this time while I was growing up: it was the height of the D&D scare. There was a lot of scare mongering stating that D&D lead kids to the occult. (Or, more realistically, to consume too much Mountain Dew and Cheetos.) We really didn’t have access to D&D, so we didn’t play it.
The irony is that we played many other types of RPGs, mostly on the computer. Some of my early programming experience was typing in BASIC programs that would let you play RPG-type games. We even started drawing up little adventure games for each other to play, so that one could play while the other “GMed” the adventure on the long bus ride to our school. Wacky, eh? I remember spending lots of class time working on these little adventures, sometimes being distracted from the lesson. Yet another sign I was destined to make games when I grew up, I guess.
There is also a supreme bit of irony here. Todd decided that it was the “magic” component of RPGs what was bad, so he said we shouldn’t use magic in our RPGs anymore. That was fine: We could have more Indiana Jones inspired games. Well, as I was reading in the library I came across a book that talked about the medical properties of different herbs. Then it struck me, instead of magicians casting spells, I could have herbalists using herbs! So, I looked up books that contained information about the various properties of herbs. The various magical properties. That’s right, not playing D&D lead to to study up on real world witchcraft.
So, what does this all have to do with Star Frontiers? Well, the local Target store had a clearance rack, and about the time when D&D was winding down from the height of its popularity they put a bunch of RPG stuff on clearance. One of the things was a Star Frontiers module. Of course, I knew nothing about how these things worked, so I thought this was the whole game, not just a module. I saw it was made by TSR, but it was obviously Sci-Fi instead of Fantasy, so it couldn’t be all that bad, right? Not so, said my friend Todd. It was made by the same people who made D&D, and those RPGs are just EVIL! I found this a little hard to swallow, so I asked the pastor at our church really quickly one Sunday after service. He did indeed confirm it: D&D is truly evil, leading souls to Satan. I was crushed.
But, I was starting to get a little rebellious. I saved up my money and bought the module anyway. Of course, there was disappointment. It wasn’t the full gaming system, it just explained the setting. There were a lot of strange abbreviations that I didn’t understand. (WTF is “DEX”, anyway?) I remember looking at the module with fascination, looking at the location layouts and all that, but I never really got to play the game. The most interesting thing was a game where characters could ride on hover vehicles and had to carry a ball to the goal, very much like Football or Soccer. I almost tried to play that, but didn’t understand the concept of characters, stat checks, etc.
In the end, I went back and played our little paper adventure games with Todd. I also continued to study up on herbal magic, thinking it would make a pretty neat system in an RPG.
And that’s my first brush with real paper RPGs, after years of playing computer RPGs and making my own small, throwaway versions. Unfortunately, most of the old games I made and the module have been lost to time, probably the victim of my mother throwing things out, as is usually the case. :)
A few years later I met up with a new friend that was into D&D, and we played a bit. Ironically, it was a guy I met at (a different) church. But, he got me started on the real thing, which became a full-blown hobby in college and continues to this day.
As for D&D, The Pulling Report written by Mike Stackpole, has debunked most of the scare around D&D that surfaced during the 80′s. It’s interesting to note that while D&D might not have such a big focus, computer games are coming under increasing scrutiny. You see a lot of the same claims brought against games, particularly online RPGs these days, as you do with D&D: they corrupt the young, they lead people to temptation, they cause the deaths of innocent youngsters. The usual litany brought against the era’s misunderstood media.
So, how did you get into RPGing? Paper, computer, or homebrew? I figure there might be some interesting stories out there. :)