Sunday, October 7, 2007

Poor DM's Almanac (part I)

The recently resurrected current campaign has been quite a roller-coaster ride for DM and players alike. Its miraculous genesis took place over five years ago, and if memory serves and I can bring my racket up in time, the next few posts will concern how this campaign came about.

A large group of friends found themselves assembling at least bi-weekly to enjoy percussive bouts of quality LAN gaming. It began, as LAN games often do, with Starcraft and evolved steadily into Warcraft III. Each grew into masters of their chosen race in due time, and soon we began to grow tired of the repetitive nature of Real-Time Strategy. I slyly suggested that we try Bioware’s Neverwinter Nights (as we needed a game that had been ported, and was compatible with Cody’s Mac), and the cooperative nature of the game was a quick-sell. I was carefully steering them in the right direction.

I had been nurturing my love for pen-and-paper role-playing games in secret for several years at this point, and whenever a “Gaming Mood” struck, I consoled myself with sighs as I thumbed my way through my tattered copies of the Arduin Grimoires. I made excuses to separate on bookstore jaunts, quickly scanning the spines of the Role-Playing Section in secret, before returning to the more “respectable” Reference section. It was during this shameful double-life that I learned of Wizards acquisition of TSR, and after much internal debate, snapped up used copies of the three Core Rulebooks. I devoured them in a fit of nostalgia, and with lip curled in disgust at what had been done to the system I loved, I sold them back.

But the bug didn’t cease biting that easily. I found myself deflecting questions from the Girlfriend about the prodigious number of oversized tomes that I had tucked away below the bookshelves in a vain attempt to keep them out of mind.

“GURPS? Oh, those are just books for a game I used to play. Nothing special. You probably wouldn’t be interested in it. Although here’s one that’s about Discworld that you might like…”

Perhaps I was just ashamed of my past, but that fateful summer, as five of us were steadily slogging through the second expansion for Neverwinter Nights and beginning to grow increasingly bored with its hack-and-slash repetitiveness, something inside me snapped.

I knew from careful conversation coaxing that at least a few of the guys present had been former gamers when they were much younger, so after quietly retreating home to retrieve my big box of plastic polyhedrons, I began muttering the incantation for summon soapbox.

I’m assured by those present during this speech, that the rattling of die and the fervor with which I evangelized pen-and-paper’s superiority to scripted computer games must have been quite a sight. Somehow, with my loud litanies and conviction, I convinced three of the former-players present to participate in a game.

But what game? Oh there were so many. It had been years since my first long-running campaign transitioned from Moldvay Basic to the shiny Rules Cyclopedia with all the Gazetteers. I was only told that it had to be Dungeons & Dragons, because it was the only system they were willing to play. It was to be a short one-off game or so, probably more to silence my rants and for kitsch value than anything else. A short one-off is all I needed though. I wracked my brain for a system.

My internal debate was louder than a herd of 1st level adventurers stumbling through the caves of Quasqueton. Neverwinter Nights used a heavily hobbled version of the shiny new d20 system, full of feats and skills that only focused on the hack-n-slash nature of the game. But how I loathed what I had read in those Core Rulebooks years before. Mystara forever. I knew there was no way I could sell them the concept of Demi-humans as a Character Class. AD&D was also an option, but I had only a ratty PH and DMG left in my old collection.

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