Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Thirty Years Ago Today…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 2, 2011

… I played my first game of Dungeons & Dragons.

Kinda strange that I’d remember that kind of anniversary, I guess, but as it was a day where I’d finally acquired the game I’d heard so much about as a present for another anniversary commemorating an event I really don’t remember that involved me being painfully evicted from a reputedly warm, dark, cozy place into a harsh, cold, bright place, I’ve managed to keep the date straight over the years. That afternoon, I was allowed to participate in a very brief example game. As, apparently, possessing any rulebook – even not exactly the same one the guy who’d been roped into running games for far too many players – set me in a superior position to about half of said players.

This event would perhaps be insignificant for other people, but for me it’s influence over the years has been pretty major:

* Part of what first interested me in the woman who would become my wife was that she played D&D, which was a Big Deal for me when I met her. She was also pretty hot and fun to be around, so I doubt that it was a deciding factor, but it was at least a contributing one.

* I’m not sure I would have taken up a career in making games were it not for my love of D&D. Maybe it was a gateway drug or something, I don’t know. I got into video games at about the same time, so I don’t know if I can label it causality or just correlation. But hey, it’s my life story, I’ll at least give it a nod.

* Frayed Knights has been a huge part of my life the last three years. And at its core is the spirit of the game that blew my mind thirty years ago.

* We’re still playing dice-and-paper RPGs on a weekly basis, ever since college. More than I ever played as a kid, to be honest. It’s something of a core aspect of a circle of close friends. The actual people sitting around the living room slinging dice has changed a bit over the years. Even I wasn’t always a part of it. But somehow we’ve managed to keep the tradition alive. It’s something I look forward to all week. I keep thinking I’ll outgrow it – and worry some of our friends will do so – but so far, I haven’t.

The spirit of the game that I experienced way back when – though hopefully improved upon from the silly, often crappy games I participated in back then – is what keeps me playing. It’s what I keep seeking in computer and console games calling themselves RPGs. It’s core tenant was a simple one: While it used dice, paper, and rules as tools, it differed from any other game out there because it was not played on a board, a screen, a table, or a playing field. This was a game that was played in the imagination, a shared imagination between multiple players. And sharing that imaginary world with others made it real, in some way.

It was, and still is, awesome.

We get so caught up in things like graphics, voice-acting, interfaces, whether or not numbers appear on the screen, action-versus-turn-based, rulesets, tutorials, open-world versus linear-story, premade characters, 3D or 2D, and all this other crap for which we all have our preferences. And it’s important to us. But maybe what really matters is how well these games engage our imagination.

It may not matter whether it’s monocolor ASCII characters or high-definition 3D characters voiced by top-drawer Hollywood talent. Maybe there’s no surefire formula that works with me.  But it really depends on whether or not the game lives in my imagination, or only on the computer screen.

Filed Under: Dice & Paper - Comments: 12 Comments to Read

  • Braindead said,

    Sooo if I’m reading between the lines correctly, happy birthday?

    Also, I definitely get the fact that imagination is what makes pen and paper RPG’s so bloody interesting. No virtual representation can beat what your own mind can conjure. This is also the main reason why I like to read as much (or even more) as I like to watch a good movie/anime.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Yes, and thanks. I figure maybe THIS will be the year I finally turn into an adult. Or… not.

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    Happy Birthday!

    Who wants to turn into an adult? It’s overrated. Personally, I’m a “big kid with experience”!

    I wish I could remember when I first played D&D. I know it was sometime back at the tail-end of the 1st Edition days when elves and dwarfs were still a class and not a race, and were not allowed to gain as many levels as human characters! (A rule which we decided to ignore immediately. Racism TSR? For shame. ;D )

    D&D is definitely a gate-way drug to making games. Any game that encourages pure imagination use, problem solving, and creating your own worlds based around rule mechanics just creates a life time itch you have to scratch!

  • Menigal said,

    Happy birthday! Here’s to another year of staving off adulthood.

    It used to seem like everyone who even played video games got their start in D&D. I think that’s a big part of why younger players can’t understand why we liked some of these old RPGs, assuming they don’t immediately discount them because of their graphics. They’ve had to use their imaginations less and less over the years. These days, it’s a Bad Thing to even have to imagine what a voice sounds like, so games have to dump huge chunks of budget into voice acting.

    I say, break out the old boxed set, find a set of dice, and descend into a deadly labyrinth of dubious purpose! Hmmm… I might have to try interesting the wife in RPGs again.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    You know, good voice-over work can work really well too, sometimes, in helping me connect with a character andm making them come “alive” in my mind. I don’t want to disparage that too much.

    But it does seem that sometimes the fact that characters can be fully voiced blinds designers to thinking about why they should be voiced.

    My classic example is the dialog in the original Star Wars when Obi Wan first gives Luke his lightsaber, and explains about how his father fought in the clone wars. I doubt Lucas has really thought much about what all that meant back then (fortunately), but that brief exchanged help establish the movie’s universe in the imaginations of the viewers. It wasn’t what was said (which wasn’t much), but it was how much was left unsaid with hints of a wider world.

  • Khadijah C. said,

    Hi. I’m trying to get into game development so I googled a bunch of gaming terms and came across your article “How to build a game in a week from scratch with no budget”, and I must say that was the sexiest article I’ve ever read. I looked all over that website and couldn’t find any contact info, but I found you here and just had to let you know how I felt. I know you wrote this all the way in 2005 but its just so…. no words can express the crazy happiness I feel right now. You inspire me, I swear im gonna print that article and try to do the same thing. But with 5000 hours and a game engine 🙂

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I’d recommend starting a little smaller, as there’s an incredible amount you learn with the first game that can help you make the second (and third, and fourth, and fifth…) one better. But yes, with a game engine. 🙂 But DO IT!

  • Adamantyr said,

    My brother got the Expert Box set himself as a Christmas gift, the 1981 box set with artwork by Earl Otus. He got a photocopy of the Basic book from a friend, so he had enough for us to play with.

    I think our first game was in the Isle of Dread, I remember making a Halfling named “Caco” pronounced “CHA-koh”, which I cobbled together from something I’d heard in elementary spanish class. He also visited Castle Amber, (which my brother bought shortly thereafter) where we basically just fooled around without really getting anywhere.

    Actually, that was a theme of our first games… we were more playing around than playing. Eventually, the rings of infinite wishes and dragon riders would come out, and the whole game would collapse into a bunch of silliness.

    My brother obtained the advanced books a few years later, but he couldn’t really figure it out, even in high school. A friend’s older brother ran a “real” game in which he slaughtered the entire party at the first encounter. We really didn’t seize D&D with a whole heart again until 3rd Edition came out, over a decade later. (2nd Edition era, we were playing GURPS mostly.)

    Still, D&D has never really captured that sense of wonder and openness that Moldvay managed to convey in those first box sets. They’ve certainly tried, but it just doesn’t ring right… maybe it’s just my own personal experience, I don’t know.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I skipped the 2E era, too. We were mostly playing the Hero System around that time. I came back to D&D for 3rd edition as well.

    In retrospect,the only real fault I can think of with the Moldvay rules system was the alignment system. I think he was trying to get away from the good / evil thing, but instead lawful became synonymous with good and chaotic was evil. That smelled of somebody else giving him dumb marching orders he didn’t agree with. But for learning D&D – the game was otherwise really, really well done.

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    @Rampant Coyote

    You SKIPPED the 2e era? ::faints::

    I played 2e for nearly 15 years and loved the hell out of it. The only thing really stupid about it was how AC was handled. (The knowledge that it came from naval war games helped clear that up a bit. I had always wondered what the designers were smoking.)

    GURPS is good. Even if you never used their rule set, they produced some of the best books you could imagine for campaign settings.

    My favorite PnP system of all time though is Alternity, by TSR in their final dying days. Our group played all our futuristic or modern adventures using it. We loved how it encouraged roleplaying, because a pistol shot to the head was just as fatal at 1st level as it was at 20th level in Alternity. You started with a certain amount of life based off your stats and NEVER GOT ANYMORE. It worked more like real life. You could get better at aiming and shooting and dodging, etc. but if you caught a burst from a machine gun . . . funeral time.

    In D&D no player thinks twice when the DM tells them the warlord is looking angry and gripping the handle of his battle-axe. In Alternity, players start to sweat when the GM tells them the mafia boss is fingering his tommy gun – even if the Mafia boss is 10 levels beneath them. Levels in Alternity really just represent how skilled a player or NPC is likely to be – not how much life they may have or damage they may do.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I enjoyed the Cyberpunk game for much the same reason. Different feel – vastly different from Hero System (Cyber Hero just didn’t feel right, IMO). It’s whatever’s appropriate to the genre and flavor you are trying to simulate. If you want a story where the swashbuckling heroes take on a dozen opponents and live to tell the tale, possibly even coming out victorious in the end – that’s one rule system. If you want the kind of game where a gun pointed at a character’s head is a SERIOUS threat, that’s something else.

    I like my Cyberpunk dark and gritty. But Star Wars-esque space opera would be another story (and I’d like that too).

  • Charles said,

    Oops, missed that. I hope you had a happy birthday 🙂