Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Where it all began for me.

My very first contact with the rpg genre was at the tender age of seventeen.  I was working at a family run warehouse in my home city of Cardiff where I met a fellow workmate of the same age, who seemed, initially, a pretty intense sort of individual, head always in a magazine about rock climbing.

During one lunchtime conversation, this particular workmate asks if I'd ever heard of 'Dungeons & Dragons', and I, for my sins, thought immediately of Victorian prisons and faeries, having never encountered these two words placed together before in the same context.

So, with a bemused look I replied in the negative, much to his delight, as he pulled open his rucksack (he was never without this rucksack) and produced a very well thumbed magazine entitled, 'White Dwarf' - now I refer to the original 'White Dwarf' magazine before it became Games Workshop magazine/catalogue.  This tome of role playing delights was blessed with a plethora of weird and wonderful illustrations of orcs, trolls, dragons, space pirates, gangsters and undead alike. It was a magazine for the whole rpg platform as it existed back in the very early 1980s (in the day when you could buy individual white metal figures made by Ral Partha and Citadel for as little as 15p).

Copyright © 2011 Mark Kelly

Copyright © 2011 Mark Kelly

Role playing games in the early 80s were a curiosity.  Not much was known about them and in some ways they had about them a mystique, that wonderful (a sadly missing today) cardboard box affair with often roughly drawn representations of what the game within consisted of, be it a space opera, high fantasy or even a wild west setting.  It seemed there was never a subject that was taboo for the basis of a role playing game; even kung fu and ninjas had an rpg based around them.  It was a fantastic time to be a role player, as the games available were very reasonably priced, mainly due to the fact they weren't so widely known, and the same could be said for the figures.

But for me, it had to be science fiction.  Anything with space ships, ray guns and robots.  When this new found friend of mine suggested he 'take me through a dungeon', I was in a sort of 'whatever' kind of mindset, but decided to give it a go regardless.

So the day arrived when he pulled up outside the family home on his 50cc Honda mean machine.  Naturally, being only possessed of a 5 speed racing bicycle, I was immediately in awe.  I welcomed him to my home (not that the house belonged to me, but as a kid you naturally assumed you 'owned' everything your parents worked hard at getting), and he clomped into the middle room with his heavy biker boots, and sacred rucksack in hand.  I recall it was an autumnal day and overcast with grey, brooding clouds carpeting the sky above, hinting at rain (and even to this day I associate dull rainy days as rpg session weather).

Copyright © 2011 Mark Kelly
Table laid out and rucksack opened, a box of mystery was laid before me.  A knight and dragon frozen in combat on its cover, which was quickly flipped open to reveal ... books!?
Immediately my interest dulled, but then it rose again upon noting the oddly shaped lumps of plastic that nestled next to said books.  My friend informed me, in sage-like fashion, that they were 'die', ranging from a twenty sided die (which really boggled my mind), and all the way down to a D4.  Just when I thought that was bizarre in the extreme, he produced the 2 x D10, announcing them to be a D100.  Such an innocent back then I simply sat in open-mouthed silence, 'Dice that can roll up to a hundred?!'  Yes, I was that green.

I was then given a pencil, a sheet of graph paper and 3 x D6 and told to write down the list of characteristics, known collectively as 'stats' for the character I would be 'rolling'.  By this point it looked to be turning into an exercise akin to school work.  I groaned inwardly, but being the polite lad my family had worked so hard to raise, I smiled weakly and picked up my pencil and dutifully scrawled down the required headings:
Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma - then the rolling began.
I hadn't a clue as to what any of it meant, but I was informed, 'Higher is better'.  I recall feeling akin to a failure when several of my alter ego's stats were less than average.  I also recall thinking, 'This isn't at all fun.'

Character created, my friend then produced A4 printed card, folded into three sections.  I was informed that this was the 'DM's screen', and that I was in no way supposed to look over the top of it, as he was the 'dungeon master' or in short, the DM.  This was seriously not helping my mental state in regards to my liking of 'role playing'.  Well, from there he read aloud a mood setting introduction and description of where my character was located.  My whole grasp of the situation was abysmal, and I made mistake upon mistake, only to be underlined by the scathing looks from my friend, punctuated with shakes of the head.  My 'character' - of whom I cannot name for he was so uninspiring and easily forgotten - died a lonely and, from what I recall, a painful death within the confines of a cave entrance.  That was the only time I smiled - out of relief.

Long after the oil and petrol fumes had dissipated from outside of my house and the angry whining buzz of the 50cc two stroke engine could only just about be heard four streets away did I come to a conclusion: he was an awful dungeon master.  But one thing he did do that day, and that was to plant the seed of how exciting it could be ... and I could do better.  The mind pump was set in motion and I began reading 'White Dwarf' on a regular basis.  My course was set.  I planned to run my very own game.  With Christmas fast approaching I knew what to ask for from my older brother: Game Designer's Workshop's 'Snapshot' - a setting for the space opera rpg that was 'Traveller' and its close combat system aboard spacecraft.
I was going sci-fi ...

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