As I recall, I began playing Dungeons and Dragons at the very end of 1st Edition. Most of my early memories are of playing AD&D and that’s still my favorite Role Playing Game (RPG) system. My buddy Chris and I used to ride our bikes to Hobbyland and he would get a shiny new TSR module, while I grabbed a color-bled, paper-bound supplement from Judges Guild.
I had read Moorcock and Lieber by then (though I didn’t get to Tolkien until early high school). I had acquired a love of Greek mythology (and to a lesser extent, Norse) earlier, and The Trojan War was probably my favorite subject matter (I rooted for Troy: that was disappointing: I mean, c’mon, tear apart the walls to drag in a giant horse your enemy left you???).
You know, The Iliad is like a game of Chainmail: a mass combat wargame with the fantasy supplement for individual heroes. Then you’ve got The Odyssey, which is an overland (over-the-sea, mostly) D&D campaign. After you’ve played that one a time or two, you could switch to The Aeneid and you’ve got an overland campaign with a kingdom building mechanic. Huh – there’s fodder for another post…
My earliest fantasy gaming memories are of playing Adventure on an Atari 2600. That led to Temple of Apshai on an Atari 1200XL computer. I mapped out every room of that game (and The Upper Reaches sequel) on graph paper. Eventually I got an IBM-compatible PC and tore through the gold box games from SSI. I made the graphical leap to Dungeon Master from FTL (this preceded the more successful but derivative Eye of the Beholder by a few years). Even when I stopped playing pen and paper D&D, I continued on through Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Morrowwind and right up to Age of Conan.
Though I stopped playing, I still read a lot of 3rd Edition D&D stuff and began playing once again with Pathfinder. And as I wrote here at Black Gate just a few weeks ago, I’ve begun running a Swords & Wizardry game for some non-pen and paper fantasy players (it’s a good post. Really. You should go read it!).
And from Dungeon! to Wrath of Ashardalon to the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, I’ve played fantasy board games for decades.
So, while I like playing RPGs in a variety of formats, there is one thing I LOVE about the pen and paper version, which is reading RPG supplements. Modules, source books, unneeded splat books about kobolds – doesn’t matter. I’ve read dozens and dozens of modules I never intend to play or run. But I read them and I get caught up in the stories and the backgrounds. I enjoy following the threads laid out in the adventure. And my imagination goes further. I’ve thought about a novel based on Pathfinder’s Falcon’s Hollow trilogy more times than I can count.
The Forgotten Realms and Golarion are probably my two favorite RPG worlds. And that’s largely because I love the histories and area backgrounds that have been developed. I find books about that stuff as fascinating as novels. And I’m absorbing the histories of The Lost Lands book by book.
For me, RPGing is about storytelling. Whether you like an options and rules-heavy system like Pathfinder; or a rules-light one such as Swords and Wizardry (if you didn’t click over to that post I mentioned earlier, how I chose between those two systems is at the root of it. You reaaaaaly should check it out).
The Elves of Myth Drannor: Cheliax’ complete conversion after Aroden failed to appear: the tragic fate of the Army of Light after Tsar: these are grand stories. If I like the world, be it Ravenloft, Greyhawk or Hyboria, I’ll devour the tales and information about it.
But that whole side of things is just one part of it. Long before I wrote magazine columns, regular blog posts, Solar Pons newsletters and Sherlock Holmes short stories, my imagination was helping write stories by playing D&D.
The actions I took (along with the rest of the party) determined what happened in the story we were creating together. Whether we were in Count Strahd’s castle, where my cleric rolled a ‘1’ to Turn Undead (I needed a ‘3’) and the fighter was drained of a level: or we were running full speed out of the sewers underneath the City State of the Invincible Overlord (Wraith Overlord): or not doing so hot picking up clues in The Gray Citadel – we were creating a new, living story.
Even in a rules-heavy system where you say, “I look for traps. I need to roll an 11 or better,” your imagination is picturing the scene as if it were on a movie screen. And the result of that roll takes you another step down the story path.
I can’t count how many hours I played the Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights games on the PC. And believe me, I enjoyed them. But that’s not the same as a pen and paper RPG (or, these days, a play by post game on a forum). Completing quests and getting all the gear and levelling up to get more skills is all massive fun. But the story telling part is minimal, at best. I’m not disparaging it: I still play at the PC (it’s a great stress reliever), but it’s a different experience.
And as part of the Swords & Wizardry game I’ve just started running (c’mon, now, you HAD to have clicked on that link by now, right?), I’m keeping track of the experiences the PC/MMO gamers are having in playing a pen and paper game. The World of Warcraft veteran made an MMO-type of decision during the first session (It’s at the link: seriously) and she has already said she’ll respond differently in the future.
Whether it was Slave Pits of the Undercity, or Tomb of the Lizard King, or The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh or Wilderlands of High Fantasy, playing D&D fueled my imagination. And coupled with the fantasy and mystery books I was reading, along with Bullfinch’s Mythology, I was learning how to weave stories.
There are various benefits of pen and paper RPGs – the ability to work cooperatively is a HUGE one for younger kids. But for me, the story-telling aspect of them has had a life-long impact on me. While my fiction has been in the mystery field, fantasy is the fertile soil my creativity springs from. And those old D&D books and game sessions were the seeds and the water. And they still are.
So, uh, what did you think of that Swords & Wizardry article?
I was looking through Frog God Games’ The Lost City of Barakus, as I hold out hope that the Swords & Wizardry group will want to roam around that mini-campaign after the current adventure wraps up. The following was in a sidebar:
Frog Gods, why can’t you stick to the rules?
Yes, we break the rules (again) in this book. We are assuming (and you know what that does) that you are using the Swords & Wizardry Complete ruleset with this product. Now, there are certainly other OSR rules that can be used to enjoy this adventure, but we like the think we have a pretty good set to take care of your needs.
However, with that said, we break the rules as set down in the Complete rulebook. In this adventure, you will find half-drow, half-orcs, halfling monks, etc. We are strong proponents that story should trump rules. As long as it makes sense! So, we play a little fast and loose with racial restrictions.
If this causes a problem for the Referee, simply use a similar race to emulate the NPCs found within this adventure.
Now, Frog God owns the S&W rules set. And Barakus (which was a 3rd Edition classic from Necromancer Games) is also theirs. So, they can do anything they want with it, willy-nilly. But I think they approach it exactly the right way.
“Story should trump rules. As long as it makes sense!” Yes. And they offer a simple, self-contained solution for the GM if they don’t want to step outside the rules.
RPging is story telling and within the RPG itself, you don’t have to let the rules take precedence over the storytelling.
And this makes 20 game/RPG-related posts I’ve done here at Black Gate!
Swords & Wizardry vs. Pathfinder
The Lost Lands for Pathfinder
The Northlands Saga – Complete
The Warlords of the Accordlands
Judges Guild Premium Editions
Gary Gygax’s Role Playing Mastery
Runebound – The Sands of Al-Kalim
Runebound – The Mists of Zangara
Necromancer Games (Part One of two)
Frog God Games (Part Two of two)
Dungeons and Dragons Adventure Game System
D&D Adventure Game System – Temple of Elemental Evil
Dungeon! Board Game
Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective
221B Baker Street: The Master Detective Game
Conan: Age of Exiles
Steve Russell of Rite Publishing – RIP
You can read Bob Byrne’s ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column here at Black Gate every Monday morning.