The GM of the Shadowrun game I’m playing in asked for requests and constructive criticism about the campaign so far. For reasons unknown, that made me think about how long I’ve been playing RPGs. I doubt this is of interest to anyone but no one is forcing you to read this. I hope anyway. If someone is forcing you to read this please let me know. I doubt I can do anything about it but you never know.
Here is my thrilling tale.
The year was 1987. Iron-Contra was a thing. A person was convicted of a crime based on DNA for the first time. Prozac hit the market. A bee parasite was killing all the bees in the US. Wrestlemania 3 happened and somehow I watched it on Betamax and became a wrestling person. The first Final Fantasy game was released (I would later sue when Final Fantasy 2 came out for deceptive advertising just like I did with the Neverending Story). Baggy dresses were WAY in. Karate Kid action figures were totally radical. World population reached 5 billion. Whitney Houston released “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” from her album “Whitney”.
I was at my grandma’s house hanging out with my cousin. We were best pals when we were kids. I haven’t talked to him in several years now. Life, you know? Plus he’s a like a good person who works for the UN and feeds starving people and I spend my energy on blogs and D&D campaigns that no one is even playing in.
My cousin had a copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness, the TMNT RPG. I thought it was super cool. He said it was a game and I asked if we could play and he said “no” and my little 10 year old brain couldn’t comprehend what was happening. Later on when I figured out how RPGs worked I realized why he said no, but at the time I was hurt and pissed. But he was only 9, so it’s not like he could explain really.
When I got home I VOWED that I would get my own RPG book and play. I saved up my nickels and dimes for a few months and then rode my bike to the local game store and asked the dude behind the counter what I should buy if I wanted to start playing RPGs and with an aggrieved and HEAVY sigh and without looking up from his tentacle-porn hentai bullshit comic, he pointed at a weird upright rack that looked like it was for greeting cards. Upon it was the “red box” – the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set. I think I paid 8 dollars for it.
I was hooked immediately. I didn’t even really understand what RPGs were until I read that book and my mind was blown. My friends, since they were friends with me, were all down to play and we were off to the races. I wonder sometimes what my life would have been like had they turned their noses up at D&D and I had lost interest. Two of those people I still game with today.
I few months later when I saw my cousin again, I was telling him all about how I was playing D&D ALL the time and I bragged to him “I’m the best DM ever, no one ever survives my adventures” and he looked down his nose at me and asked “But do they have fun?”. My little head exploded. I never thought about trying to maximize the fun of my players before.
I say this as a joke, but kind of not, right then I became a better DM/GM/whatever than a lot of people.
Eventually I saved up enough to buy my own copy of TMNT & Other Strangeness (note to self, start erotica blog called Other Strangeness) and we started playing that a ton in addition to D&D. As an adult I realize that the Palladium System is pretty terrible, but as a kid I loved it. Especially TMNT with the pages and pages of hundreds of different animals (that were 97% exactly the same statistically) you could make into characters.
We still have fun laughing at our young selves and the adventures we went on. Two staples were “you go to this place for a fighting tournament and fight!” and “you’re going to rob Fort Knox”. We have a personal meme of saying “How could I miss, I rolled a 20?! You need special training!” I was by far the best GM of the group because my adventures had a little tiny bit of a story and sometimes even NPCS you weren’t supposed to kill!
As someone once said, “On some level, it’s natural to look at the things your teenage self liked with some amount of disdain. To distance ourselves from our most embarrassing years, we often throw the things we loved under the bus.”
When we were a little older and had some money we got into a cycle of someone buying a new game, which we would play for a while, and then always coming back to D&D. It was pretty much an unbreakable cycle of New Game – D&D – New Game – D&D.
In ‘91 when Vampire the Masquerade came out, like all dorks we got super into it. It seemed so much more mature and grown up than D&D. I mean what’s a better sign of being a budding adult than being 14 and sitting in your parent’s basement pretending to be a vampire? That’s when some cracks started to appear in our group though because some people didn’t WANT to pretend to be vampires, they wanted to be werewolfs and when you’re 14 you don’t know how to deal with that. I’ve lived a SUPER hard life, these are my problems.
One guy in our group drifted away because he wanted to get drunk and throw up on girls while he was having sex with them, but for the most part we stayed strong. Things slowed down a little during college but we still played a lot on weekends. At this point I got into Shadowrun and various superhero games and we didn’t play D&D too much – we still Vampired sometimes.
Gaming precious memory. A guy I played games with but who had never played Vampire before came to play and I asked what clan his character was and he said “Wu-Tang”. Classic.
A few years after college but before everyone had kids was the golden age of gaming. There were times when I was playing (running mostly) three games a week. Then came the dark times when everyone started having babies and I was forced to start going to game stores and playing with STRANGERS!!!
Those games were 99.99% stupid but at least I could laugh about them with my real friends. It was interesting to find out that there’s 40 year old men that never “outgrow” the “my character is better than yours!” PVP all the time style of play. It was also fun to find out how terrible a lot of people are at running games. I suppose it’s mean to reminisce about how other people suck, but I still do it.
Gaming precious memory. I was running a game for STRANGERS at a game shop and during the third session one guy who was uber min-max power gamer man looks at me suspiciously and says “you’re just making this up aren’t you?!” He was super pissed that I had the gall to create my own adventures instead of using published materials. How was he supposed to win if I wasn’t using established material?
It was at this point I was also introduced to the gamer phenomena of the guy who always plays sexy dark elfs with a weird BDSM background who want to roleplay out their seduction-assassination attack. I assume with the internet and the free flow of porn, that’s not as much of a thing anymore. I hope to god it isn’t anyway.
Then came the times when people’s kids were old enough that we entered the silver age of gaming, still quite a lot but not enough for me. The only bumps in the road were everyone wanting to have games at their house so they didn’t have to get someone to watch their kids and the great Jimmy Johns scandal of 2008 when everyone felt like they were getting ripped off because they always put in $10 and all they got was a $5 sandwich and a pickle and they never got any change! “Dinner” was a part of gaming no more!
Then came the times when everyone was getting to a stage in their life where they had serious stuff going on at work and lots of activities to take their kids to and for SOME reason they started enjoying hobbies other than gaming! They went on vacations and did things and went places and had non-gaming friends. It was madness.
Sidenote, I was single for most of this time and when I would hear about my couple friends getting together with other couples to game as a couple thing, I was jealous. But then one time I did get invited with the other single dude in the group and that was worse. Be careful what you wish for.
For a while games dried up and I figured it was done. I was bummed about it for a couple years, but I made my peace with it. I came to find out that my friends were still my friends even if they didn’t want to play D&D all the time – shocking! Just about the time I figured it was all done though, we started up a regular game night again.
It became semi-regular instead of regular at times, but it was still going on when the pandemic hit. Some of the crew stuck with gaming on Roll20 and the like but I didn’t care for it, I popped in and out here and there. Now that we’re all getting vaccinated, hopefully in a few months we can get something going IRL again.
Some people I know talk blatantly about gaming to anyone, I tend to keep it on the down low when I’m around outsiders. At my core there’s a part of me that says “dude you’re 40, this is childish” but I don’t really let it get to me. There’s not so much awesome fun stuff going on in life that you can afford to not do something you like just because it’s not “cool. Because “dude you’re 40 and you were never cool anyway”.
What does the future hold for old Jerdog? Once in a while at a game store or a convention or something you run into an old gamer dude. I hope to be one of those. I think it would great to be an old man in a nursing home playing D&D. But if my friends stop being into it, probably I will too. At this point I love RPGs but mostly I just love an excuse to shoot the shit with my pals. There’s not as much appeal for RPGs just as RPGs for me anymore. That’s a young man’s game.