Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The shape of things to come

Back in 1995, I really didn’t have much of an idea what roleplaying actually was. I was 13 and had recently purchased my first Magic: The Gathering deck; I was utterly smitten by the brightly colored illustrations and the sparse, detail-soaked lines of flavor text on each card. Magic was a smashing success for me and my friends, but D&D was a nebulous concept — I knew older players enjoyed this game, and that (like Magic) it drew on Tolkien-inspired fantasy tropes. But as far as the mechanics and rules went, I knew only that it involved creating a character with stats describing how well he would perform in a given scenario, then rolling dice when those scenarios came up in the game (this, I hazarded, was the province of the gamemaster, a term that quickly joined my lexicon as I endeavored to learn more about RPGs).

Still, I was bound and determined to venture further down the path. This was pre-Internet, mind you, but I was lucky enough to have a subscription to InQuest, which at the time was a rock-solid gaming mag that fanned the flames of Magic’s explosive popularity. I had no RPGs of my own, so I decided to create one based on Deathlands, a a post-apocalyptic pulp series I’d been reading voraciously. In retrospect, my bumbling attempt at creating a game was comical. Lacking solid knowledge of what RPGs actually were, I went ahead and crafted a hybrid roleplaying board game, where the players explored an intricately detailed map of the post-nuke United States, trading merchandise (Food, Ammo, Generators, etc) and dealing with roving bands of raiders. Most of the mechanics involved moving your little miniature down a road, entering a city and then rolling on a table to see what happened. I’m not sure exactly where a character’s stats factored in — again, I was operating with very little hard knowledge of RPG mechanics.

But it was fun, especially because I put a lot of effort into solitaire play so I could tool around in my trading caravan even when my friends weren’t visiting. Again, a lot of that was just me rolling dice and consulting random tables, but still — in my mind, I was roleplaying. It was cool!

I wish I still had that game, even just the crude map I sketched out, but it’s all lost to the sands of time. No matter: six months after my Deathlands foray, I stumbled across West End Games’ Star Wars Roleplaying Game, 2nd Edition, Revised & Expanded. And the rest, as they say, is history.

EDITED Oct 27, 2010 to add a photo dump from my recent post-apocalyptic miniatures painting. Recognize anybody?


trollsmyth said...

Even knowing what RPGs were, I used to make games like that as well. After reading a book about the mountain men and fur traders who blazed the trails across the Rocky Mountains, I drew up maps and made math games out of those stories for my younger brother. I had a blast with those, but alas, they are also lost in the distant past.

- Brian

Patrick W. Rollens said...

I hear ya, Brian. These days the oldest stuff I can dredge up comes from my Star Wars d6 days -- ancient history for sure, but still not quite as old as some of my earliest gaming experiences.

I do still have the Lord of the Pit card I pulled in my very first Magic: The Gathering deck. Ha!