Been gone too long – getting back into roleplaying games (part 1)

After being away from roleplaying games for quite a long time, I recently decided that I missed it and wanted to get back into it. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I have, after all, moved a couple of states away from where I grew up and most of the people I know. I’m significantly older now, with a job (and a commute) and a family and all the responsibilities and commitments that go with those. Heck, I don’t even know where to go to get rulebooks. I just didn’t think it would be as hard as it has been.

First, a little background:

My first encounter with roleplaying games was during my one and only summer camp when I was around thirteen or fourteen. (This would have been 1979 or 1980.) I was at a Boy Scout camp in Pennsylvania with members of my troop. A bunch of kids were gathered around a table after dinner and I was naturally curious. I think I’d heard of Dungeons & Dragons by then, but didn’t know anyone who played. In any event, the basics of the game were explained to me and, after observing for a while, I asked if I could get in on it. The guy running the show told me to wait until he could work me in. (I guess it would seem a little weird for some guy to show up while you’re exploring a monster-infested catacomb and ask to join your group.) So, I waited.

And waited. It was fun to watch, which is what kept me around, but being in it was obviously more fun. Then one of the guys who was playing had to leave to go do some merit badge work. “Astronomy” or somesuch. If he didn’t mind, I asked, could I run his character until he came back.

“Melkor” was the name written across the top. This was just a “pickup game”, really, so everyone just had characters the Dungeon Master handed out. At the time, I had no idea that the name was related to the history of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth; I just thought it was pretty cool. When it came time to describe actions, like in combat or when divvying up treasure, I started speaking in the third-person. I mean, this wasn’t my character. My character was waiting to meet these guys when they got back to town. No, this was someone else’s character and I was just a caretaker.

Somehow, my expressions of “Melkor wants the potion” and “Melkor will kill the kobold with his sword” fell into this kinda sing-songy, high-pitched accent. Kinda like a combination of Peter Lorre and Gollum. As the other players and observers laughed at this, I just kept it up.

All too soon, though, Melkor’s original player returned. I tried to convince him to let me keep playing him, but he would have none of it. By the time we played the next night, I had a character of my own. “Mellchor” or some other unimaginative variation was his name, but don’t worry, I said, it’s not the same as “Melkor”. It wasn’t the same at all.

Still, I was hooked. When I got home from camp I roped my older younger brother into playing something based on my sketchy knowledge of the rules. With no rules, no dice, but plenty of graph paper, it didn’t last long, but it did convince me that it was really something I wanted to do. For the rest of my teen years I played as often as I could. Along the way I got both of my brothers into it and several of my friends, and discovered several more that were into it that I didn’t know about.

Then, in my late teens, I was introduced to Champions. I was never really into comic books, but the idea of playing at being a super-powered hero was really appealing. The mechanics were completely different from AD&D, and it just lent itself to comedy without devolving into farce. I suppose at the time I was also burned out on the whole Swords & Sorcery genre. Champions, and the HERO system that evolved from it could, with a bit of tweaking, be used in just about any genre. (Yes, I’d heard of GURPS by this time. But no one I knew played it, and no matter how many times I looked through the core rulebook, I just couldn’t grok it.)

So, a good bunch of my twenties was spent with my buddies, drinking beer and beating up four-color bad guys. (Alcohol-Induced Roleplaying–or AIRP–we called it.) My friends and I still tell stories of some of our memorable gaming moments, and I had some pretty memorable characters: Broadsword (an updated Melkor), Densitron, Dr. Byte, Major Justice. But that is also the decade when people went off to school, and then graduate school, and met and married their wives, and bought houses, and started families. Our gaming sessions became few and far between, until we just dropped them altogether. I tried gaming with a group down at Princeton University a couple of times, but if you think Champions combat takes a long time to resolve, try it with a group of a dozen people.

Somewhere in there I got into Magic: The Gathering. It didn’t fill the same niche as D&D, but I had a lot of fun with the people I was playing with. I still have a picture in my head of an enraged, flying, woolly mammoth tromping on a whole mob of imps and it still gives me a chuckle. Then it just turned into an arms race and lost its appeal. I cashed in.

But, these same folks were also into roleplaying. White Wolf’s World of Darkness was their preferred system. They were starting up a new Changeling: The Dreaming campaign and would I like to join them. Not my first choice, but I’d be willing to give it a try.

It was nice to be in a system without all the mechanics for interacting with the world. Oh, there was some to be sure, and our share of dice-rolling, but nothing like the math degree you needed for Champions. I learned quite a bit about roleplaying from these folks and had a good time in spite of the source material. Sadly, there was a falling out and my Nocker, Danzo, never did realize his potential.

After that, there was the occasional one-off adventure in Champions on those few occasions when I got together with my friends. Then I pretty much hung it up altogether. By this time I was married myself, with a kid on the way. My wife, bless her heart, is so completely not interested in roleplaying games she’s like my antithesis. I filled my leisure time with other pursuits: computer gaming, primarily first-person shooters; fantasy football; homebrewing; blogging.

But it never went away completely. I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of my old RP stuff, no matter that it sat in storage untouched for years, except when we moved. Every once in a while I’d read something online about roleplaying games that would make me chuckle, even though I hadn’t played in ages.

That brings us to the present day. I was reading something online(I forget what) and it lead me to something else, then to something else, then to yet something else. I’m sure you know how that goes. It also resulted in multiple muttings of  “man, I miss playing”.

Well, why couldn’t I? My kids, though still young, were old enough to not need constant monitoring. Although my wife is in school one night a week and on weekends, her schedule is regular enough for me to work around. I decided to go for it.

But how? I’ll get into that in Part 2.

So many monkeys

Once upon a time in a small third-world village, a man announced to the villagers that he would buy monkeys for $10.

The villagers, seeing there were many monkeys around, went out to the forest and started catching them.

The man bought thousands at $10, but, as the supply started to diminish, the villagers stopped their efforts. The man further announced that he would now buy at $20. This renewed the efforts of the villagers and they started catching monkeys again.

Soon the supply diminished even further and people started going back to their farms. The offer rate increased to $25 and the supply of monkeys became so little that it was an effort to even see a monkey, let alone catch it!

The man now announced that he would buy monkeys at $50! However, since he had to go to the city on some business, his assistant would now act as buyer, on his behalf.

In the absence of the man, the assistant told the villagers: “Look at all these monkeys in the big cage that the man has collected. I will sell them to you at $35 and when he returns from the city, you can sell them back to him for $50!”

The villagers squeezed together their savings and bought all the monkeys.

Then they never saw the man or his assistant again, only monkeys everywhere!

Welcome to WALL STREET.