Tag Archives: Inspiration

My Gamer Origin Story

When you hear that someone is a gamer nowadays, it conjures up all sorts of images. Maybe a TWITCH gamer doing livestreams with a headset, or someone who enters a Call of Duty tournament and plays competitively at a local con. In almost all cases, the term ‘gamer’ deals specifically with video games.

Well, when I hear the word, I tend to think of someone who enjoys tabletop role-playing games first, then board games second, and then video games. Maybe I’m just weird that way. Or old-school. Or both.

When I played original NES games back in the day, I didn’t really consider myself a gamer, per se. It was really when I got into tabletop RPGs that I felt that I was truly a “gamer.”

Let me share with you how it all went down. This is my origin story, if you will.

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Don’t forget to add all your miscellaneous modifiers.

The spark that started the bonfire was a set of choose-your-own adventure books called the “Fighting Fantasy” by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. These differed from many of the other books of the day because they had a dice-based combat system to go along with the adventure. You had a character sheet, magic items that you could collect that boosted your abilities or healed you, and all sorts of other cool stuff that really set them apart from the rest.

Being in a small town, I didn’t have access to many of them.  Both of the ones that made an impression were obtained through ‘book club’ newsletters from my school, in this case TROLL and ARROW. Through them, I got my hands on two Fighting Fantasy titles: Demons of the Deep and Rebel Planet.

 

The former dealt with a brave sailor’s trials in Atlantis as he attempts to settle the score with the murderous pirate, Captain Blood-Ax. The latter was about a secret agent among the stars who attempts to unseat humanity’s conquers, the Arcadians, armed with your wits and your trusty lightsaber.

I loved the interactivity of them, and the vibrant writing style.  You could play through different endings if you messed and died, horribly in some cases. The concept really captured my imagination. When I was in 7th Grade, I happened upon a book in the Eustace Junior High library. This one:

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I have a copy of this book in my personal library. It was the gasoline poured on  the fire.

The ENDLESS QUEST series didn’t have the combat system, but it did have some compelling story lines. I remember reading the introduction where you, the main character, are sent to find a way to defeat a dragon whose very shadow can kill all life. When Shen, the eponymous dragon of doom, takes flight across the countryside, you can follow the trail of withered planets and dead animals.

If you look at the cover art, you’ll notice something else:  it reads “DUNGEONS & DRAGONS” in bold letters across the top. My grandmother certainly noticed this, and promptly made me take it back to the library, and explained that I shouldn’t attempt to check it out again.

Dungeons & Dragons barely registers today in popular culture as a thing itself, outside of a few Gary Gygax memes, references in the Big Bang Theory, or Wil Wheaton videos. It still has a geeky connotation to it, but understand that at this time, Dungeons & Dragons had a vaguely sinister reputation. There were some who thought it was outright Satanic.

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Do you want Demogorgons? Because that’s how you get Demogorgons.

Yep, it wasn’t cute and adorable and nostalgic like in Stranger Things. Some groups used to think it was a (and I kid you not here) a way for teenagers to sell their souls to the devil.  Movies like Mazes and Monsters or the Chick tracts at the time didn’t help, either.

Of course, when my grandmother told me to take Dragons of Doom back to the library, she virtually guaranteed that I would go learn more about it. And I did. I was no stranger to comic-book shops, and many of them sold D&D products, as well as a host of other RPGs.  I talked with some of the guys there who played them, and it didn’t sound like my curiosity was endangering my mortal soul.

And then, out of the blue, I found out that one of my friends, Dan, actively ran different RPG games after school. Some of them he made up himself, and others were published, of-the-shelf games. I soon began hanging out at his house after school with his older brother, Jay, and another guy we knew, Donny. Dan was instrumental in forming my early understanding of how RPGs work. He was the first one to explain to me what a d20 was, and what went into building a character.

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The first time I made up a character, it was a home-brewed system that Donny had made up called “The Blade Lords.”  It was loosely based off of the Palladium RPG systems, using many of the same races, but had a focus more on sword-play and arena fighting than magic. The character was a swordmaster named Ulfric and he was from a race of humanoid canines called the “Wolfen.”  I only played him a time or two, and his character sheet is sadly lost to the sands of time.

After that, Dan ran a round of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness, also by Palladium Games. Yes, they made a TMNT-themed RPG, and it was really good. Only this wasn’t the happy-go-lucky ’80s cartoon version of the Turtles. No, this was the original Eastman and Laird version, harsh and unforgiving.

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Everyone wears red around their eyes, yo.

My character was a mutant alligator named Spike, who was also (of course) a ninja. I went on to play many different games with Dan, Jay, and Donny. Sometimes my other friend Cody would run a game. We played all through junior high and high school. I made up many different characters during this time, including one time in the Batman RPG where my character accidentally-on-purpose killed Batman. A dubious honor, to be sure.

I also began running games of my own at this time. One of them I ran in the lunchroom before the bell rang with my friends Robert, Keith, and Cliff. What made this one different was that I had made up the game system. It was a simple d6-based game with heavy emphasis on roleplaying, which I called “RPG To-Go.”

It was also during this time that I realized that my cousin Travis was big into these games. He lived up in the big city of Dallas. Well, big considering the small town I was living in at the time. When I got a car my senior year, a silver ’84 Isuzu Impulse I called the Millennium Falcon, I was able to head up to Dallas on the weekends to game with his group. There, I made many friends that I’m lucky enough to still have today.

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I always thought it looked vaguely like a DeLorean.

Since then, it has been a rarity to not have a game to go to at some point during the week, either playing or GMing. Palladium, Heroes Unlimited, Ninjas and Superspies, Kulthea, Forgotten Realms, Vampire: The Masquerade (I played a Werewolf. Big surprise, huh?), Traveller, MegaTraveller, OMG DRAGONLANCE, Netheril, Valeriand, on and off again, Neverwinter, Storm Watch, The Mean Streets of Thebes, Game of Thrones, Transformers, and hopefully soon…Fallout!

That’s just to name a few.

And now I know enough about RPGs that when I want to play or run one, I kit-bash what I need out of existing systems, or just make up what I need out of whole cloth. Yeah, I didn’t choose the game life…the game life chose me.

Of course, I am a gamer in every sense of the word now. It’s not just tabletop stuff, but also board games, and video games. And while the original NES had a big part to play in fostering my love of video games, I didn’t really accept games as a being a part of who I am until tabletop RPGs came into my life.

True story.


Will We Ever Outgrow Violence?

This is a departure for me on this blog. Normally, I’m content to write about pop-culture, video games, nostalgia stuff, and generally get my geek/fanboy on.

I’m writing this the day after five police officers lost their lives in downtown Dallas, not 20 miles from where I sit right now. So, when I say this hits close to home, I mean it.

There’s so much that can be said, and will be said, about the events of last night. For my part, I don’t believe that being on the side of Black Lives Matter means that you are anti-police, or vice versa. It’s easy to become cynical an inured to these things when they happen, which is all too often.

But this got me thinking.

Will we, as a species, ever outgrow violence?

There is much about humanity that is admirable. We have the ability to adapt, to innovate, to guard those who cannot protect themselves, to learn and imagine, to create and to teach. We went to the MOON for crying out loud! We put rovers on Mars and satellites around Jupiter and as far away as Pluto. That is why the space program captures my imagination so much; it is the perfect summation of Humanity’s determination, perseverance, and triumphant spirit. We’ve bootstrapped ourselves up from using stone tools and wearing crude skins to being able to play Pokemon Go on our smartphones.

But, even in the midst of all of the great things we’ve accomplished, we still don’t mind killing each other, even when we KNOW the pain and suffering it causes. We keep on doing it, anyway. Whole industries are devoted to finding better and more efficient ways to kill our fellow man.

Maybe it’s hypocritical for a guy who writes military science fiction to wax philosophic about the futility of violence, but I am already a study in contractions anyway. So be it. But, back to my original question – will there come a day when Humanity decides violent solutions are not the way?

I doubt I’ll live to see that day, but for my part, I think the answer is yes. Some science fiction gives us glimpses of future generations of humans who learned from the mistakes of their primitive, misguided forebears (which means us, BTW). Those hypothetical humans of tomorrow choose a different way. They grow out of their infancy, embracing our best traits and discarding our worst. While those may just be stories, or wishful thinking on the part of the authors, I firmly believe that if we can imagine it, we can eventually make it a reality.

Here’s my ‘Captain Obvious’ moment, but just go with me for a minute: Every life lost to intentional violence diminishes us all.

Let me explain: Each of us has the capacity to influence and inspire those around us. Heck, in a digital age, we have the ability to influence people from afar that we’ve never met. Take a moment and think of the people who have helped you in the past, or challenged you to reach higher than you ever thought you could, the people who made you who you are today. How would your life be different if they hadn’t been there for you, if they had been at the wrong place at the wrong time?

Oftentimes we see the names of victims in plain text and it may not sink in what we’ve lost. What if one of those names was destined to be the next Mozart, or Newton, or Shakespeare? What might they have inspired in those around them, and what does the absence in the lives of those closest to them ultimately cost us?

We’ll never know, of course, just as we won’t know how much more advanced we might have been if the Library of Alexandria had not been destroyed. But, we can safely guess that it would be to our benefit.

Look, what I’m saying is that our time on this planet is limited; all of us are on a countdown timer, whether we like it or not. There are many things that could end our lives that we have no control over. Earthquakes, disease, accidents, asteroid impacts – we can’t do much about those except try to mitigate the effects.

The violence we do to each other, however, is something we absolutely can control. It is a choice, and each time we choose to do it, the sum potential of what the human race can accomplish is lessened. Some part of us is lost.

Let us hope that this realization dawns on us, as a species, sooner rather than later.