21 August 2006

Past Campaigns, Introduction (2)

(By the way: The names of the folks I mention in these "memoirs" have been changed to protect the guilty...heh. I figure the anonymity can't hurt. The only reason I mention this is that there are folks from the "old days" who frequent my web logs.)

Like I was saying, I'd branched out from my initial AD&D group, just as it started to fragment. In addition to RPGs, I was also deeply involved in local BBS systems (a habit that began shortly after I acquired my C=128 and a dinky 300 baud modem...ah, those were the days!). For those of you unwashed masses who aren't familiar with the concept of forums in the days of the pre-internet, it went something like this:

A person (referred to as a SysOp) would install some manner of forum software on his home computer, hook it up to a phone line, and wait for folks to call and log in. Most of the time, folks could only call a BBS one at a time, check their email (for that BBS only), read posts on the forums, post if they wanted to, look over any available downloads, and play online games (such as Solar Realms Elite or Trade Wars).

In my case, I started calling and interacting on local BBS systems in those dark, primitive days. I called perhaps six or seven local boards on a regular basis. The boards I called were largely restricted by whether they were local calls or not. At a speed like 300 baud, calling a long-distance BBS was like asking my mother to hang me out by my heels when she got the phone bill. The local community of BBS users was pretty small, generally speaking, and especially when compared to the globe-spanning power of today's internet. I made a lot of friends, and thanks to the fact that several local BBS's organized real-world meets at local restaurants (pizza places and ice cream parlors being the preferred venues), I got to meet most of them in the flesh.

It was easy to meet local gamers in this primitive online community. I mean, heck, we were already geeks, due to our above average computer expertise (at that time, real hands on computer expertise seemed to be a rarity; these days, just about everyone knows how to use a computer, and the mystique of the technology is largely forgotten). In retrospect, it seems as if a disproportionate number of us were gamers of one flavor or another, too. Through these electronic forums, I was introduced to games like Call of Cthulhu, GURPS, and (indirectly) the original black box edition of Cyberpunk.

That's how I met CJ. A mutual friend of ours (who I'd met on one BBS system or another) introduced CJ and I. CJ had recently picked up Cyberpunk, and was itching to run a game. He and our mutual friend had gone to school together, and had been playing CoC and Robotech together since their formative adolescent years. We played a few games of Cyberpunk with CJ at the helm, and it resonated with me almost instantly. Next to Star Wars, it was probably my first true love (as far as RPGs go).

The other BBS crew I played with was somewhat larger, and it was principally GURPS-based. The game, dubbed Bad Streets by Grant, the GM, was a mix of cyberpunk, fantasy, and post-apocalypse. We had some good games in those days, even if the player group wasn't always the same size. We had a core contingent, though, which always seemed to show up for the games. I have a lot of good memories from those games, even though I don't think that I fully understood the scope of the plots we played in at the time.

As time went on, I became more interested in the mechanical aspects of the games I was playing. I also started GMing more and more, with one group or the other. The game groups I played with changed, or switched focus. New players came, old ones dropped out, but it was obvious that gaming had become a central part of my life, a focus of sorts. It tapped a creative vein of sorts. In conjunction with a stint of creative writing between 11th and 12th grade, I began to put my ideas down. Plots, mechanics, characters, everything was fair game, and I wrote it down or typed it up.

After high school, I continued to play RPGs. I played with Grant and his group, as well as with CJ and his girlfriend. I stayed in touch with some members of my original, albeit doomed, AD&D group, introducing CJ to them at the same time. The first edition of Vampire: The Masquerade was a big hit with that particular group. I wasn't a big fan initially, and spent a lot more of my time with Grant's group playing GURPS. I did eventually overcome my dislike of Vampire (particularly after the second edition was released), but I had my own favorite games, too.

Mayfair's Chill was one such game. Despite the system's clunky mechanics, I really enjoyed it. It was a horror game that I alone had purchased, and though my players enjoyed playing in my scenarios, they never went so far as the buy the rules for themselves. The exclusivity of the system was a comfort; I never had to worry about anyone contradicting a rule, or learning too much about the various horrors that populated the world of Chill. I made it a habit to run an annual all-night horror game by candlelight on the weekend before Halloween. It was always a blast.

I met my future wife shortly after I turned 19. I was running a BBS system of my own at the time, and she called up and registered one fateful day. She, too, was a gamer, and that (combined with the fact that she was really, incredibly intelligent) was very attractive to me. Since then, it's been a rare RPG that I've played (or run) where she hasn't been a participant. She was also a fan of the Cyberpunk RPG (by that time in its second edition), and it's little surprise that most of the games we played back then were Cyberpunk games. The internet was blossoming, and dial-up BBS's were losing traction to the increasingly global internet community. Limitless gaming knowledge was online for the taking, and fan sites were veritable troves of house rules, campaign ideas, and expansion material.

(To be continued...)


"Grant" (Brant) said...

Bad Streets was pretty much a series of set pieces, some longer than others, with no real overall theme besides kickass high powered fantasy vs. cyber fun. Many of the NPCs, especially major ones, needed much more background than I'd given them, and an overall "world story" would have helped. So yeah, your take is pretty much dead on. It was a fun campaign, but lacked a lot of what I'd want in a "good" game nowadays. Thanks for playing in it, you made me think about a lot of it more than I thought I needed to!

Gary said...

It wasn't so much that I wasn't aware of the scopes of the plots because of anything you did or didn't do. At the time, I was more interested in blazing away with the buckshot and kicking butt than in paying much attention to the gritty details that were laid out for me. Overall, the memories are fond ones, the experiences are valuable, and I'm thankful you took the time to run those games.