Monday, 28 March 2011

My Gaming Memoirs Part 7 - 1989

MERP. A scout named Tere Swordsong. Clannad.

These three things would define roleplaying for me, and set me on a gaming course I've hardly ever steered from. And it's thanks to Paul, that crazy bastard, that I game the way I do today. God bless his mom and dad for knowing what he wanted for Christmas.

I was used to simple systems. Basic D&D, Star Wars D6 - hell, I'd even run some games of Fighting Fantasy for some people. I was used to spending half an hour tops in the character creation process, I'd slap a quick name onto them and send them in. They'd usually be dead in a few games, but to me they were playing pieces and I'd be as attached to them as I was to the top hat in Monopoly so it wasn't a problem. Shot in the head? Roll up a new character. Squashed by boulders? Pass me another character sheet. Ejected into space in only his underwear? Give me ten minutes, I'll have his successor ready. Not a problem.

It took me the better part of two hours to create Tere Swordsong. I was excited about playing MERP - after all, I was deeply in love with Tolkien's world so to be able to play in it sounded amazing. I decided on a scout, rolled for his stats under the watchful eye of Paul (it was his first time playing MERP, as well) and built him up.

Now, let me put this into perspective. One of my favourite shows on television was Robin of Sherwood, the Michael Praed episodes especially. I'd always wanted to play a character like Robin, the way Praed played him, and I had always failed to do so. So, I designed this one specifically to be good with a sword and a bow. He wasn't great - I didn't choose the best class for the job - but he was well-rounded and skilled. So, when I turn up for the first gaming session at Paul's house I'm ready to go, and what music does Paul unknowingly put on in the background? Clannad's 'Legend'. The soundtrack to Robin of Sherwood. It was like the fates had taken an interest in RPGs, all of a sudden.

So, the game begins. The character also had two large mountain lions as pets (don't ask me, Paul said I was allowed) and I enter the Trollshaws and the Inn of the Last Bridge... yep, the introductory adventures in the MERP boxset. Paul used the adventures to stretch his legs and get used to the system. I got ready for the game in the expectation that it'd be like all the others I'd played in. Kill-loot-XP-kill-loot-XP-death.

But that didn't happen at all. Walking into the inn I had to ask around for news and adventure. I talked, actually had conversations with, the locals and the barman. For the first hour of the adventure I asked questions and learned things, about the trolls that had kidnapped the innkeeper's son, about the tumbled down tower in the hills. I drank ale, ate ham and cheese, smoked my long pipe and sat back by the fire whilst the patrons talked and joked and laughed with me. I slept long to gain strength and then went out to find the inkeepers son. I found the troll lair, got in, fought the trolls, broke my ankle for the trouble (that was embarressing - I threw my shield and fumbled the throw, and it rebounded back at me and hit me in the shin) and saved the boy. I was helped with a magical healing salve and just in time, too; horsemen were bearing down on us, crying out that we must not report their presence! After deftly blocking a mounted rider's strike with my shield I hit back with a roll of 60 on an 'E' critical! Bingo! (if you know MERP, you'll know what that means). After driving off the others we got back to the inn and reported what had happened - who were these soldiers, and why were they hiding in the woods? The innkeeper offered me treasure and Paul the GM offered me expereince points, but for the first time ever I was thinking, 'Gold and XP be damned! What were those soldiers up to?!?'

And that was it. I had had my first fully immersive roleplaying experience. It had taken the better part of five years to get to this point, to this moment of sheer passion and enjoyment and the excitement of beginning the next adventure. I had almost given up the hobby several times, but now I was here to stay. I understood now how profound an emotional experience an immersive RPG could be, like losing yourself in a good book or becoming embroiled with a movie.

I tried to emulate what Paul was doing with my own games, I ran some Basic D&D and I bought the softback version of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay which I put on the shelf pretty quickly (it would be a few years before WFRP would dominate my gaming life) but I was lousy at it. I'd be trying so hard to push the drama and the story I'd forget about the players and they'd soon become bored of the whole thing. Paul had a natural talent, he had an instinct and he knew how to run an amazing game. I was wasting my time trying to copy that but I didn't realise it at the time, I just kept trying. I think, in reality, I was so impatient for the next game that I was trying that for a gaming fix. That's how good Paul's GMing was. That's how hooked I was.

I still ran Star Wars D6 every now and then and the games got bigger, but it was mainly me, Mark and Paul. When Nick came on the scene later that year he introduced me to other gamers in the area and my gaming social circle explosively increased. Suddenly, I was gaming much more than I'd hoped.