Tuesday, 10 May 2011

My Gaming Memoirs Part 21 - 2003

And like that - my gaming ceased.

I'm not entirely sure what exactly happened. I know that my gaming friends had moved away, become too busy or had conflicting schedules and my main gaming partner Andy had moved a couple of hundred miles away for a new job. It suddenly stopped and I was left in RPG limbo. I still socialised with my non-gaming friends and had fun at weekends, but my weeks were primarily made up of me designing lots of stuff for RPGs and then ultimately binning the ideas. That was pretty soul-destroying as I was having some great ideas, some of which I have or am hoping to replicate in upcoming campaigns, and they were being discarded or forgotten about. My initial enthusiasm for the projects was being extinguished by there being no game to give the idea an outlet. I became incredibly frustrated.

This led to finding other avenues of creativity. I joined the British Science Fiction Association and became interested in submitting work for their writer's journal 'Focus', I delved into more script writing and I wrote setting bibles for different projects. Now my ideas were being given flesh outside the RPG hobby and it was amazing how my years of gaming aided me in my endeavours. I was pretty fluent in story and plot creation, characterisation, dialogue and even art that helped me visualise my ideas. I then started reading books on writing and filmmaking and world creation by established and famous authors and through those I learned a lot.

But even though I was learning new skills that would utlimately lead to publication I still wasn't gaming. All that year the same thought burned through my head - could this be the end of my hobby?

Don't be daft.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

My Gaming Memoirs Part 20 - 2002

Well, my gaming plodded on. There were some great WFRP games still, but they were dwindling. A lot of my time was now being spent on reading and writing games, and even more was being spent on tweaking my D12 system game 'The League Of Seven'.

A non-gaming friend of mine, Lee, was a bit of a computer genius and we spoke at length (during one of our drunken conversations) about making games available online. You sign up, pay a subscription or just a flat fee and you get access to the game, gaming materials and extras. We decided to use my D12 game and he set about building the website and I wrote the game.

It was long, arduous work. I redesigned the game system, the setting, the adventures, the history, the suppplements - I created everything from scratch. Lee built the website from the bottom up (sadly, it no longer exists) and created everything we would have needed to get the project started. I even did the artwork, simple sketches to fill the gaps until proper artwork could be sourced. It would have been amazing, if it had actually happened.

I have no general idea why it was we never took the plunge and just released the game. I know I wasn't 100% satisfied with the game. The system was still a bit clunky and I was leaning further and further away from using a single D12 as the main die and was angling more towards 2D6. I couldn't get much playtesting done as my gaming circle had reduced to virtually nothing quite dramatically and Lee had other things going on in his life that he had to attend to. There was never a moment where we said, 'okay, we've gotta let this go', we simply stopped working on it. It was a real shame.

In other gaming related areas, the Lightsabre website was still going strong and more material was being added to it all the time as we found old notes, drawings, gaming material and books. The Setnin Sector was larger and vaster than even we had realised, until it got so big we had to cut away a lot of the planets in it and call it a region, not a sector. It amazed me just how much material a gaming group could create over a few combined years of gaming. Everything was being edited and used, everything from every GM that had run a game in Setnin. It was numbering tens of thousands of words and filling our allocated website space quite rapidly. It was something to be proud of. In fact, Lightsabre was becoming so popular that we had started to interview the stars of the books and movies - Kevin J Anderson, David Prowse, Kenny Baker. In later years Anthony Daniels, Irvin Kershner and Rick McCallum would join the illustrious roster as Mark email- and telephone-interviewed his heart out. Lightsabre had become much more than a resource for the Setnin Sector and took on a life of it's own, becoming one of the most popular Star Wars fansites in the world.

After this year, my writing and roleplaying would start to pay off in ways I didn't see coming.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

My Gaming Memoirs Part 19 - 2001

I had found a group on the internet - I'm not giving away any names here - and the GM, John, seemed like a likeable bloke. We exchanged a few emails regarding the kind of game he was going to run, a Call of Cthulhu 1920s adventure, and I agreed to take part. A train journey later I was knocking on the door of a huge expensive house in an affluent area.

John was welcoming and polite and after getting a drink I was shown to the dining room. It was a big room, with a huge long table. There were six other players already there, all the same age or older than me. John himself must have been in his forties. I exchanged hellos but the very first thing said to me was, 'You're late, why?' And not in a nice way, either. I simply said that my train times dictated my arrival.

The next question, from another gamer, was, 'How long have you been gaming? I started in 1984'. I was somewhat taken aback by this, but I answered that I started in 1984, too, in D&D club. 'What month?' the same man asked. 'I don't know, May?' I answered. He smiled smugly and jammed a thumb at himself, 'January,' he said. What the hell?

'I game five nights a week,' said the next guy. 'Okay,' I answer. Great.

'What do you play, usually?' says gamer four. I answer with my usual - SWD6, WFRP, MERP and anything else that takes my fancy, really. He nods. 'I like WFRP,' he says, which begins a five minute Games Workshop hating rant from the other players at the table, and why WFRP players are just sheep, apparently, and that the system is broken etc. All this time John is smiling and listening, stroking his chin with narrowed eyes as if he has somehow masterminded the whole thing and is watching his nefarious plans come to fruition.

'Have you ever played Warhammer 40K?' I'm asked of gamer one. I answer yes. 'You look like the type', he says, and then turns to the GM. 'Right, let's get started'.

As John is about to begin the game I ask, 'What is that supposed to mean?'

'You can't talk, now, the game has started,' gamer one snaps and turns back to John. He really didn't want me there. John begins again. But it's too late, I've been riled. 'No, honestly,' I ask again, 'what the fuck is that supposed to mean?' The table goes tense. Gamer one doesn't even look at me. There's no answer and the game begins and I'm left hanging.

Now, I'm not going to sugar coat it, but the game was shit. I mean, properly shit. Dull, boring, ridiculously railroad and just totally uninvolving. I think I was doubly annoyed because John's gaming style reminded me of me ten years ago, with flamboyant but hollow dialogue, cliched characters and linear, gamebook-style gameplay. I mean, we got nowhere. In the four and a half hours I was there, we got absolutely nowhere. The group couldn't agree on anything, everyone was convinced that they were the elite roleplayer at the table and that their opinions were the only valid ones, and just about every argument descended into 'I've gamed longer than you!' and 'I've played this many games!' point-scoring debates. It was utterly, utterly pathetic.

I knew I'd reached my limit when ended up in a library after closing hours and one of the gamers I'd not really spoken to found himself in the local history section with a female library assistant who was helping the group. 'I'll have sex with her,' he stated. John the GM nodded, trying to talk over the argument between the other players. 'Okay,' he sighed and rolled some dice, 'tell me what you do'.

I held up my hand. Everyone looked at me. 'You've got to be fucking kidding me,' I say.

'What's wrong?' asked John.

'What's wrong?' But at this point I've not got the energy any more. 'I've got a train to catch,' I say, I gather my things and take off. I never returned, and had to spend the next two weeks avoiding emails from John and one of the other players wanting to know why I hadn't returned for the next session.

I just couldn't face it. This was my first ever contact with gamers fully outside of my social circle, a group I had met completely fresh and not been introduced to. They were the biggest bunch of cocky, arrogant, rude, ridiculously self-absorbed and, dare I say it, sad individuals I had ever met. They wouldn't be the last, to be sure, but it amazed me. Pure amazed me.

It was quite simply the worst evening of roleplaying I have ever had, and the reason why I don't search out random gaming groups anymore. Any new gamers I'm going to play with... well, it's a trip to the pub first, a friendly chat about the game and real life, and then the game. One of the reasons why I thought about this group, why I thought about doing this memoirs series in the first place, was that I saw one of them in my town centre a few weeks ago. He hadn't changed at all, still a big lad with thinning greasy hair and a howling wolf t-shirt.

He didn't see me. But then, I did hide in W.H. Smith to be sure.

My Gaming Memoirs Part 18 - 2000

A new millenium signalled a change to my gaming. Now that I had access to the internet and a gaming console, mainly a PSone, I was spending a lot of time on the net conversing with other like-minded individuals and blasting through games. I had also purchased a DVD player for the first time and was beginning what would be a huge collection of movies, shows and documentaries that I would watch whilst designing my games. My collection of 500+ video cassettes were slowly being replaced by shiny new DVDs. In a similar fashion, my RPGs were being replaced by immersive, enjoyable console and PC games. It was also clear that the movies were having an influence on the games I was designing. More than once, much to my disappointment, the fact that my adventure was similar to this movie or that show was mentioned in the few games I did run.

This was mainly due to the fact that my gaming circle had dwindled. Family responsibilites, especially Andy who had small children of his own, and general changes in life had taken players away from me so I had time to kill. During this long hiatus I designed more for my League of Seven setting, created more material for the Lightsabre website and spent my weekends socialising and partying with my non-gamer circle of friends. I didn't mind the break in games as I had plenty of other things to keep me occupied.

There were no new gamers during this period. I didn't meet, introduce or even converse on the internet with anyone who wanted to game with me. I started posting on internet forums and spent a lot of time conversing with other roleplayers. In fact, I spent more time taking about games than actually playing them but it was good to hear other people's views and opinions on tabletop gaming, from all over the world.

By the end of the year I hadn't really accomplished much as far as gaming was concerned, so I decided to put myself out there and actively searched for another group. I found one local to me who were starting a new Call of Cthulhu campaign the following year and they invited me to it. The GM, John, seemed like a nice bloke.

I say seemed. Oh, and just so you know that my next memoir entry is going to be a horror story about joining an existing group in which most of the players have apparently been gaming longer than anyone in the entire world, John isn't his real name.