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The Play's the Thing!

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I've changed my gaming style several times since I began playing. I began in late 1980, with the first edition (lower case, as it wasn't an "official" title!!) set of the six little books. I have been told that my first character was a Dwarven Fighter, but I don't remember... it was all a haze...

It began earlier that year when I began my life at college. I quickly found a couple of friends and began doing what all college students did when the drinking age was 18... drinking and looking for women of loose morals (not necessarily in that order!!). I began pledging a fraternity, Tau Kappa Epsilon, and one of these friends began pledging a rival frat, Sigma Tau Epsilon. Of course, as you may expect, for the next month, we kind of lost touch.

And then the magical day came!

I went to breakfast and there sat my friend, looking like something the cat had puked up. I sat by him and asked if the Sig Tau's had started "Hell Week" already - and he just shook his head in the negative. I asked what he had done the night before, and if she had been cute, and the most amazing story was told to me on the cool, fall day.

"We were traveling in the forest and these wolves attacked. I've never been so scared in my life! I pulled my battle axe out and started hacking at them, but they were too fast! I got bit twice, but they weren't solid bites, so they didn't do that much damage. The whole group was hacking and slashing and it seemed like we were going to lose, but the damned gray beasts started going down. I killed two of them, myself! And just a little while ago, I had just finished skinning one of the wolves and stood up, when I saw this huge, white wolf that breathed frost - even though it wasn't cold enough for it - watching us from on top of the ridge. We had to break and I came straight here..."

It wasn't so much the fantastical story he had told, but his EYES. The expression on his face was one that showed that he wasn't just telling a story, he was reliving it! In an awed voice, I asked him what woods he was in and what he had done with the pelt (keep in mind that this was extreme northern Wisconsin, so woods, wolves and pelts were commonplace).

He just looked at me and said, "We were in the Sig Tau [frat] house."

That night, I broke all fraternal bounds and entered this mystical Sig Tau house and played my first session of D&D. Needless to say, I was hooked.

Those first characters were pretty sad, in retrospect. None had names, and since the Monk class was hardest for which to qualify, we all figured that it was the best. We would have entire parties of Monks, one opening doors, two with bows covering the doors, and one or two more to dash in and engage whatever horrific monsters the early books allowed. For all intents and purposes, we could have made Xerox copies of our character sheets and nobody would have known, outside of differing amounts of treasure that we had collected.

It was only two weeks before I began my career as a DM, running a campaign based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Carter from Mars series. I am being very generous when I say that it sucked, but such is the life of a new DM. I still played heavily back then at the same time, and each day was nearly the same.

Fridays would start at about 4:00 in the afternoon - and we'd game until 5:30, dash to the university dining hall, then dash back to continue until 11:50. Then we'd sprint down to the local 7/11 to get OJ and those little, white, powdered donuts before the store closed (no it wasn't 24 hours!!). Then we'd game until 3-4:00 in the morning before crashing in the dorms wherever we happened to be playing. Someone would wake up about 8:00 a.m. and we'd start again and play all day Saturday, then all day Sunday. Monday through Thursday were alternating between playing until 1 or 2:00 or drinking and looking for girls. We usually did better playing, so there weren't many drunken-girl-hunts.

Is there any doubt as to why I got a 1.11 GPA my second quarter in college?

Anyway, it took about three years before my gaming philosophy began to change. I was stocking a newly drawn dungeon with monsters out of the tables in the back of the DMG, and it suddenly dawned on me that it didn't make any sense. Why are a horde of hobgoblins in a room right next to a small crew of goblins? According to the descriptions in the Monster Manual, hobgobs ENSLAVED goblins... so why didn't these do that? So I did exactly that.

I had left college (you know that agreement some parents make with their kids, get good grades and we'll pay for college? Well, mine kept their side of the agreement!) and had enlisted in the Army - then got caught in a RIF (reduction in force), and was sent home after a year. After a year of cooking at a jail in Louisiana (now THERE's some stories I could tell!), I went back to the same college.

With the new philosophy, I had my very first acknowledged TPK. Sure, it used to happen all the time, what, with encounter tables saying 10-100 gnolls at a time? It happened ALL the time!! But it had never happened to a group like this before... or at least one of MY groups. The players were aghast! "What the hell was that?? They were working TOGETHER!!!" Well, like many times before, they all took five minutes to roll up new Xerox-worthy characters, and they were off again - but this time they were cautious.

Cautious and victorious!

Shortly after that, I began to think the same way about my characters. Why were they all carbon copies? Why not any variation? Were all PC's just Conans and Grey Mousers and Gandalfs? Why not a short, fat wizard that hated pointy hats? Why not a giant that was also a thief? Why not a Les Nessman-style fighter?

That was the last major shift. From there, I just kept thinking about the game itself - and always asking, "Why". When drawing a map of a continent, I would wonder why I wanted a cliff right there... and a river over there... it drove me to distraction! But I think it helped.

I began researching geology, and from there I planned out an entire planet for my campaign world. I know it's elemental makeup, I know the directions that the various continental plates are moving - and how fast - and I know where the civilizations are located. I know where the ruins are - and who lived there before... and before them - and I know what is there to find for loot.

Why do I do it? The HUGE majority of crap I've designed and planned will never be known by my players... so WHY??

The PLAY'S the thing!

You know the feeling when you watch a good movie or read a good book, you get pulled in, and you forget that there is a REALITY out there? Suddenly a baby howls or you have to pee, and you snap back to this realm... and it almost hurts, and you can't wait to get back to that alternate world... That is what I call "playing"!

When a new person rolls up a character for my campaign world, it will make sense. There won't be moments of disbelief as to why there is a river flowing in one direction here, and a quarter mile away a river flowing in the other direction... There won't be moments of confusion as the player asks, "Why" something is happening... at least why something didn't make sense in a gaming sense. If they have to stop and ask, it will be a plot device... just like REALITY.

When a person wants to become a part of my campaign world, they become a mover and a shaker in my realm. They may avert a great war... or they may start one. I have calendars set up for things to happen - that, unless foiled by the characters, WILL happen. They may never know - until hearing it from a town crier - or they may be part of it. Why?

It's all about the playing. The Play's the Thing!

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  1. templeorder's Avatar
    Well said!
  2. Skunkape's Avatar
    Great blog! Your comments about what happened in college are similar to what I did there at about the same time too!

    Thanks for posting, it was a good read.