Dream a Little Dream With Me

I’ve been happily playing board games, in one form or another, since I was a little kid. Watching TableTop has reminded me just how much fun it can be to play a well-designed board game (or card game) with a group of friends. But as much fun as I have playing board games or card games–or video games, for that matter–nothing comes close to the experience of playing tabletop role-playing games.

I was introduced to Dungeons & Dragons in 1980 by my friend Luke Johnson. We were in fourth grade. I played a dwarf fighter who died from a magical trap. It was like getting hit by an amazing drug. I was instantly hooked. Soon after, a high school kid who went to my dad’s church ran me through an adventure, then decided he was giving up RPGs and gave me all of his game books, which was very much like a heroin addict saying, “Hey, I’ve decided to quit cold turkey. Want all of my leftover smack?” In middle school, I bought and played D&D, Gamma World, RuneQuest, Traveller, Boot Hill, Top Secret, Champions, Villains & Vigilantes, Tunnels & Trolls…and it just went on from there, into high school and college and beyond, up to today.

What is it about RPGs that I love so much? Why is it that no matter how much fun I have playing other games, nothing gives me the satisfaction that RPGs have?

It’s because I’ve really been playing them all my life, long before I ever knew about Dungeons & Dragons. During recess in elementary school, I would lead my friends in games of “superheroes,” where we made up our own superheroes and pretended to save the world from supervillains and natural catastrophes. In pre-school, my friends and I used to pretend to be the Six Million Dollar Man, the Bionic Woman, and other TV show characters, making up our own stories and play acting as our heroes.

Role-playing games are about getting together with your friends and playing Let’s Pretend. There may be some game tactics involved, there may be elements of competition, but it all boils down to playing Let’s Pretend. Imaginary characters in an imaginary situation, and from this comes collaborative stories and experiences. It’s really nerdy improv. It’s fiction writing for extroverts with ADD. It’s collective dreaming.

Sadly, it’s not as easy to get my friends together to play regularly these days. We’re not in grade school or college these days. We’re adults with full-time jobs and family responsibilities that take up a lot of our time. It’s been months since the last time I played an RPG. Getting together once in a while to play a board game or card game is logistically much easier. But that just wouldn’t be as satisfying to me, so I keep trying to get a game going or get in on some friend’s game. Because it’s not just about getting together with friends, it’s not just about having fun playing a game, it’s not just about rolling dice or calculating your chances of hitting an orc with a sword, it’s about dreaming out loud with fellow dreamers.

That’s a special kind of magic.

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Wanna Live Underground in the Third Age

Just before the epic move, I decided I needed some comfort reading to balance the stress in my life, so I started rereading The Hobbit. Besides superhero comics and Saturday morning cartoons (especially Scooby-Doo), the Rankin-Bass animated adaptation of The Hobbit was one of the first things to really catch my imagination. I read the book and filled my head with fantasies of maps, runes, moon-writing, elves, dwarves, goblins, hobbits, wizards, spiders and dragons.

So I started rereading The Hobbit. Then I heard about the forthcoming tabletop RPG The One Ring, a new Middle-earth game set right after The Hobbit. The more I found out about it, the more excited I got. I broke down and bought it (the PDF came immediately, but the physical game should arrive some time this month), more jazzed about a role-playing game than I’ve been in a long time. To celebrate and help me get even more into a Middle-earth mindset, I finally started reading and listening to an audiobook of The Silmarillion.

I’ve never read The Silmarillion before, but I’ve quickly come to LOVE IT SO VERY VERY MUCH!  I wish I’d read it when I was a kid. I think I would have had trouble with some of the language and the more boring bits, but it’s got gods, elves, dwarves, orcs, giant dogs and wolves, giant spiders, werewolves, vampires, weird magic and epic quests! My inner child is kind of bouncing up and down in his seat just writing that.

(Right now, I’m imagining Jack Kirby had done a comic book adaptation of The Silmarillion. It would have been one of the BEST! THINGS! EVER!)

With all this Middle-earth stuff going into my eyeballs and being absorbed into my brain, I have the major themes of Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings score playing over and over in my head, along with some of the songs from Rankin-Bass’ The Hobbit. Strangely, the Trevor Jones/David Bowie music from Labyrinth has also started playing in my head a lot, mixing with Howard Shore’s score. (Yes, I do realize that Bowie’s songs from Labyrinth are extremely silly and so far down the list of Good Bowie Songs, it’s not even funny. But I adore the movie, and the songs are part of that adoration.) I don’t really understand why Labyrinth is mashing up with Lord of the Rings in my head, but it is, in a fun and powerful way.

The really goofy thing? This entire blog post was written just to provide the context for me to say that Labyrinth and Lord of the Rings has gotten all mixed up in my mind. I was going to tweet it, but I felt that without the proper context, it was just kind of lame. So you all get a blog post instead. Hooray!

Now write me some comments worthy of Mordor!

My Show Would Be a Critical Hit

I have an idea for a TV show. Like Glee, it would be about a group of geeky, outsider kids at a small town high school. But instead of being members of a glee club performing musical numbers, the kids would all play a Dungeons & Dragons-type role-playing game together. The “real world” scenes would be intercut with scenes of the player characters adventuring in a fantasy world. The kids would have to deal with school bullies, disapproving parents, teen angst and game group drama.

Well…I’d watch a show like that, at least. Would anyone else?

A New Year in Games

In 2008, I got back into playing role-playing games on a regular basis, something I’d fallen out of.  I joined a regular Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay group, which was good. (I can take or leave the Warhammer game itself, but the group I played with was a lot of fun.) I also started playing Burning Wheel with two guys I met online, and I’ve fallen in love with the game. Burning Wheel has quickly become one of my favorite games.

But there’s an itch that still isn’t getting scratched. I love being a player, but I also love being a game master, so I’m determined to run a game in 2009. I would very much like to run the new Mouse Guard RPG, and I think I can get enough players to make it happen. I’d also love to run a few sessions of In a Wicked Age, as well as try out Vincent Baker’s new game, Storming the Wizard’s Tower. Of course, my big dream is to run a regular, long-term superhero game, almost certainly using Chad Underkoffler’s nifty Truth & Justice, but I don’t know if I could get that going.

At any rate, I want to run something. And I’m feeling inspired and fired up enough to make it happen.

Missed Opportunities

There are some games that immediately grab me, shake me by the collar and yell “PLAY ME!” in my face. And yet for various reasons, I never seem to get a chance to play them. Castle Falkenstein is one of those games. The first time I read it, I fell in love, and sometimes I pick it back up and reread it (although my copy is completely falling apart at this point) and feel that love all over again.

Nine Worlds is another game that I’ve fallen for immediately, but never played. (I would link to the Nine Worlds website, but it’s down at the time of writing.) I own a copy of the original printing, but I’ve always intended to get the revised printing (with a better binding). Because it looked doubtful I’d have a opportunity to play it, though, I always put buying the revised version off. Which was a big mistake, because Matt Snyder, the designer and publisher, is getting out of the business and won’t be selling his games or making them available in any way. Nine World is out of print, and at this point, Matt says it will never be printed again. Damn.

I know Matt has his reasons, and I assume they’re good ones, but this makes me sad. I took it for granted that opportunities don’t always last. And he we have another missed one for me.

(It just occurred to me: Castle Falkenstein also went out of print, and both games use playing cards rather than the more typical dice. Huh.)