Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Role-playing games are more than just D&D

While in junior high school, I played TSR games with my friends on the weekends. AD&D, Boot Hill, Top Secret, Gamma World, and Star Frontiers were played all day Saturdays and sometimes late into the night. When I entered high school, I met new gamer friends and we explored other games. One of our favorites, since it was during the Cold War, was the post-apocalyptic Twilight: 2000. D&D was always the mainstay.

One game that I always thought was fascinating was Traveller. I picked up a copy of the boxed set of three rule books in San Francisco while on a family trip to California. This was the first science-fiction role-playing game I had ever seen. Amazingly, I had never heard of it before. I read and re-read those rule for years. But I never, ever had anyone to play it with. No one else I knew had a copy of the rules. I had no frame of reference for conducting a game so I never felt comfortable running a session. But I did have fun with the random star system generator.

Systems of game rules have always been fascinating to me. I’ve never been the best strategist, as some of my friends will attest. But that never stopped me from tinkering with role-playing game concepts. While in high school, a burst of inspiration drove me to create an entirely new game system. Although I enjoyed various genre games, I thought it would be interesting to have one game that covered all the bases. Magic spells, melee combat, martial arts, gun battles, vehicle combat, spaceships, science-fiction gadgets, etc. all rolled into one set of rules. This game I titled Colony. The premise was that the player-characters were colonists of the far future that have set up homestead on a planet filled with swords and sorcery. My friends and I played several sessions of the game and they seemed to enjoy it. I printed up the rules on an Atari dot-matrix printer. And I might still have that rule book squirreled away someplace in storage.

But then I discovered GURPS, the Generic Universal Role-Playing System. With mixed feelings, I realized that this was the game I was trying to write. Simple and elegant with an infinitely open-ended set of rules, I was sold on Steve Jackson’s masterpiece. I thereafter scoffed at D&D and mocked what I thought was an archaic set of rules. Sure, I purchased all three of the core rulebooks of the second edition of D&D. But at that time I was never very interested in playing it. TSR's marketing of Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance were of no interest to me at all. Me and my friends were all convinced that GURPS was the way to play.

And so the Generic Universal Role-Playing System was the only one I played for almost 10 years.

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