I’ve been a roleplayer for years, me.
I think it started when I picked up a copy of Werewolf: The Apocalypse in my local bookshop at age 17, and found myself drawn into a dark, mystical world full of references to American folklore that didn’t quite make sense to a teenager from semi-rural England. It wasn’t long before I ran my first game, and realised even before I knew how to set up a plot that players would always do their best to derail it.
That’s not right, though. It probably started a while before that, around age 15, when my long-time gaming buddy Oli got hold of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. We’d been Games Workshop nuts for years by this point – we’d even written a tabletop racing game using Space Marine bikes, and gone as far as getting a friendly thanks-but-no-thanks letter from Andy Chambers – and this was the logical next step. We tried to run a couple of one-player-one-GM adventures, but never really got beyond making characters, getting excited about how much rope you could carry and wondering what a Fimir was.
Somewhere around this time we also tried out the infamous D&D red box, mainly because it looked a bit like Warhammer Quest and that got us Very Excited Indeed, but I honestly can’t remember when that happened.
However, that wasn’t really my first foray. For that you’d need to go back a couple of years, when we overheard some Bigger Boys on the coach to Games Day talking about a roleplay session they’d attended the night before, something pulpy and ridiculous that involved fantasy monsters wielding bazookas. Looking back it sounds a bit lame, but at the time our teenage minds were overcharged with thoughts of a new gaming paradigm that didn’t involve miniatures! We were so excited that we talked about it the whole way home, and stayed up well into the wee hours (on a Sunday!). The eventual result of this was the now-unfortunately-named Legionnaires, a roleplaying game about heroic soldiers fighting off waves of evil demons in a war-ravaged landscape. It was written with all the panache of a pair of twelve-year-olds who had grown up on tabletop wargaming, but looking back it was still a pretty awesome achievement. (Yes, I’ve still got a copy. No, you can’t see it.)
Truth be told, I have no idea whether that was the first time I heard about roleplaying and decided it would be cool to give it a go. My dad got me a copy of Hero Quest for my fourth birthday (something he clearly regretted, seeing as how he was the only person I could convince to play it with me) and even then I was coming up with backstories for my characters. I actually dug out my old copy recently, and there’s an awful lot of info scrawled childishly on the character record sheets. Apparently, my Wizard was really fond of tea and peanut butter sandwiches.
I’m thinking about roleplaying at the minute because, after a couple of years of doing very little in that regard, I’ve found myself with a little group of people who want to make some characters and have some adventures. It was all a bit accidental, something that came about as the result of a couple of drunken conversations, but I’m actually dead excited.
We’re going to be playing Fate Core, which is sort of like open-source roleplaying. It’s a system that gets me very excited indeed. More a loose set of guidelines than a strictly defined ruleset, with enough meat on its bones to be very interesting indeed, Fate Core works on the principle that everyone at the table is equally invested in telling an awesome story. It’s not a GM running a bunch of players through a story he’s crafted, or setting fiendish puzzles for his players to unravel; those things totally have a place, but just lately I’m way more excited by systems that shake things up a bit. My favourite part of Fate Core, and the part that really separates it from more traditional fare, is the first session. Which we’re doing on Wednesday.
As of now, two nights before we’re due to get started, I’ve done next to no prep. I’ve read up on the rules, but I haven’t built a world, set up a story, or anything like that. No, the wonder of this game is that all of this will happen organically on the first night we get together. Like most awesome things done by sensible people, it all begins with a conversation. What do we want out of the game? What kind of setting do we like? What sort of characters, themes and stories do we want to explore? We’ll bash this out over the course of a meal, then – when we’ve got something to work with – we’ll start looking at characters. This is fast and loose and very, very story-driven, focusing on key events in the characters’ past and how they tie them to the other characters in the group. It’s also the first stage in world-building – you create bits of interesting story-hook that spiral out from the characters, meaning that every NPC, location and organisation is tied back to the group in some way. This, of course, makes for compelling storylines that are dead easy to come up with.
There’s loads more to talk about, but I’m gonna save that for my next blog post. Who knows – I might even write this one! (Edit: as of September 2016, twenty months have passed I have not.)