Talking in Funny Voices

Gaming Means a Lot to Me, Part 2: My Time with Roleplaying Games.

I know, it seems like an obvious statement coming from someone who is typing an article for a gaming blog and also making videos about my miniature hobby efforts. This goes well beyond occupying my free time, and consuming as much of my disposable income as possible, like a good hobby is meant to. Through gaming, I found the opportunity to express myself, then I found out who I am once I opened up and along the process, I found some lasting friends. 

So let us continue the series by reminiscing on the many nights of snacks and laughter I spent with tabletop Roleplaying Games. After I will talk of how these pen and paper rpg’s influenced my life.


He needed that sidearm to buy toilet paper. Copyright R. Talsorian Games Inc

Junior high was rough. I didn’t know who I was and I barely functioned as a human being, but I was in a new school and finally around a new group of kids. If only I knew how to actually talk to people. First I accidentally found some friends that didn’t turn out too well, luckily I avoided becoming a general nuisance by finally locating some like minded individuals and ended up with a small group of friends, two Jason’s and a Rory, all gamers and computer nerds. I was introduced to some new video games which were amazing but more importantly I started playing Cyberpunk. The 90s pen and paper roleplaying game, where you replaced flesh limbs with metal ones and measured your remaining humanity after; I didn’t stop until I measured at “fish” or lower on the sliding scale. This was so long ago that the game was entitled Cyberpunk 2012; it’s funny how different things turned out.

Then we found the troubled teen with weird powers game called CyberGeneration set in the Cyberpunk world and played that exclusively, being the misfits we were and finding it easier to connect with our young and troubled characters. We spent the night playing out in a camper so we didn’t bother Jason’s parents only coming inside occasionally to warm up and play Doom on a windows 3.1 desktop or watch Lost Boys.

Looking back, those days were so formative for me. I really wish I hadn’t lost connection with every single one of them after college. We went different ways in several aspects. But I digress.

High school afforded me more opportunities. One fateful freshman science class I did it, I pushed way past my comfort zone and started chatting up TC. I knew him from art classes, I knew he was my kind of people. Through that friendship I found my first music love; industrial. Maybe I will write an article about how important music has been in my life sometime later. As if my new music love affair wasn’t enough, I also found myself invited to a game of dungeons and dragons with what seemed like all the smart kids in my class. It was glorious. I soon counted TC, Nalbert, Mike, and Isaac as my friends, along with a few others who played games on a regular basis. These guys were my D&D group, and I still associate the game with those fellas and we would play many games.

The first RPG I truly connected with. Copyright R. Talsorian Games Inc

My Dungeons & Dragons group dabbled with the Mechwarrior RPG and seamlessly integrated large scale battles using the battletech tabletop wargame rules for a more epic game; they owned a jet-pack and a pistol, and specialized in breaking into the cockpits, murdering the pilot and stealing their battlemech. I always enjoyed the fact that 

From time to time we also played a super hero rpg that for the love of me I cannot remember the name off. The game Rifts came up a few times, and occasionally we played Necromunda to break things up a bit. We also played the old school Star Wars RPG a bit, and blew up everything we came across somehow while jaunting across space in a real junker of a ship. 

Mostly though, we played a lot of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. Often gathering at Mike’s house, we would play in his father’s gaming room, albeit we were only allowed to put our sticky fingers on a select collection of miniatures. Other times we gathered at Nal’s place outside of town; I damaged my first car going a bit too fast over the jump that was built into the broad to get to his place, and left my own gouge in the road along with the vast collection of them in the pavement.  When we landed at Isaac’s house, his mom occasionally forgot about his food allergy in her zeal to fill the teenagers that occupied her house with snacks. All of these households took us in and treated us like family. I mean, I remember walking into Isaac’s house before any of the people who actually lived there had arrived, having express permission but still feeling awkward about it nonetheless; on occasion I found TC already there on the sofa watching TV and eating slices of processed cheese. I would join him on the sofa and wait for Isaac and his family to arrive. 

Isaac ran a mean game and a lot of moments stick with me all these years later. We started our campaign in the Forgotten Realms, eventually finding our way to Planescape where we hopped from reality to reality. Then we broke our way out into the fantasy space adventures in games of SpellJammer, complete with tactical battles with ships and fantasy physics,  boarding assaults and playing out the final boss fights as our characters. And don’t forget the miniature giant space hamsters. Then there was the celestial dragon that was so big, our miniatures were placed on the corner of the table, and the dragon was the size of the table. It was not a small table. Nal got his bug character eaten, and then burrowed through its skull while the rest of us “distracted” the monumental creature, and then he bit the thing’s brain. 

Oh. Man, the nostalgia. The fantasy physics were amazing.
Copyright TSR, inc.

Anxious to try other games and not smart enough to save money from my high school era job, I bought RPG books (also some Warhammer models and music but that’s a different tale) and tried my hand at running games. The half-cyberpunk half-Tolkien setting of Shadowrun was appealing to my sensibilities and I had a blast with it. Then I tried GURPS, a generic system with books to add just about everything you could think of so I ran a game that mixed Gundam-style robots, cyberpunk technology and magic,with some slight final fantasy aspects added to the setting. It was crazy and chaotic and it was fun as shit. We would order from our local Dominos, which was owned by a close friend of my father, and the delivery guy would climb the stairs to my front door with bags of food and drinks and then look confused at the bill for a single large pizza. Good times. 

For a short while I was one of those guys. I Dabbled with larping; it wasn’t really my thing. I volunteered to co-run the game, and we spent quite a few nights running through the field around the other Jason’s house (not the one with the camper) with Rory, and a few of their friends, yelling at each other, in heated rock-scissors-paper duels to determine the winner of fights and putting a hand up, a thumb to our temple to indicate we were not talking in character. I grew out of it quickly. I couldn’t tell the type of story I wanted to bring to life.

I joined some friend-adjacent groups. We played Dark Sun for a bit, which felt like hard mode D&D. It was thrilling and a nice change of pace coming from a very different dungeon master. Played a few Planescape games which were DM’d by Josh, the friend that was integral in getting me into Warhammer. And I cannot forget games of Paranoia which honestly is quite the experience, and were evenings of hilarity. 

There were so many other games: Æon (which became Trinity after a lawsuit), Earthdawn, Call of Cthulhu, the list goes on. I wanted to play everything but failed to find the time. 

Then college came along. I went to RIT. As you can imagine I met a lot of nerds, but most importantly I met Ezra, who lived across the hall. He was hilarious, he could tell you the same story and you would laugh until you hurt every single time. We were both from Maine and listened to similar music. Once we discovered each other’s geekdoms, well, craziness ensued.

Ezra and I worked on Autonoma together and played with a few friends for a year straight. We used the open gaming license and crafted Autonoma as a D&D 3.5 campaign setting. Frequently we took over the common room on our dormitory floor and played into the morning amidst the seating that our floor-mates pilfered from the next dorm over. 

Dug up some of my old books, 3.5 was my favorite version of Dungeons and Dragons.

I ran Shadowrun in high school but Ezra could run a game that set you on edge and made you cry with laughter in equal parts. We played one game all evening that was like Die Hard, only set in a city sized building, having been told to bring minimal weapons and gear for a simple delivery that culminated 12 hours later with my character barely making the crazy difficult roll to shoot down the escaping artificial intelligence that had locked the building down and hired mercenaries to hunt us down. He went into painstaking detail about the ensuing explosion of the AI drone as it detonated amidst the onlookers and news crew a hundred stories down.  

When the chance arose I was the storyteller (white wolf games term for dungeon master) for a game of Mage. Now there was a game with endless possibilities. At one point my group was flying in a pink Cadillac to the moon to confront some wizards of pure chaos. It was a neat system, allowing you to make up “spells”on the fly from the aspects of magic your character knew and that had a lasting impact on how I thought magic should be conducted in games. One of my college roommates had a scary almost encyclopedic knowledge of the white wolf games systems and he ran a great game. We played Vampire from the dark age to the Victorian ages, writing our stories down. The storyteller flaked out and we never finished the story or even got to modern nights. Played a bunch of Werewolf run by one of Ezra’s friends I believe. 

I didn’t go often, I couldn’t handle it but the few times I went to the rpg club on campus it exposed me to more games, oh so many games: almost all of the white wolf games like Exalted, Mummy the Resurrection, Demon the Fallen, on top of the ones already listed above. I got into d20 modern there, Engel (which I initially bought because I was in school for graphic design and loved the look of the book), tried In Nomine, Mutants & Masterminds and more that I cannot recall at this time, or that I do recall but cannot figure out what they were called. 

After college it all started to slip away. Met Mike at work while managing a music store outside of Boston, he started crashing at our place frequently and we started playing Star Wars almost as frequently. A few drinks and some Jedi hijinks made us both feel better about our lives momentarily. And then one day he just moved back home halfway across the country and I still feel the loss; the apartment was less alive without him around. 

Played a little D&D with the wife on and off, but not frequently; we mostly just played World of Warcraft together by that point. A friend came to visit and I crafted a world in one day in anticipation of running a game of D&D for him. Then the new edition came out and I ended up hating 4th ed and haven’t played since. It’s funny, I remember forming the broken world, the pantheon of heroes and gods, but I can’t recall which friend it was; I believe it was Isaac, but it’s been something like 15 years. And to be fair, I have the typed material for the broken world that I spent the next few months fleshing out. But I will talk about that in another article. 

I don’t think I have sat down and roleplayed since. I turned to video games for about a decade to fill the gap. Although I missed the tabletop rpg experience I managed to eke out what I needed from Bethesda and Bioware games, and that will be my next hobby article. 

Through all of that I found out a few things about myself and became a better listener and learned to read people much better. (I also got a philosophy minor in college and got better at arguing too, but I am not sure that is relevant in any way. Why am I typing this?)  I found my love of reading without realizing it. But above all else, this is when I learned that the family you choose can be better in some instances then the family you are born into. 

Pretty early on in my roleplaying experience, after I became comfortable around others and more comfortable with myself, I learned that I enjoyed story. To this day I play games for the story. Kera and I watch TV and movies and I do so to experience the plots and subplots. Following a thread from beginning to end, especially when I cannot see where it is going, is a source of entertainment for me, sure. But more important is the mental nutrients I derive from them, and I especially like stories that connect to others. Not just sequels and prequels, but branching interwoven tales, anything that is greater than the sum of its individual parts really plays to my mildly obsessive personality and fires off excess chemicals into the pleasure center of my primitive brain. I discovered that the enjoyment is far greater when you are crafting the story yourself. The shared experience of telling a story with the participation of a few friends working to make something better is all the more rewarding. Seriously. Be like Sarge. If you have never played an RPG, you should try it. 

The endless possibilities of Plansescape will always place it a close second to Spelljammer. These are being delivered via terrestrial means, and will not arrive from cold storage at Josh’s house in time for the article to go live. So we will use his “look what I have” picture for now.

While story was important to me, reading really wasn’t for a long time. I read fairly slow, not as much as when I was younger, but still slower than average I think. The creative parts of my brain can’t help but dwell on visualizing all that is unimportant and choreographing action scenes in my head like a film director. My mother got me to read comics as a kid, which finally got me reading and eventually I picked up a few novels and got into Cyberpunk books in junior high. But, what really got me reading was the ponderous tomes needed for 90s RPG’s. I had dozens of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons books in high school and read them cover to cover. Then I got books for other systems, rule books to play the game, source books to explain how to run the game in specific times and places. Read them all. If it were not for RPG books proving that I could read hundreds of pages I would never have read Dune, or the Lord of the Rings, and later the Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever series. A year or so back I finished all 56 books in the Horus Heresy series in two years, aided by using Audible while I drove and listening to a book a month while reading two a month on average. 

So, I like telling stories, I like experiencing stories and I learned how to enjoy reading instead of seeing it as a chore. That’s great. Yet these things are far from the most rewarding thing I have found from my time with RPG’s. 

What I got most out of my time sitting around a table, filled with books and snacks, while tossing dice about and laughing while surrounded by friends was this: the family you choose can be more important than the family you are born into. My extended family didn’t get me, they literally couldn’t; I was a strange anomaly, a remainder in the equation that was ignored. The only family members that I made a connect with were two cousins that were uprooted and moved across the country. I still hold onto resentment about that turn of events. 

Don’t get me wrong, my actual family is great. They were super supportive of my friends; Robert was like a brother to me in high school and my parents gladly took care of him during a tough time in his life. Decades later, he is still family as far as I am concerned. Around the same time my friendship with Isaac depended. I was as comfortable at his house as my own. And his parents were great, supportive of our, hmmm, dorkish tendencies. Both Robert and Isaac were integral to my mental health and quite possibly my survival through high school, with many evenings dedicated to driving around town, listening to music and talking. 

My wife Kera is more than my best friend and the most important person in the world as far as I am concerned; we made the choice to become family. I have a few friends that I have made since college, a few from my college years and a few from high school. These people are the family I choose; They mean the world to me, I would literally do anything for any of them, and it all started with the connections I made with polyhedral dice in hand. 

[This post was originally published at Otherverse Games & Hobbies]



Tyson

Obsessive and neurotic collector of little plastic men, novels about the same little plastic men and paints to make the little plastic men pretty. Married to Kera, who puts up with him and pretends that she doesn’t hear him speaking to the little plastic men in between making pew pew noises in the hobby room. Requires adult supervision. A menace to himself but rarely to others. More beard than man

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