Musings of The Bard: These Roots Run Deep
It has been a good long while since I first got the idea in my head to start a blog about my first love, table top role-playing. Sure, anyone could tell you that family, friends, and career should come first. They are lying. They are lying to you, and to themselves.
I have agonized on how I should start this whole blog biz out. Should I tell you about who I am? Launch right into a topic? Perhaps some lengthy, convoluted conversation with a dark, hooded figure sitting alone in the one corner of the tavern where the lighting situation is best described as "iffy"?
Where to begin?
Then it struck me like an owlbear during mating season; The best place to start is the beginning. While that may seem like the sarcastic remark of a self-absorbed asshole (credentials I will never deny), it's true. The best way to really describe who I am and how I game is to go back to the very first Dungeons & Dragons campaign I ever played.
Most folk will tell you tales of their socially awkward middle school years, uncovering a magnificent Red Box like it was the Ark of the Covenant, and playing into the wee hours of the night in someone's parents' basement, chugging mountain dew while the melodic tones of Led Zeppelin play softly in the background.
While I may hold this as an ideal of what the experience should be like, mine was different. I did not find the sweet addiction of chucking dice until my freshman year of college. It was there I was seduced to the dark side by a silver tongued devil that looked like members of Metallica used to.
"Have you ever role-played?" he asked me one day while training me in the finer arts of disc jockeying.
I had heard tales of such things from a few friends in high school, and having just come off of the euphoria of watching "The Fellowship of the Ring" for the first time, I was intrigued. What followed was a three-hour conversation (Mostly one-sided) about an intricate story the likes of which Hollywood could never hope to replicate.
And people got to experience this. Weekly!
I wanted in, and in a few weeks both by best friend and I were welcomed into the dark den of tabletop gaming. The game was split into two groups of six, with two game masters presiding. Each group was to work against and undermine the other while at the same time accomplishing their goals.
That game? Heroes Unlimited.
Those of you under the age of 25 might not know what the hell Heroes Unlimited is. That's fair. It is a very acquired taste, namely because it runs of the Palladium system. Palladium is similar to D&D, in the sense that it has stats, and you roll to hit things. Besides that, it is a hot mess. Don't get me wrong, it busted my gaming cherry, but like most "first times" it was painful, awkward, and after awhile you tend to move on to something that knows what the hell it's doing.
It was perhaps a year later (and yes, we had continued playing Heroes that entire time) when my closest amigo told me about this "cool guy" at work who was getting a game of D&D together. My interest was piqued. Again, I wanted in. Calls were made. Clandestine meetings in back alleys were held under cover of darkness, and before long, I was welcomed in.
"Slightly more malevolent than The One Ring"
The group consisted of three old school veterans from the old days. The dark days were the term THAC0 weighed heavy on the soul, and the undead were merciless (they broke your shit, and stole your XP. That just isn't cricket). Our DM was one of these veterans. He had been tempered from editions designed to break a man and take his measure.
The rest of the group consisted of three first-time players, of which I was one. We hadn't the faintest idea what we were doing.
We were, without a doubt, amazing.
Through the course of that campaign, we were lashed to the bone. In one dungeon we found ourselves holed up in a single 20x20 room for two weeks.
Huddled in the dark, eating half rations as we nursed our fighter back to full health after having his throat torn out by a ghast (Our cleric had used a scroll of resurrection that was far too high a level for him to cast, and nearly died himself in the process of casting it). We defecated in a corner, slept in shifts, and nearly died of dehydration as ravenous zombies clawed endlessly at the stone doors that separated us and them.
This was my first dungeon crawling experience. I found it to be harsh, brutal, and deeply satisfying for some godforsaken reason. It became the first standard I held myself to as a game master. I enjoyed the challenge of keeping an eye on my resources. I thrilled at the tension each new day would bring as our stocks dwindled into near nothingness.
Some years later, my best friend (the fellow that was with me through this whole wild, strange journey) decided he was going to run a D&D game of his own. Our previous group had since disbanded, so I welcomed it with open arms. His DMing style was almost the polar opposite of our previous Dungeon Master. He was very focused on the player, giving us more power than we had previously been accustomed to. He made the story wrap around us, and catered to us. The experience was empowering, and so I had the second standard to hold myself to.
That campaign, by the way, was the best campaign I had ever played in before, and since.
I know had the two halves of my DM personality. My yin and yang. On one side, the thought of tormenting my players, and challenging them with perpetually rising challenges appealed greatly to me. At the same time, I wanted to empower them. I wanted them to know that they could overcome these challenges and would be rewarded greatly for their deeds.
I have triumphed, and I have stumbled. I have risen characters up to such exalted heights that could be considered Gods in their own time, and I have slain entire parties at the dreadful claws of a giant crab.
"Fun fact! Giant crabs have no weak spot OR fucks given"
I have built worlds, destroyed others, and through it all, I've never grown tired of it.
I am Ed the Bard, and we will be talking more, very soon.
Looking for some extra aids to make your game really pop? Check out the Open Gaming Store. Tell them The Bard sent you.
Like what you've read? Follow me on...
And coming soon to...