Gaming defined a chunk of my teen years, which probably means that gaming defined a large chunk of how I see the world. For example, I still think about driving through the lens of the many games of Car Wars that I played with my father and brother on Sunday afternoons. Specifically, I remember that turning too quickly in a vehicle is particularly dangerous when on ice or packed snow, because of the +D4 added to the difficulty rating.
Roleplaying continued apace, though, for the historical reasons I’ve mentioned above, D&D never really took root. Instead, for our fantasy adventure needs, we used MERPS and then graduated to its big brother Rolemaster. This game had separate weapon charts for each weapon, cross-indexed with twenty armor levels. On the one hand, this did necessitate a lot of chart lookups. On the other hand, it look into account things like the effectiveness of impact weapons (e.g. mace) versus armor or how dodging out of the way is easier without armor but being hit then hurts a lot more. Also, unlike D&D, Rolemaster didn’t just have hit points. Instead, you also tracked specific injuries from the various critical injury charts. So, if you suffered a “C” Slash critical, you could expect to be bleeding (and therefore a loss of additional hit points per round) or maybe even having a limb severed.
Given that I tend to run in the “rules-light” crowd these days, I have to laugh that my roots go back to one of the more complex roleplaying games. I didn’t even insist on it. If anything, my player base (my brother and a friend of ours) insisted on using Rolemaster, because they liked the realism of the system.
It also didn’t help that the alternate system that I proposed was Hero System.
Now, don’t read that the wrong way. I loved Hero System at the time. It just never really mapped well for us for any genre other than supers. And, while I’m really not a significant fan of superheroes, we did have a lot of fun with Hero System. Jonathan and I each made up a superhero and then took turns GMing little scenarios for our caped avengers. Whichever character was owned by the GM would essentially play support, and the other player would lead off the mission. Inevitably, everything devolved to an extended combat scene, which was really the point.
Hero System also gave us our first PC death.
If I remember correctly, Jonathan was GMing at the time, and he threw some fairly intense mooks at us. They were super-strong (like, maybe 50 STR in a game where normals cap out at 20) and beefy. So, we’re fighting them inside an office building (maybe a bank or something?) when one of these mooks catches Jonathan’s character with an uppercut. Jonathan’s character burst threw the ceiling on the first floor, impacted against the ceiling on the second floor, then fell back down to the first floor, taking that as falling damage. And he was dead.
We were in shock. That had never happened to us before. And it wasn’t even like the GM was picking on a PC. He had killed his own PC. I seem to recall an in-game funeral and everything.
I seem to recall trying some other RPGs at the time. Paranoia hit the table at least once, for instance. But Hero System and Rolemaster–especially Rolemaster–were the go-to games at the time.
The teen years brought other important gaming events as well.
So, it’s December 1993. I’m subscribed to Pyramid Magazine, and in one of the first issues I receive, I see a game review for a little game called Magic: The Gathering. The review exhorted the remaining dozen people on the planet who hadn’t heard of this game to drop what they were doing and buy some cards already. Well, I hadn’t heard of Magic before this, but I’d wanted a game of dueling wizards for a long time. I had even poked at trying to design my own, but now I wouldn’t have to! (This is a common theme in my design history, by the way.)
So we got our hands on some cards and started playing. And yeah, the game was as good as everyone said.
Other collectible card games came along. We bought into Jyhad (later called Vampire: The Eternal Struggle) and Illuminati: New World Order, which were pretty good. In fact, INWO was the only game that I actually did cosplay for. I helped demo INWO at Castle Archon (my friendly local gaming store, which I’ll discuss later), and I dressed up as a Servant of Cthulhu, which was one of the factions. Imagine me, in whiteface, carrying a skull in one hand and a staff in the other, wearing a black cape and a Miskatonic University T-shirt (Go Pods!). Um, probably not as different from reality as I’d like to think, huh?
Most of the CCGs weren’t actually that great. I’m thinking here of Spellfire (gag) and Mythos (decent at best). It was the new fad, and everyone was trying to cash in. At the same time, the CCG craze gave us one of my favorite games and perhaps one of the most significant in my life: Netrunner.
About which, more in a later installment.
The teen years also were the entry point into the wild and wooly world of Games Workshop and their Warhammer 40,000 game world. For those of you who don’t know, Warhammer 40,000 (or WH40K) is a dark future of grimdark darkness. To quote their tagline, “In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.”
And power armor. Oh yeah.
The game world includes a bunch of races, like Eldar (space elves), Orks (um…space orks), Tyranids (creatures from a xenomorph’s nightmares or fondest daydreams), and the like. Standing against the darkness for the Imperium of Man are the Imperial Guard and the superhuman Space Marines.
Space Marines. Seven feet tall, with power armor, giant bolter guns, and chainsaw swords. Or, even better, Terminator armor with chainguns, salvo missile launchers, or Wolverine-style claws that are electrified for extra damage.
Even better, there are about a bazillion little chapters of Space Marines with different feels. So I ended up playing the Space Wolves: Space Marines plus Vikings plus werewolfishness.
The entire setting simply drips with ridiculous quantities of testosterone-fueled macho badassery. It’s the kind of setting that demands its very own metal soundtrack, played at high volumes as demigods clash atop the heaps of the slain. And, come to think of it, the group Bolt Thrower provided this very thing.
It’s really not a particularly uplifting setting. The Imperium of Man is a fascist despotism, ruled by a dying God-Emperor who must be sustained by the sacrifice of a thousand psychic sensitives every day. The lot of an average human is bleak at best, and war is a neverending reality. It’s really a terrible place to live.
I love it. It’s entirely possible that makes me a bad person, and I’ll totally cop to all the various problematic aspects of the setting. But they all fall away in the face of Totally Awesome Vikings in Badass Power Armor.
And, in case you hadn’t figured it out at this point, I take my normal Internet handle from this setting. A “Great Wolf” is a general of the Space Wolves Chapter of the Space Marines.
Now you know.