Last night I saw an interesting article in my Google+ feed - this fun bit. Inspired, I will do the same and related my experiences.
I started D&D in '77 on March 15th. Yes, I remember the specific day because there was a Shakespeare play going on at the time. The guy running it was a college freshman at Ball State and was using the white box rules for a game with his girlfriend, some high school kids - and me. I am forever grateful to the two girls who insisted I be able allowed to play even though I was 9.
I remember setting as fairly important; the DM used French to indicate when we were speaking to traders from other lands and his girlfriend used German to represent the barbarians from the North. I was soon with a group of middle schoolers with a high school age DM and he also had a fairly detailed setting with the politics between the elves and the dwarves really setting the tone.
By the end of the year I had Traveller, the Holmes basic set, and Chivalry & Sorcery. C&S has a huge impact on me because it was very focused on setting and on background. And Traveller added skills! I loved the snap and crunch of Traveller with all the math, the ship design, etc. And I liked the complexity of C&S. But I played D&D the most, with a bullet.
In '78 I started working on a setting for my own D&D campaign, a port city called Seaward. Originally it was a crude map of a small city, a nearby set of smugglers' caves, and where the wizard's tower was. My players seemed to love the background and settings. The style of play for us was similar to this;
-Make characters (3d6 in order, roll 3 sets and pick the one you like)
-Make the new character part of the setting with backstory
Character death was fairly common.
Around 1980 I noticed that the modules I had gotten had really changed the map - figuring out where to put them, how they fit into the world, etc. really spread out the map and added a lot of depth. My house rules were both well begun and under constant revision. I was actively trying to figure out how to get Traveller-style rules in my D&D setting when three things happened in quick succession; I moved, I received the World of Greyhawk folio as a gift; and I received Rolemaster as a gift.
The impact of Rolemaster on how I thought about gaming was huge, bigger than C&S had been. The Greyhawk folio made me look at the Seaward setting from a 'top down' perspective; my new set of players were very, very strong on the rules without being rules lawyers.
Before you know it I was running two campaigns; one in Greyhawk where it was official modules and Seaward where it was original stuff. This was also the time of my first 'reboot' of Seaward - much like Crisis on Infinite Earths I fixed continuity errors and cleaned up the maps and storylines. Another interesting development was how the players wanted to move characters between the two campaigns. We also all used what we called 'strict time'; sometimes characters were unavailable so we began having henchmen go as adventurers when their boss was out - the beginnings of what I call jazz band adventuring although not nearly as sophisticated as it became later.
During this time;
-setting was still very important as a tool for adding depth to the game
-a lot of my players had henchmen as quasi-substitute characters
-When character death was a little less common character 'so messed up he is out for months' was more common than ever
After joining the army I was all over the map in more ways than one. My looooong training schools allowed me to participate in a very, very fun game of Champions and play in a campaign where the GM had only ever played Rolemaster, knew every rule inside and out, and was running in a homebrew setting. Those two GMs taught me a great deal about being prepared, session prep, plotline development, and collaborating with the players. I was also playing a fair amount of D&D including a number of very memorable 'one shots' with someone who went on to win several prestigious awards as a movie producer.
Then I was lucky enough to join Lew Pulsipher's D&D group. As I have mentioned before, Lew had already solidified what I call 'jazz band adventuring' and his setting, Tonilda, was a revelation in its simplicity. Most importantly, he is a full-blown game theorist and we often had long discussion about theory and did a fair amount of experimentation.
Of course, 2e cam out shortly thereafter and I did my second reboot of Tonilda to incorporate a lot of the things I had learned.
During this time;
-setting settled in as what I still consider it to be to this day - a framework for plot development that allows various stories, characters, etc. to interact so that there is a feeling of verisimilitude to the game and more depth for all involved
-I realized that the balance between complexity and simplicity should vary and that the difference in 'feel' between systems is often about this balance
I wanted to insert a little note, here, about my experiences as a gamer.
I feel like I am a bit unusual as a gamer - I have been to two RPG conventions ever and while I enjoyed them well enough I doubt that I will ever be to many more. I have never, ever had any experience with being bullied, etc., about gaming. I had motorcycle racers and football players in my games from day one and a small majority of all of my players were special forces, airborne, or rangers. With a few exceptions I have always had girls or women in my gaming groups. I sometimes feel that this is anomalous since a fair number of my peers talk about their experience as very different than this.
Storytelling/White Wolf/WoD came along just as I was transitioning from the army to civilian life. I have mentioned other places that I largely enjoyed WoD as a concept but I did not ever run it and was not a fan after playing it. Story and setting had been a part of my campaigns from the beginning but were always secondary to adventure and fun.
I did run 3e for a number of years and used Seaward (not the main campaign area) for those games. While there are certainly great elements in 3e the complexity level was a bit too high for my players and I to enjoy it as much as earlier versions. We kept largely the same attitude; fun and adventure is first, story and setting add to fun and adventure, rules need to be balanced between simple and complex. My 3e campaign died a neglectful death since my players were always asking to play something else.
I experimented pretty heavily in this time with Rolemaster, Fantasy Hero, new C&S, etc. but always kept coming back to 1e and 2e. I was an eager fan of HackMaster 4th and really enjoyed it. My wife is a huge fan of AD&D 2nd edition Skills and Powers so I eventually created a new campaign world, Blackstone, to run a dedicated 2e S&P campaign.
Blackstone was the primary campaign for a few years while Seaward lurked about. Eventually my kids wanted to play more 1e and Seaward was back out in full. We still keep story and setting in support of adventuring and fun, as the kids age we use jazz band adventuring more and more, and we like the level of complexity between 1e and 2e S&P.
4e went by pretty fast and it was some time sbefore I got the books - my sons play it as a tactical warfare simulator. I heard of and acquired OSRIC, S&W, etc. all pretty early and enjoy them a great deal.
I currently run a 1e campaign (Seaward), a 2e S&P campaign (Blackstone), and a Champions campaign (Champions of Atlanta). I still wish I could figure out how to play Rolemaster more. I still wish I played as much as I GM.
What are your histories like?