Friday, February 26, 2010

Old Days

If there is something that sets me apart from the blogosphere, it must be that I don’t talk about OTHER games I play. I just talk about D&D. I have made allusions to other things (if the gentle reader is paying attention) ... but this is pretty much a one game only blog. It’s even been mentioned that I won’t use the term ‘GM’ to replace ‘DM’. I have thought about it, but since I want to emphasize what game I play, I don’t make the switch.

However, for the record, I have played other games. For a brief period, about six months in the early 80s, I played in a Rolemaster campaign, and I wasted another good six months playing in an Empire of the Petal Throne campaign. In and about that period, a friend of mine got very much into Chivalry & Sorcery, which I hardly ever hear mentioned, and I and a few others played while he ran. But that is about it for fantasy game systems. I just like the one.

But when it came to non-fantasy game systems, I played and ran Traveller very, very often. At first, the original three books, then with the Naval, Mercenary and Scout additions. At around the same time, I also played rather continuously (this would be 85-86) in a Top Secret campaign. I always liked the combat system in that one.

Around ’87 I conceived of a Traveller campaign with Top Secret weapons rules, and I ran that concordantly with my D&D campaign for five years. I called the unification “Star Jumper,” and since we played every week, one out of every three weeks we played it would be the space campaign. It went excellently for a time, and then it dropped off ... and by ’94, I no longer ran it. For about a decade after, until maybe five years ago, I would continue to work on the design ... but it’s dead to me now. I suppose I just got tired of the weak thinking where it came to the rules for an incredibly difficult universe (the later editions were NOT particularly comprehensive), and I did not wish to put in that work myself ... as I was already doing it for D&D. What’s more, no one I knew wanted to play.

We took a crack at Paranoia for awhile, but since you have to smile continuously during a good role-playing session if you don’t want the fire hydrants (and everything else) to shoot you for a traitor, overall it was an unpleasant game.

As long as we’re on the subject, however, I might just as well talk about non-RPGs.

My first experience there was way back in grade 7 ... circa 1977, when my friend Gary Stebbings introduced me to Panzerblitz. I fell in love with it immediately, and although later I was introduced to Squad Leader, I found the latter to be a bit too grinding where it came to rules. Panzerblitz was less ‘realistic’ but it flowed more quickly. In the three years before I was introduced to D&D, I played Panzerblitz, Panzer Leader and Arab/Israeli Wars quite a lot ... and for another four years, as long as opponents still existed. Towards the end, we used the maps and the units interchangeably. I remember very clearly one massive battle which included one Panzerblitz, one Arab/Israeli Wars, and two Panzer Leader games combined, with the Germans/Israelis (they were all blue and gray, so who cared about the logic of that) against the combined Americans, Russians and Arabs. More than 1400 total units on 15 boards, set up on a ping-pong table ... took an afternoon to make two complete moves. Damn, that was fun.

In High School, apart from a lot of D&D, it was all Ogre, all the time. I don’t know who remembers Ogre, but it was a convenient two-person game that could be played before, during, and after a D&D campaign ... most of which we played Fridays after school in the cafeteria, until six or six-thirty. There were usually three or four campaigns going on, and no one pushed us out because the sports teams were typically still practicing (or competing) until way after seven or eight. On sports competition nights, if we didn’t have to go home, we didn’t until sometimes 10 p.m., pretty much living out of the school’s vending machines. Those were days before D&D was banned at my old high school, something I learned from the younger brothers and sisters of the people I played with.

Anyway, Ogre. Yes, hundreds of hours spent at that. And at two other games, less popular but still memorable. The first being Awful Green Things From Outer Space, which I still have a copy of, and The Creature That Ate Sheboygan, which was huge fun. We played a variant where the citizens in the latter game were required to walk at their slowest speed towards the monster until they were quite close (five hexes) ... and then they could run to the edge of the board. At which point they would have to move towards the monster again. Was a hilarious variant, and helped smooth out some of the balance problems of the game (if you are competent with multiple units, you can usually beat a single monster).

I know there are words about these on boardgamegeek, so don’t suggest the site (I’ve been), but these are the ones I remember.

Other wargames included Tactics, Axis and Allies, Risk, more Risk, and Risk again. Jeez, I haven’t played Risk for six years and that is a good thing.

The last one would be a game of my own design, which we called Empires. This consisted of world maps drawn out to 1:5,000,000 scale, divided into ‘zones’ of ten thousand square miles each (America was thus about 360 zones), pasted on drywall roof tiles and nailed to the walls of the basement of the house I lived in for awhile. Nailed to the walls because the game also consisted of more than 2 to 3 thousand push pins (armies) scattered over the globe, with zones colored to indicate how rapidly they produced more push pins. The game could not be played in a day, nor a week of days, so thus it had to exist in a way that could be left for weeks at a time. Players used to make their ‘move’ ... which consisted of pulling and pushing back in about four or five hundred pins ... while we played D&D, or they’d just drop by to make their move when it was practical. Generally, we had four to seven players in the game, and it was necessary to supply your own pins if you wanted to play (100 pins were typically $2). We played several games over the space of a year and a half. The general complaint was that if we played several turns in the space of a day, our thumbs would hurt from the pins. This was all before it was practical to do it on computers (’89 to ’91, if I remember correctly). I’m sure a computer could do it, but I didn’t own that computer, simply because I was mostly broke in those days.

Good times.


Carl said...

I played a lot of Car Wars. Top Secret was high on the list, too. It was the 80's and the cold war was in full-swing. I'd watch Man From UNCLE and then run Top Secret games.

Traveller, of course was on the list. And Risk. Lots and lots of Risk.

Middle Earth Role Playing, which turned into Role Master. I think those games are best left forgotten.

In addition I played Villains and Vigilantes and then later Marvel Super Heroes.

We tried Paranoia. Couldn't make it work. We were too achievement driven to deal with a killer game like that. Toon failed for a similar reason -- it was too tough to be consistently funny.

Star Frontiers made it's debut and we played a bit, but never got anywhere with it. Traveller was a better Sci Fi game, hands down.

Ah Top Secret. I really miss that one sometimes, and I only ever ran my own adventures having been a Ludlum reader, a James Bond watcher and Man From UNCLE devotee from a young age.

Well, that was fun, Alexis. Thanks for the memories.

Strix said...

Every try Shadowrun, Boot Hill, BattleTech, Merc, or Earth Dawn?

Butch said...

There was a very simple, fun Apple IIe version of OGRE that I wasted a lot of time on. Ah, youth...

Alexis said...

Strix, no, never played any of those ... but Carl reminds me that I forgot Car Wars. I did play that.